When Lauren Morales joined Architectural Land Design nearly a decade ago, the Houston native was simply trying to find a way to help her family. She adopted her company, just a 15-minute drive from her childhood home, as another family in the process.
She was 17 years old when she first landed a job with ALD, where she’s been a receptionist, bookkeeper, office manager and project manager, the role she currently has out in the field with her crew. She first joined because her mother had been in a major car accident and could no longer work, which motivated Morales to jump on securing part-time work.
She found an ALD listing on Craigslist for an open receptionist position, but they ended up bringing her on as a full-time employee instead. Morales was quickly convinced that amidst a scary time in her life, she had landed at the right spot.
“It was definitely stressful, but I was ready for the challenge,” Morales says. “Even at ALD, we stand by family as number one. It’s a mom-and-pop company. It first started with a mother and son, so we’ve always had strong family values here.”
Growing up quickly.
Naomi Valdez has often wondered if her daughter is an “old soul.”
“She needed to be the breadwinner, which of course made me feel bad, but we were stuck,” Valdez says of Morales. “She’s been working since she was about 10 years old. Always been an honors student, always had perfect attendance, always trying to be number one but not in a conceited way. Everything she touches turns to gold.”
Valdez remembers Morales tending to their family gardens growing up, trying to grow tomatoes, jalapenos and – Morales’s favorite — roses. Even when the plants wouldn’t quite cooperate the way she had hoped, Valdez says Morales was determined to figure out ways to make them blossom.
It’s this same determination that got Morales inducted into the National Honor Society in high school and earned her several perfect attendance awards as a student. She attended Lone Star College for certifications in business management and is taking Harvard classes now toward a business degree.
“Especially with starting fresh out of high school, really absorbing everything has been a continual challenge in a good way,” Morales says. “Being that it’s a small firm, I’ve been able to wear multiple hats. Being 17, I was really young. I had to learn business management, team building, sales and even the basics of QuickBooks data entry. I have had to learn many, many skills, and it’s all been self-taught.”
The right relationships.
Morales says there were two things she noticed right away in working with her crews: first, everyone else at the company is male – she’s the only female on the ALD payroll; second, many of the employees spoke Spanish, which Morales could hardly speak at all when she first started at the company.
Morales says she hasn’t experienced any sort of major issues in directing men (she’s leading eight this season), especially since she emphasized creating a strong relationship with each individual when she first became a manager. Small details like buying the crews new socks or gloves go a long way toward building those relationships, Morales says.
Her boss, Gary Andreas, says Morales has even purchased meals and hygienic supplies for her crews, investing in their lives on a nearly daily basis.
“She has created a warm environment for growth amongst those she works with,” Andreas wrote on his nomination form. “Her multi-faceted nature has enabled her to be an asset to the business and her peers.”
Of course, the language barrier that existed also caused some complications. Her parents knew Spanish growing up, and she took Spanish in high school, but Morales did not consider herself bilingual until she self-taught herself the intricacies of the language on the job.
Valdez says she is fluent in Spanish, as were her late mother (Morales’s grandmother) and Morales’s father, so she wasn’t surprised to find that her daughter picked up the language with so much ease.
“She’s like a sponge and she enjoys learning more and more and more and more and never stops,” Valdez says.
But it was mainly through nonverbal communication with employees where Morales learned industry-specific words, and they taught each other the English and Spanish translations simply by pointing at an object.
“When I found myself needing to communicate with my team, we were able to feed off one another,” Morales says. “We were able to collaborate in a way where we know body language is universal.”
As long as Morales is out in the field working with her employees, she feels she’s gained their respect. She says focusing on the details helps prevent any major issues from coming up.
“Leading by example is one thing that (ALD has) really taught me, and just not to let a language barrier or even if you’re male or female get in the way of getting a job done,” she says.
Outside of work.
Valdez says her daughter works relentlessly at ALD because she feels so attached to it. In many ways, she’s grown up with the company — at a time when she needed the work most, Morales found a business that turned into a family.
On July 11, she will have been with the company for exactly a decade. Andreas says Morales aims to become a partner in the company by the end of this year.
“That’s as if it were her own baby or her own company,” Valdez says. “She’s been there so long, it’s like her blood now.”
That’s not to say Morales doesn’t have other interests outside of work, though many of them still relate to the green industry. She’s known to put in well over 40 hours of work at the company, but outside of ALD, she also found a way to remain connected to the outdoors while also giving back.
This is through the Tomball Community Garden, where they grow plenty of organic produce that gets donated to a local foodbank.
Plus, Morales continues to educate herself on the various facets of the green industry outside of work hours. Valdez says she’s seen her daughter trying to learn some basics of pool maintenance and irrigation repair.
Meanwhile, Morales says she’s always seeking continued education outside of work hours to find new ways to help out.
“I’ve always been connected with nature,” Morales says, “but joining ALD at 17 really enabled me to get more in depth with it.