An ear to bend

As a close confidant to so many at DeSantis Landscapes, Isabel Trevino always has the people top of mind.

Isabel Trevino, DeSantis Landscapes
Photo by Betty Boyce

Nineteen years ago, fresh out of business school, Isabel Trevino came on board at DeSantis Landscapes. Initially an administrative assistant at the Salem, Oregon-based company, there were only about 50 employees at the time.

As the company continued to grow, and the number of employees now sits at 142, Trevino has worked her way up the ladder — becoming an operations administrator before ultimately landing as the human resources manager.

Trevino recalls the road to her current role being unexpected.

“We had gone through a couple of HR employees, and they just weren’t a good fit for one reason or another, so I was approached about it,” she says. “Never had I thought about doing HR. But we are always looking to promote within. That’s a big thing here. So, when approached, I had to think about it for a little bit. I wasn’t quite sure if I was up for the challenge. There are a lot of different rules, laws and regulations with HR that I wasn’t too familiar with. But the relationships with my coworkers and my peers was there, which was good.”

Ken DeSantis, vice president of the business, says that while the new position may have been a large undertaking for Trevino in the beginning, he knew she’d excel.

“HR can be a challenge,” Ken says. “You’re the person who always has to be the listening ear. It’s not always fun stuff you’re dealing with, either. But her compassion and willingness to follow the policies has made her really good at it.”

Ken adds that for the nearly two decades he’s been working with Trevino, she’s continually up for any challenge that comes her way.

“From Day 1, she’s been a go-getter and has always said yes to challenges and has always wanted to learn more,” Ken says. “She’s always been a really hard worker and she has great attention to detail.”

Trevino also acknowledges she’s always looking to improve herself and grow as an employee but there’s another aspect that makes her great in an HR setting — her kind, nurturing nature.

The mother of three, and grandmother, knows that to get the most out of people you have to treat them like family. And fostering a close-knit family atmosphere is fundamental at DeSantis.

“She’s a grandmother — family is super important to her,” says Dean DeSantis, president of DeSantis Landscapes. “That’s something she’s done for our company. As the HR manager and as a leader in our company, she leads by example. She understands that family is the most important thing to her, and she understands it’s the most important thing to everyone else. Policies we create, or the flexibility we have for workers — we know that everybody’s first priority is their family. We want to be a company that recognizes that, and she’s been a key leader in that.”

Advocating for advancement

Trevino’s leadership extends beyond the traditional roles of an HR manager, which is why she’s often described as the MVP at DeSantis. One standout task she’s taken on is being a technology champion. Trevino has pushed for several software upgrades at DeSantis in recent years and has helped move the company forward and away from paper data keeping.

This past year, Trevino and others spent countless hours implementing high-powered Integrated Payroll Services technology — or IPS. The results of this have included 100% direct deposit implementation among staff and paperless onboarding and training.

“With three branches, it was definitely hard to manage, onboard and get new hires up and running, so IPS was so helpful,” Trevino says. “It was in my vision for a few years, so having DeSantis be on board with rolling that out has made a huge impact.”

Dean DeSantis says getting to that 100% direct deposit mark was no small feat and something they’ve wanted to achieve for some time. But with anything new, there are countless concerns and questions to handle. He adds that Trevino has been instrumental in getting everyone on the same page.

“She’s been the point person for answering those questions and assuring everyone that’ll it be OK,” Dean says.

Additionally, Dean says the benefits of paperless onboarding have been critical and the company is reaping the rewards tremendously. Over the past four years, Trevino has recruited, hired and trained over 230 new employees.

“Onboarding is another area that all of us in the industry realize we can improve that process and make it a more welcoming process — and she’s been integral to that,” Dean says of Trevino.

This new way of doing things allows Trevino to get to know the new team members on a deeper level.

“It has allowed us to go all paperless,” she says. “That way I can sit down and have more face time with individuals during the onboarding process versus spending most of the time sitting down and doing documentation. I really like being able to get to know our new hires.”

For Trevino, it’s all about saving time so she can get more done in a day and everyone can work more efficiently.

“Getting the implementation of paperless onboarding and allowing for employees to use the app to take a look at PTO, or to quickly change their address or phone number has been great and it saves a lot of time,” Trevino adds. “We’re now able to spend more time getting other things done. And it makes sure we have accurate, up-to-date information.”

Ken DeSantis says having Trevino there for every step of the implementation process for IPS was great — as she was able to become a champion of that software and share her knowledge with everyone else.

“She comes at it from a user perspective so she can understand it and then be able to train the employees,” Ken says. “She can be a conduit between management and production when we really need to ensure that everyone knows how to use it.”

Ken notes that while the company was undergoing such a major change to its systems, Trevino’s hard work never wavered, and she was able to keep up with all her other duties outside of the software.

“Her ability to keep balls in the air as we went through the software transition was amazing,” he says.

Ken DeSantis says one of his favorite things about Trevino is her ability to “speak straight.”
Photo: Betty Boyce
Photo: Betty Boyce

A bilingual leader

Trevino’s service to her colleagues can clearly be seen in numerous elements of her job as HR manager, but it’s most evident among her Spanish-speaking coworkers.

Trevino serves as one of the few bilingual leaders at DeSantis and enjoys assisting those who struggles with English.

“The fact that she’s bilingual is critical in our industry and in that position,” Dean DeSantis says.

Ken agrees, adding that since Trevino splits her time between the company’s branches, she’s able to have more face-to-face time with Spanish-speaking crew members and help them with everything and anything and oftentimes solve problems before they begin.

“It’s invaluable,” Ken says of her bilingual communication. “It’s really key that when somebody has challenges, we don’t have that problem of a language barrier. She can be there to interpret and translate and make sure everyone is understanding each other.”

Trevino says it’s not always easy being the primary communicator for so many, but she fully embraces the challenge.

“It’s tough,” she says of being the go-between. “We do have a lot of Spanish speaking employees, but I’m always available to help them by phone. Whether it’s to help them make a doctor’s appointment or getting them on our healthcare app — I try to help them in all aspects and not just a work environment.

“They know if I don’t answer the phone, it’s because I’m on another call or I’m with somebody and they’ll just text me and I’ll get right back to them,” Trevino adds.

Family is fundamental at DeSantis Landscapes. Trevino knows just how important family is as the mother of three and grandmother of two.
Photo courtesy of DeSantis Landscapes
Photo courtesy of DeSantis Landscapes

Firm but fair (and fun)

That attitude of always being there for the DeSantis employees is what makes Trevino such a great HR manager and an ardent advisor.

Trevino says from the first day a new employee starts, she has their best interest at mind and is working to get them to a place where they’ll have the most success.

“I like getting to know them initially and learning what their abilities are and any barriers they may have,” she says. “I also like to see where they want to be in two or five years from now, and help guide them in regard to that when it comes to their career path.”

One interesting fact she always likes to collect from new hires is their favorite thing at their previous company.

“I take those notes down and ask about different things about previous employers,” says Trevino, who’s always looking for new ideas and how to improve things.

And while Trevino loves working one-on-one with colleagues, she always enjoys planning larger companywide activities to boost culture.

“The culture and environment here is a big thing,” she says. “We do monthly barbecues for our team at each location and branch. Being involved in that is a lot of fun. Getting the employees involved in the process of these is great…We spend most of our time here at work with each other, so team building, and culture is really important. Doing the smallest little things for our teams can make a difference.”

Dean DeSantis says because so many employees are comfortable coming to Trevino, she’s always got a great feel for how things are going or what changes need made.

“The biggest thing is she’s viewed as a confidant to pretty much everyone in the entire company,” Dean says. “So, from a leadership standpoint, I appreciate being able to confide in her as she has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Plus, all of the crews respect her and feel comfortable going to her…which makes her super effective at her job as HR manager. People trust her and respect her.”

For Ken DeSantis, what he admires most about Trevino is how well she embodies one of DeSantis Landscape’s fundamentals — speaking straight.

“We have these fundamentals we call the DeSantis Way and one of those is to speak straight. That means speaking honestly in a way to create progress and address issues directly,” Ken DeSantis says. “She exemplifies that fundamental so much and I wish more people, myself included, were able to do that consistently. None of us like conflict, but it’s about getting over that fear of conflict and speaking straight.

“Part of caring is holding people accountable, and she is one of the best at it. She’s better than Dean, Bryan and I at it,” he says with a laugh. “That’s great in an HR person. When we want to waffle on something, she’ll say, ‘No. This is what it says in the policy, and this is what we have to do.’”

Trevino’s caring nature is what makes it so easy for her to connect with people. And connecting with the employees at DeSantis is her favorite part of the job.

“I enjoy getting the connection with the employees and being that neutral party,” she says of training. “I get to advocate for our employees… I love the relationships I have with a lot of our staff. I really enjoy being that go-to person and being able to help them. And if I can’t help them, I’ll go out and find somebody who can reach out to them and help them.”

As such a trusted confidant to so many, Trevino is constantly sought out for her assistance and advice.

“I’m always available if they need that one-on-one time with someone,” she says. “I have employees who come in to chat with me on their days off.”

The author is assistant editor with Lawn & Landscape magazine.

December 2022
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