Brave new world

Behind a completely new vision, Frederico Outdoor Living is winning over clients and employees alike.

Company benefits include anything from a high-matching 401K to help for mental health services.
Photo: Kate Jeppson

After years of consulting for companies, Adam Frederico decided to own one of his own. All it took was a phone call home to find his next opportunity.

Of course, that’s a simplified overview — since buying the company two years ago, Frederico has completely rebuilt the team and reshaped the brand. It certainly has not always been easy, but the big changes have lifted Frederico Outdoor Living as one of Lawn & Landscape’s Best Places to Work.

The idea to buy his father’s company came on a call home for the holidays. While Frederico lived in Chicago at the time, he called his family back in Utah, where his father, Russell Frederico, still owned the company he founded in 1980.

The company culture was always strong. One employee, Paul Ward, can certainly attest to that. Ward is now the landscaping division leader, and he noticed a difference with Frederico in charge.

“The energy was very positive. It was a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t that (Russ Frederico, Adam’s father) was old and stuck in his ways,” Ward says. “The company still has its morals and values, but people are starting to move in a direction that is more high energy.”


Adam Frederico
Photo: Kate Jeppson

Starting fresh

Frederico acknowledges that there’s always at least a little bit of tension between buyer and seller when the new guy comes in making changes. The father-son dynamic furthered that friction, especially when it came down to what was important for each party involved.

For instance, Frederico readily admits he didn’t know much about horticulture before prepping to step into the company. He remembers his father saying things like “this is going to be really difficult if you don’t know plants.” But Frederico signed up for plant identification classes and visited his local nurseries before moving back to Utah. He anticipated some of this uneasiness — that’s why he approached his prep work meticulously.

“For 40 years, running a business, and suddenly someone else comes in and makes changes, I’d be a little squeamish, too,” Frederico says.

As for Frederico, it was incredibly important that he had autonomy to make those changes. He felt he had a strong business background after earning a bachelor’s degree in business management from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Chicago. That’s not to mention the time he spent as a product analyst or business consultant to firms of all types of sizes and reputations.

So, he set off and made some big changes, all in the name of building a stronger company culture. Frederico says he wanted his employees to feel empowered in co-creating the vision.

“It’s important to me, especially being an outsider in the industry, to be the first one to raise their hand and say, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have some ideas,’” Frederico says, adding that this level of honesty helps all his employees feel comfortable making suggestions, no matter how long they’ve been at the company. “The only way to achieve that vision is to find people who are excited to add to that vision.”

Ward says it’s been great to see a new perspective on the green industry. Given Frederico’s experience outside of the industry, it was actually a selling point that Frederico didn’t come from horticulture. Ward says he felt Frederico offered some new viewpoints that helped reshape the way the company operates.

“I felt like, ‘this will be exciting to learn some new skills, and taking a corporate world type of view and applying it to a construction world that maybe doesn’t cross paths ever,’” Ward says. “He comes from the background of consulting and developing companies… (We have learned) how to build your business while working in the business.”

That doesn’t mean getting to that point was easy. After the first four months at the company, Frederico let go of every previous employee on the team except for the office manager. Whether it was their fit with the budding company culture or it was related to their performance, Frederico just felt the team needed a fresh start.

Frederico bought the company during the winter, so they had time to implement that fresh start in the offseason.

“By laying off everybody for either performance or culture reasons, I was able to bring in people who were excited about the changes and find people who were wanting to build a culture that actually had posted core values, that had metrics and goals, and that had a vision for the future,” he says.

There were some challenges despite starting the staff change in the offseason: For one, Frederico bought the company in January 2021 — amidst COVID-19. Plus, he got some pushback on talk of cultural changes from his employees. That was a large part of why he felt he needed new faces in the field.

“It’s really difficult when you see your former boss, his youngest son comes in and suddenly says he’s making changes,” Frederico says. “I just kind of found that if there wasn’t a desire to adapt and morph and there wasn’t excitement for the vision, it was going to be really, really hard to execute the vision.”

Employees tended to stay once Frederico rolled out the new-and-improved compensation and benefits plans. Plus, Frederico merged with a notable homebuilders company in Utah last year; with that company came additional human resources work that contributed to the better overall offerings for potential employees.

That includes anything from a high-matching 401K to anonymous help for mental health services. The company also now has more purchasing power than ever before after building relationships with banks, so that has helped them get brand-new equipment and trucks when needed. Frederico says the companies still operate independently, but the mutually beneficial merger helped them offer more resources.

More than new faces

Frederico says resetting his team was just one of three major changes they made as they reshaped the company. He also wanted to rebrand the company, removing “Landscape Management” from the end of the title and instead adding “Outdoor Living.” He also worked quickly to swap out a 40-year-old logo with his own.

“To me, the name was commentating something that was very run-of-the-mill,” he says. “No knock to anyone with landscape management in their name, but to me, it was more maintenance heavy.”

That rebrand coincided with the third and most recent change at the new-look Frederico Outdoor Living: the team opted to oust its maintenance division entirely.

That decision didn’t come from nowhere: open forum discussions with his teams and data suggesting their gross margin numbers were down led Frederico to making that final call.

“We looked at just the amount of time that was spent in order to generate the maintenance revenue, and ultimately, one of our key tenants is focus,” he says. “If you have a lot of priorities, you have no priority. We didn’t want to be a competitor to other landscape maintenance companies in the area. We wanted to do more of what we knew we could do super, super well.”

Dustin Rock, the operations manager, has been with Frederico Outdoor Living for nearly a full year. He joined in June of 2022, and after a summer of working out in the field with the maintenance team, he was one of the major voices in stopping that service.

Though he wasn’t originally in the horticulture field, Rock says he’s a self-proclaimed “lawn nut,” so going out and working with his crews came naturally. And of course, he grew close with his employees, but ultimately, he felt it was best from a business standpoint to focus on landscape design.

Even still, the transition went really smoothly. Rock approached the team about a month before the end of last season and let them know this was the plan. However, he helped several of those employees keep lots of clients Frederico previously had in the maintenance division, effectively helping them start their own maintenance company.

“They were actually really excited at the prospect of getting to run their own business,” Rock says. “Plus, we still wanted to make sure our clients were in good hands, too.”

With an already strong company culture, Rock says the client handoff was great.

“Some guys even stayed on through winter to help with our snow work,” Rock says. “Everyone understood why we were doing it.”



Having some fun

It’s not always work-related talk at Frederico; Rock says the employees and the clients alike have enjoyed some fun with the company.

Take last year’s first-ever client appreciation event. Rock says Frederico invited any customers who did a bigger project to join the company at a high-end golf course for a more formal dinner. They also hosted some primary vendors and suppliers and did awards like best customer.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but almost everybody we invited showed up,” Rock says. “It ended up being just awesome.”

They ended up giving out cornhole boards for clients who redid their backyards. Anyone who added a firepit received a s’mores packet. Rock says many clients won’t hear back from their landscapers once the work is done, but not at Frederico Outdoor Living.

“We’ve wanted to set ourselves apart in how we treat our customers,” he adds. “We care about them even after the job ends.”

The company hosts fun events for the team, too. Whether it be laser tag and arcade games or it’s breakfast burritos and free throw competitions, the Frederico team tries to keep it light amidst busy work cycles.

“I feel like there’s a million landscape companies out there,” Rock says. “To me, you can go work for a lot of them. A lot of them don’t have a culture that makes people want to stay.”


Seats at the table

Frederico says lots of new benefits have kept his employees engaged. But what he feels has really made a difference is the company’s flat organizational structure. This encourages employees to feel like their voice is heard, he says, as there are very few levels of middle management.

Sure, there is accountability, but there’s no direct reporting structure for most employees or org chart instructing each employee to talk with a direct superior.

“Even with small companies, you can sometimes feel distanced with a leadership team or the owner,” Frederico says. “What we’re trying to do — and we’re far from perfect — to me, seats at the table means we provide many opportunities for 360 feedback, for adding ideas to the team in operations.”

Ward and Rock both say part of the reason employees are so comfortable being honest with Frederico is his humility. Ward says the company has stressed to its employees that the reason they’re trying to expand is not to just put more money in the owner’s pockets .

Rock, who’s also not from the horticulture field, adds that he has worked for employers in the past who were all about trying to get rich and didn’t care about the employees. It was telling to Rock that Frederico was one of the last ones at the company to get a new truck for himself as the company grew.

Even when Rock dealt with some health issues, he privately wondered if Frederico would let him go. He didn’t – in fact, Frederico encouraged Rock to get healthy and spend some days at home to rest.

“To me, that had just earned my loyalty. I’ll work with him as long as I can,” Rock says.

Face-to-face time with one another is important. Frederico says the whole team attends their all-hands-on-deck Monday morning meetings — it’s where everyone brings up what’s going well and what’s not. Just recently, Frederico says a newer employee asked about how a project plan could use better communication. “It was a great discussion because it looks like the communication is kind of the telephone game,” he says. “Someone said something from sales to operations to the crew lead and it got distorted all the way down to him.

“That’s a great way for things to not fester,” Frederico adds. “Some team members are more shy than others. The door is always open. We want people to contribute to the culture. All ideas are valid. It doesn’t matter who is right; it matters what is right.”

The author is associate editor with Lawn & Landscape.

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