The “aha” conversation was unexpected and happened during a dinner out with some college buddies. Daniel Currin’s father, Michael, was telling some behind-the-scenes business stories about Greenscape, which he started in the back of a local North Carolina nursery called Owen Garden Center in 1979.
“He was talking about the things I was learning and studying, and it wasn’t just about planting trees and mowing lawns,” says Currin, who was an economics and finance major at James Madison in Virginia. He had earned his state real estate license, too, with a plan to focus on the commercial real estate industry. “I swore I’d never work for him growing up,” he says. “I was always going to do something else.”
When Michael opened the business, his idea was to start something that would continue beyond his involvement. Eventually, that’s exactly what happened because Currin discovered a niche, a passion — a market opportunity. He’s since grown the company as CEO into a 100% commercial maintenance business that has expanded to four offices in the Research Triangle area.
A great deal of Currin’s success is due to a “Danielism” his longtime friend and an industry peer, Conrad Hayter, shares: “Delegate to elevate.”
“Daniel holds a philosophy that we are better together, and that means asking for help and providing help,” Hayter says. “He sees delegation as a way to elevate and grow people, and as a leader, to ask for help is a really critical way to move toward success even quicker.”
These are just some of the things Hayter and Currin discuss on their monthly walks in the woods and mountains. “He is always in conversation about the world — the big picture,” Hayter says.
Currin’s father says his son brings “a degree of wisdom or experience that is beyond his years.”
“People have always wanted to be a part of what he was doing, and I believe that is why he has been able to build a successful team,” Michael says.
Currin is humble and reserved, yet can be charismatic and lead a room. “Everyone in the company is better at horticulture than me, so because of that, everyone was a lot better than a lot of things than me,” he says. “I’ve had to surround myself with people who do things I cannot do, and I’ve had no problem delegating because I know they can do it better.”
Building on a Foundation
Growing up in the industry, Currin saw Greenscape as mostly his dad’s job. He remembers stacking packages of peat moss to make forts when the business was housed in the nursery. In high school, he worked on a mowing crew during summer break. “The crew was me and four other guys who only spoke Spanish, and I was taking Spanish in school at the time,” Currin says. “They were trying to help me learn — and they’d also pay me to eat really hot peppers, which is one of those things you had to do to be one of the guys.”
Currin has always been able to relate and connect on many different stages, Hayter says.
“He’s deep and wide as far as his knowledge, and he’s incredibly handy. He’s not scared to work and learn new things outside of the industry,” Hayter says. “He can show up in a lot of different environments and be comfortable and impactful as a leader.”
When Currin first showed up to accept a position at Greenscape, it was fall 2002 after college graduation. His effort to land a commercial real estate job flopped because of the weak market. The tech bubble had burst. One developer who met with him told him to go work for a bank, then figure out which real estate firms are positioned to succeed after the recession. “But I had no desire to be a banker, even though I had the degree to do it,” Currin says.
The idea was, work close to the commercial real estate industry if you can’t work in it.
So, when the commercial business development manager left Greenscape, a job opened up that had Currin’s name on it. And, it was a real job. “I was not going to come back to work if a job was made up for me,” Currin says. “It needed to be on the org chart.”
He often thinks back to when he was younger and needed to earn gas money. He worked in the Greenscape shop, sweeping the floor every day for $3.75 per hour. “I asked my boss, ‘Why does the floor get swept every day?,’ and he said, ‘Your dad told me you needed a job.’”
The commercial role was more than a real job — the opening was an opportunity, and Currin embraced it. He realized how much he loved working with other business owners, growing an affinity for the commercial side of the business, which was about 40% of Greenscape at the time. Though he’s quick to point out, “I was not good at commercial sales. I was much better at playing golf.”
He eventually moved into other roles, running an irrigation branch and then commercial maintenance.
In 2009 when the recession hit, Michael was CEO and Daniel was president. Both recognized a dire need to pivot quickly to sustain and continue growing the business. From the beginning, Daniel had a mind to shift to 100% commercial, and the economic climate underscored this idea.
“We needed to make quick transitions to drive the company forward during a very tough time,” Currin says. Michael decided to step out of the business, initially taking a sabbatical so his son could take the reigns completely. “I wasn’t going to say, ‘You are in charge,’ and then show up every day at meetings and have employees look at me to see if I agreed with his decisions,” Michael says.
Michael envisioned being an advisor. “But that never really happened because Daniel was so capable and confident, and we had good people — they moved ahead,” he says.
Currin says, “I learned technical business skills from my dad. He really taught me about banking, insurance and the value of relationships when it comes to clients and business partners. One thing he did early on was understand the importance of the HR function in our business, and he was an early adopter of having a full time HR manager.”
Currin since has maintained this focus and exercised creativity when it comes to recruiting in a challenging labor market. Michael recalls how his son sent the HR team to Puerto Rico following the devastating hurricane when people needed jobs.
Continuing a focus on people, Currin established Green Team Dreams, a program that grants employees’ wishes. “A lot of times, we sit here as leaders and say, ‘Let’s create this program,’ or, ‘Let’s give people this or that,’ when what we really need to do is ask them what they need,” he says.
A bucket of funds is set aside to help dreams come true. Sometimes they’re little things like purchasing a bike for a worker. Other times they’re bigger, such as sending an employee on a trip back home to visit family. “Right now, we are helping a team member’s son who needs eye surgery,” Currin says.
“My favorite is when we award the dreams and it’s unexpected,” he continues. “Like, a team member says, ‘I heard from this guy that he needs help with…’ and we can make it happen.’”
This way of sharing is also how the company’s Golden Cleat monthly awards are determined. When a team member notices a colleague who is exemplifying the values of communication, learning appreciation, teamwork or safety, they can nominate that person.
Leslie Herndon, who took over the role of president at the start of the pandemic, says Currin’s investment in the team is tangible and appreciated. “He brings on additional consulting and leaders to help our team,” she says, adding that managers have worked through Bell Leadership courses.
And importantly, he’s focused on always moving forward. “In a multi-generational business, you have to keep moving ahead, and that is one of the greatest things about the relationship he and Michael have,” says Herndon, who started working at Greenscape a few months before Currin came on board. “Daniel has kept it moving forward, and that has been key. We built off of a foundation and we keep moving as a team.”