Sean Cooke first realized Kristy Clark’s attention to detail when he interviewed for the general manager job at Avalon Landscapes last spring.
Cooke flew in from Colorado to interview for the job in Idaho. Clark arranged all his travel information and, when he eventually got the job, his onboarding. But what stuck out was something that happened during the intensive interview process, a day-long affair. When it was time for an afternoon break, Cooke found a lunch spread laid out on the table. Clark had been the one to put it all together, and she even ensured everything was gluten-free because of Cooke’s dietary restrictions.
“Every little thing was handled by her,” Cooke says. “She thinks about everything.”
It’s this attention to detail that’s earned Clark a nickname, if only in jest — “the Mistress of Mighty Information and Gatekeeper of Useful Crap.” That one doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as “K.C.,” her other nickname, but it’s a fitting title nonetheless — even if her professional title is director of office operations.
“Over the years, you learn to know a little bit of everything,” Clark says, joking that, “I used to wonder if I really want to know that much to have that (nickname).”
Clark jokes that she technically outdates Avalon itself — its sister company hired her in 2001. Now, she says Avalon “had a chance to get on its own two feet,” and they’ve built up a company that peaks around 80 employees. They’re all housed in a modern barn built in 2020 on a sprawling 12 acres of land in Meridian, Idaho. In the back, they’re even starting a tree farm.
It’s a far cry from what Clark thought she’d be doing over 20 years ago, when she was just looking for a job and just happened to land in general contracting at the sister company. But over the years, she’s become steadfastly loyal to the team. She can easily recall the bad (2017’s “Snowmaggedon,” an incredibly long winter season) to the good (calling in taco trucks was a hit with Avalon employees).
“In the beginning, I was just looking for an opportunity,” Clark says. “But you just really fall in love with what you do and the people you work with. It’s been a blessing to grow together with these people.”
She’s rewarded Avalon’s loyalty to her with fierce advocacy. Mike Martin, the director of company development, calls K.C. the company’s cheerleader. He’s noticed that she’ll point out when people don’t have the company’s best interests or spirit in mind. She’s even told Martin before to change his negativity when things at Avalon have gotten difficult.
Martin says he appreciates that level of accountability. Even when times get tough at Avalon, he says they all know Clark’s on their side.
“It’s so hard to put your finger on,” Martin says, “but when you meet somebody (like her), you know they’ve got your back.”
The employees have got Clark’s back, too. She lost her father and aunt last year within a three-month period, a stretch of time she calls overwhelming. Clark kept working in the office through it all, stressing that people relied on her. But it was good to have the support she needed.
“People hug you, they support you — everybody’s going to be there if they haven’t already,” Clark says. “It’s just remembering that we’re all human. It’s important to know that people care. I’m surrounded by people with grace and understanding that we’re not always going to be rock stars and that you can't take that one bad day and hold on to that.”
That emphasis on relationships spills into the professional side of the workplace, too.
Cooke says that when trucks break down out in the field, Clark has tow-truck guys there within 30 minutes. Mechanics who change tires all know her by first name. The delivery people know to swing by Clark’s desk after dropping off the mail.
“She’s just got everybody in her back pocket. That only comes with having relationships with people,” Cooke says. “It’s within the office, too. She’s the mom in the office.”
Clark jokes that sometimes, her office is a revolving door of requests and that she tires of hearing people say “K.C.” But that door never closes, she says, because each interaction is an opportunity to learn and collaborate with one another.
“Very rarely do I say, ‘I don’t have time,’” Clark says. “There are days where you leave and go, ‘I got nothing done according to my agenda.’ But then I think back and realized I helped people, so every day was a blessing.”
Keeping the door open builds trust fast. Martin joined the company in 2010 as a general laborer in the midst of an economic downturn. Within the span of a few months, he earned a promotion and built a relationship with Clark because she had involvement with everything.
“I’ve never worked with anybody that I can trust as much, that keeps my stuff organized,” Martin says. “She actually has the passwords to every single one of my accounts, even my bank account. It’s that tight. This company probably would not function without her being in charge.”
“It’s just the way she goes about business (that stands out). In some ways, she’s one of the toughest people I know, but in other ways, she’s one of the softest. She’s an absolute fighter. Every company needs somebody like that.” — Mike Martin, director of company development, Avalon Landscapes
On the job
Naming the responsibilities Clark doesn’t have around the office might be easier than naming the ones she does. She handles all the accounting, payables, receivables, and she manages the fleet and the office.
But you never know what might come up: In November, Avalon’s servers went down. Between their IT team and the internet service provider, they couldn’t quickly identify the problem. So, starting on Friday, there was Clark, workshopping the issue with them. She came in at 2 p.m. that Saturday and went to the office Sunday. By Monday morning, they were back up.
“I still don’t know what she did,” Martin admits.
Clark has also spearheaded recent, bigger changes around the office. She’s helped migrate payroll in from Avalon’s sister company, which has been a painstaking process with the company’s chief financial officer. Martin says he’s seen them in the office workshopping solutions for nearly 14 hours each day.
Meanwhile, Cooke says they’re venturing into a new software and learning about the H-2B employment process. Despite rapidly changing the way things are done at Avalon — Cooke officially began in June — Clark’s remained a steady presence in the office.
“These are things that I’ve thrown at everybody, and she doesn’t freak out or say, ‘That’s not my job.’ Even now, she’s still willing to learn and grow and take on new challenges,” Cooke says. “That’s what helped endear me to her. That makes my job so much easier.”
Alex German, a maintenance supervisor, says Clark is the “mother of the company,” even if she's not a landscaper. “
She’s doing the roles of five different individuals," German says. “Seeing her keep a level head with all those different roles helps you keep perspective. As a leader, it's important not to crumble. That would instill panic for everyone else.”
Avalon even implemented a new fuel program this season, and unsurprisingly, Clark led the charge. They had crews leave the site and then immediately have to refill at a gas station.
With how long some of their drives were in rural areas, plus with how costly fuel had become, Clark helped add fuel tanks on site to increase efficiency. Now, they have a few more controls at the pump, so each crew has fuel cards that help them monitor fuel usage.
“She just handles so much, and she literally doesn’t miss a beat,” Cooke says. “She keeps us humming.”
Making it count
Clark created a sign that’s the first thing employees see when they walk into her office — it reads “Make today count Avalon.” Across 22 years of working at the company, Clark’s certainly made that time count. She admits that she and many of the employees often end up spending more time in the office (“our second home”) than their first home.
But people have noticed. Martin says Clark has her hand in just about everything at Avalon, even down to the tiniest details. She participates actively in just about every meeting, and she orders the team uniforms. She touches almost every piece of paper that enters the company, Martin says.
“It’s just the way she goes about business (that stands out),” Martin says. “In some ways, she’s one of the toughest people I know, but in other ways, she’s one of the softest. She’s an absolute fighter. Every company needs somebody like that.”
Clark’s favorite jobs involve shining a spotlight on all the team’s hard work. Whether it is those taco truck parties or it’s planning Christmas gifts for the team, Clark says it’s vital to carve out the time to work on the celebrations just as much as the processes.
“There are days where someone may go home feeling unrecognized,” Clark says. “This allows us to come together as a team and celebrate one another.”
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