Keep trying

Author Alex Banayan focused on perseverance as the keynote at The National Association of Landscape Professionals inaugural Elevate event.

Elevate keynote Alex Banayan made it a mission to interview people he admired most.
Photo courtesy of NALP

About 12 years ago, author Alex Banayan was laying in his bed in his college dorm wondering what he wanted to do with this life. He was a pre-med student, but being a doctor wasn’t his dream job. He wanted to know how people became successful and went searching for a book on the topic.

But he came up empty handed, so he started writing the book, which he hoped would highlight how successful people made it to the top — like how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software. One obstacle in the way was the lack of money he would need to complete the project.

He got some free tickets to the Price is Right, hacked his way to get chosen and eventually won a sailboat. He turned that sailboat in $17,000 and began his 7-year journey of writing the book, but not without hurdles.

Banayan was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Elevate event hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals in September. His presentation centered on not giving up on opportunities and how mistakes should be embraced.

After pursuing an interview with Warren Buffett for 6 months, he was invited to attend his annual shareholder meeting. Banayan again hacked his way into becoming one of the attendees who can ask questions, but Banayan says it was a disaster without going into detail.

While licking his wounds with a friend on the sidewalk outside a grocery store, the late television broadcaster Larry King drove up to run in and grab something quick. Banayan was originally reluctant to approach him, but his friend convinced him to go. Banayan says he kept making excuses on why he shouldn’t approach King.

“Fear is really good about making logical excuses,” he says.

But after a nudge from the friend, Banayan tracked him down and asked him to go to breakfast. With people watching, King reluctantly agreed to the do so the next morning. Banayan showed up the next morning and saw King eating with friends. He waited at another table, and as King walked by him to leave, Banayan told King he just wants his advice on how to interview people. King got a big smile on his face and said, “why didn’t you say so?”

Over the next five years, they went to breakfast 50 times.

“It was my journey to interview these people that taught me the most,” he says.

He learned through this journey that there is a huge difference between how we are taught what an implicit message versus an explicit message. He uses the example of if you aren’t good at one sport as a kid, you should immediately try a new one without trying to get better at the current sport.

“You have as many at bats as you are willing to give yourself,” he says. “That’s changed my life forever.”

Banayan also interviewed music producing legend Quincy Jones, who told Banayan that people treat mistakes as their biggest enemy when you should treat them as your best friend. “Your mistakes are your greatest gift,” he told Banayan. “You have to cherish your mistakes.”

Banayan learned from that conversation that success and failure are not opposites. Instead, “the opposite of success is not trying,” he said.

Below: Top leaders in the industry shared advice during the “How to Work on Your Business: and Not In It” panel.
Photo courtesy of NALP

Changes with growth

When Paul Fraynd started Sun Valley Landscaping in Nebraska, he, like most start-up entrepreneurs, did all the work himself. As he grew to $1 million in revenue, he had to focus on sales, while hiring someone to focus on production. His goal is to hit $10 million, which will also take a different approach to leadership, with the common denominator being you can’t be involved in every aspect of the business anymore. He told this to attendees during the panel session: How to Work on Your Business and Not in It.

This was one of a number of topics addressed during the panel discussion. The panel featured Fraynd; Andrew Ziehler, owner and CEO of Ziehler Lawn & Tree Care in Ohio; Doug McDuff, president and co-owner, Landscape America in Massachusetts and was moderated by Brett Lemcke, vice president, R.M. Landscape in New York.

Transition time

Ziehler said when he was newer in the business, he always thought it would be ideal to replicate himself in the company, but as his company grew, he realized that would be the worst thing to do because you need different perspectives to run a successful company.

Both Ziehler and McDuff have changed their core services since they started the company. Ziehler went from a residential maintenance company to a lawn care and pest control company, while McDuff morphed from a design/build company into one that focusses on commercial maintenance and snow plowing. In McDuff’s case, the company hired someone from outside the industry to win commercial bids.

“We hired that person to do both that and be a leader in our company,” he said. The business development hire would be the hunter while others could be the farmers of the business to manage newly obtained clients and grow the relationship.

Much like McDuff had to hire someone who could win commercial bids because that was not his strong suit, Ziehler said he needed to recognize his weaknesses and find people who were strong in those areas.

“That was key in early growth,” he said, adding that now he has to do that for his team to make them stronger.

External vs internal

While hiring internally is great for culture, Ziehler says bringing someone from outside the company gives a fresh perspective.

“It brings in some fresh thinking that elevates the professionalism of the business,” Ziehler says.

McDuff said he had better luck promoting production managers up through the company, but less success with account mangers so they have looked outside for sales and account manager.

Fallout from change

While getting to know all of your employees gets harder as you grow, Ziehler says the leader has more of a responsibility and ability to affect their lives. The choices on who will manage employees has a huge effect on how the employee will grow.

“It just changes how we get that ending effect on an employee,” he said, adding that when you have the right people in place, it works better than Ziehler telling them something.

McDuff said his company did lose people when they made changes because some employees didn’t want to report to some new managers. They also had some churn when they created their core values.

“The people in our organization believe in the vision,” he says, adding that there will be struggles because of more layers, but their retention rate boomed in the past two years because of the change.

“We didn’t have the structure when they were reporting to me and Andy,” he says.

The author is editor of Lawn & Landscape.

Kevin R. Kehoe: 1955-2022

Kehoe was a co-founder of Aspire Software and a longtime industry consultant.

Photo courtesy of Aspire Software

Aspire software co-founder and industry consultant, Kevin R. Kehoe, died Sept. 30. He was 67 years old. Kehoe had battled Stage 4 colo-rectal cancer since 2014, according to the Kehoe Family Foundation website.

Kehoe, with his wife, Lorraine, launched the foundation in 2021 to encourage generational giving by involving nephews, nieces and children to carry on their vision.

His autobiography, “One Hit Wonder: The Real-life Adventures of an Average Guy and the Lessons He Learned Along the Way,” was released in 2022.

He was recently honored with the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Lifetime Leadership Award for his years of service to the industry as a consultant, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Aspire co-founder Mark Tipton said: “I am heartbroken but also overcome with gratitude for the opportunities that Kevin has provided for the Aspire team. Kevin was not just a pillar throughout Aspire’s growth, but a true friend to so many. I can’t imagine our industry will see another leader as special as Kevin; he was brilliant, passionate, and filled to the brim with grit. I am extremely grateful to have known Kevin and will miss him very much. Thank you, Kevin, for making Aspire possible.”

Senske Services acquires Green Mountain Lawn & Tree Care

The Colorado-based company marks Senske’s seventh acquisition in 2022.

Senske Services has acquired Green Mountain Lawn & Tree Care based in Commerce City, Colorado.

Senske is a family-owned provider of premier lawn, tree, and pest control services throughout the Western United States. It ranked No. 47 on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list in 2022.

Founded in 1985 by Wade Grove, Green Mountain has provided lawn and tree care for nearly four decades.

This is the seventh successful acquisition completed by Senske Services in 2022, contributing to three years of record-breaking growth for the company. Senske plans to dramatically increase M&A activity by targeting an expanding national footprint.

“Our expansion and growth strategy focuses on acquiring companies with similar service lines and quality employees that can join our team,” said Senske’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Ehrhart. “We look forward to providing fantastic service to our new customers.”

“Our expansion and growth strategy focuses on acquiring companies with similar service lines and quality employees that can join our team. We look forward to providing fantastic service to our new customers.”

— Tim Ehrhart, Chief Operating Officer

Enhanced Landscape Management acquires The Groundskeeper

The Groundskeeper was founded by Harry Avedissian and is based in California.

Landscape Development’s maintenance division, Enhanced Landscape Management, has completed the asset purchase of The Groundskeeper in Ventura, California.

The Groundskeeper was founded by Harry Avedissian in 1985. It’s based in Valencia, California.

“After deciding to sell my company, it was important for me to know that my long-tenured and valued employees and clients would be well cared for with a seamless transition,” Avedissian said. “After learning more about LDI / ELM’s culture and progressive business practices, I felt this would be a great opportunity for all involved.”

“With this acquisition, we gain additional great talent and further cement our position in Ventura County as the leading landscape maintenance service provider,” said ELM Division President Ron Reitz.

Gary Horton founded LDI in 1983. The company currently operates from 13 regional offices throughout California and Southern Nevada and employs over 1,200 industry professionals.

“This is an excellent addition to our maintenance business,” said LDI President and CEO Gary Horton. “We further expand our reach in the SCV / Ventura region as the market leader as we continue to expand and deliver our full suite of services to our ever-expanding client base. Enhanced Landscape Management continues to pursue acquisition opportunities through California and the Western States as we execute our maintenance segment growth strategy.”

November 2022
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