In 1985, at age 22, Ivan Giraldo left his native Columbia to start a new life in Florida. Today, he is co-founder and president of Clean Scapes, a booming commercial landscape business based in Austin, Texas, which was ranked number 33 on the Lawn & Landscapes Top 100 list for 2020.
“It’s been an enjoyable and a challenging ride,” says Giraldo, who in 2017 was named the Central Texas Entrepreneur of the Year in the services category by EY (formerly Ernst & Young).
With branches in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, Clean Scapes clients include many of the area’s leading corporate office parks, retail centers, homeowners’ associations and education and health care facilities.
Winner of multiple national and regional landscaping awards for its crews’ meticulous care of properties – including the Texas state capitol, Dallas’s Galatyn Commons office park, San Antonio’s Blue Skies of Texas retirement community and more – Clean Scapes has risen to the top of its field by providing top-notch, customer-focused service.
“Ivan’s story is amazing as to how he came to the U.S. from Columbia, working completely from the bottom up to ownership in commercial landscaping,” says David Weaver, senior property manager with Lincoln Property Company, a commercial property management company based in Austin. “He’s a great leader and innovator and is well-known and respected by his friends, co-workers, employees and peers, and that has led to his success in building the pre-imminent landscaping company in our area.”
Bringing Beauty to Communities
Early in his career, Giraldo worked with his brothers in their small, residential landscaping business in Florida.
“I have always been in love with the outdoors,” Giraldo says. “Starting out, it was wonderful to see the difference that we were able to make in people’s lawns, and the joy that we brought to them.”
Later, after moving to Texas, Giraldo began work with CleanCut – working his way up from crew member to foreman and, eventually, supervisor. When CleanCut later merged with TruGreen, Giraldo became manager of one of the company’s most successful branches.
In 2005, Giraldo founded Clean Scapes with Rex Gore, who had previously co-founded CleanCut. They started with just seven employees. Today, they employ more than 700, and their 2019 reported revenue topped $55 million.
“Our industry is about bringing beauty to our communities,” Giraldo says. “When you travel to a different part of our country and drive through it . . . you enjoy the beauty of the landscapes in that city. The parks and green spaces are inviting and peaceful. That’s what we do – we bring that level of comfort and invitation to our communities. It’s a benefit for everybody, and that’s what makes me so happy and proud about the work that we do.”
With more than 30 years in the industry – much of it in central Texas – Giraldo has developed a broad network of clients who have relied on him and his crews to keep their properties looking their best for decades. Many of the property managers he works with count him not just as a colleague or work partner, but as a friend.
“I have known Ivan for over 20 years now. During those 20 years he has always conducted his business dealings in a professional and courteous manner,” says Donald Vaglica, senior property manager with Live Oak Real Estate Development, Brokerage & Services based in Austin. “His knowledge of the Austin landscape environment has been impeccable. The landscaping for many of the buildings that I have managed since they were constructed in the late 1990s was installed by crews that Ivan oversaw. His current landscape company is taking care of the landscaping at most of those same buildings today. In addition to being a great vendor source, I must also add that I have the pleasure of being able to call Ivan a friend.”
“Our industry is about bringing beauty to our communities.” Ivan Giraldo, co-founder and president of Clean Scapes
Giving voice to Hispanic-Americans in the landscape industry
Giraldo has been an active member with the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance (NHLA), which formed in 2011 to recognize and advance the interests of the more than 500,000 Hispanic-Americans who work in the landscape industry across the U.S. Earlier this year, NHLA opted to merge with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), but the group’s core work will continue.
Giraldo served as NHLA board secretary before the merger, and he’s currently working with NHLA and NALP leadership to chart exactly how the two groups can best work together to continue to support the growing Hispanic community within the American landscape industry.
“Our industry is open and welcoming to everybody,” he says. “But we can always be a little more inviting. There’s always room for improvement. That was the purpose of NHLA in the beginning. We were hoping to be the voice of the Spanish and Latino population within the industry. We also wanted to help Anglo-owned companies to integrate their Latino workforce and promote them from frontline employees to management as a way of acknowledging their assets to the company.”
Giraldo’s own experience as a Hispanic-American who worked his way up in the industry – from frontline crew member to one of the country’s top landscape business owners – gives him a unique perspective on the potential for managerial or entrepreneurial talent in every employee.
Perhaps that’s why one of the hallmarks of his career has been the kindness and respect with which he leads his teams.
“Ivan and I met in the mid to late 1990s, when he was a crew leader,” says Vera Massaro, vice president of Qualico Communities, based in Pflugerville, Texas. One thing that impressed me about Ivan was the way he handled his crews. I understand Spanish, so I knew what he was saying and how he was saying it, and he was always very professional with his guys that didn’t understand any English. He never spoke down to them.”
Massaro says the memory is made all the more clear because of experience she’s had with other lawn care companies, in which crew leaders treated their team members with far less respect.
“I guarantee I could meet Ivan out in the field right now, and he would be talking to the guy holding the shovel digging the ditch in that exact same (respectful) manner,” she says. “I mean, I’ve seen it. He treats his clients that way, too.”
Forging pride in the industry
While with the NHLA, Giraldo helped launch the group’s “Proud to Be Green Collared” campaign to promote awareness and pride in the green industry’s contributions to communities across the country.
“When people talk about jobs, it’s always the concept of white-collar or blue-collar working people. One of the problems with our industry is that it doesn’t have more of an identity as a very professional industry and a career in which to be proud,” Giraldo says.
To combat that identity crisis, Giraldo and other NHLA members came up with the idea of the green collar campaign to give the industry increased visibility.
Giraldo hopes NALP will continue the campaign. “Hopefully we can continue and make everybody realize that we are an important sector of our economy, and we are proud of that,” he says.
Humble by nature, Giraldo hesitates to consider himself a “leader” within the green industry, though he admits he knows some people see him in that light – and he’s happy to help mentor others whenever possible.
“I enjoy sharing my ideas and knowledge with others,” he says. “I learned by listening to other people. I believe by sharing our experiences, that’s how we get better.”
Giraldo feels pleased, at this point in his career, to have the opportunity to help others reach their own business goals within the industry. He takes great joy in encouraging others and coaching young leaders in the industry “every chance that I get,” he says.
“You never know who you are affecting, with what you do or what you say, directly or indirectly,” he says.
“You may say certain things in a group or in a meeting that can affect somebody in a positive way. That’s what I love. I love to lead by example.”