Leading with integrity

Miles Kuperus, Jr. stepped up as an industry leader as a way of repaying those who helped him early in his career.

Miles Kuperus, Jr. is president of Farmside Landscape & Design in Wantage, New Jersey
Photos courtesy of Farmside Landscape & Design

As the president of Farmside Landscape & Design, based in Wantage, New Jersey, Miles Kuperus, Jr. runs his business – and his personal life – with an eye toward integrity, ethics and Christian values.

“Our faith in our industry, and our faith in just our core values is totally why we do what we do,” says Kuperus, who is celebrating his 30th anniversary in the industry this year.

“Miles has a very high level of integrity,” says Glenn Jacobsen, president of Jacobsen Landscape Design & Construction based in Midland Park, New Jersey. Jacobsen nominated Kuperus for the Leadership award after working with him on several professional boards for more than 15 years. “Miles has a very strong value system,” says Jacobsen, a 2009 Leadership award winner. “He is a dedicated, hard-working, trustworthy leader.”

Building the Business

Kuperus’s company headquarters is located on the same land that once housed his family’s dairy farm. As a boy, he grew up working the farm and understanding – from a very young age – the value of hard work and being outdoors.

The family’s farm market also gave Kuperus early exposure to the importance of a customer-focused approach to doing business. “We had a bootstrap business where we sold products – corn and other fruits and vegetables – and that kind of taught us a good skill set for caring for our customers. It developed my awareness of customer care,” he says.

As he grew older, Kuperus began helping with his brother’s garden center business, which he credits for being “the genesis of how I got into the landscape industry,” he says. After high school, he took landscape courses at Rutgers University, further honing his interest and skills in the career track.

By 1985, while still attending classes, Kuperus had bought his first truck, a gray Ford F-100, and began working in the industry, installing basic plantings and taking on simple builds. After four years of business growth, Kuperus officially incorporated Farmside as a business in 1989. His wife, Lisa, joined the staff in 1990 and became a co-owner in 1999. Their oldest son, Miles III, also now works with the company.

As a full-service landscape contractor, Farmside offers landscape design, installation and maintenance, as well as plant health care and turf care services. Their clients include both corporate and residential customers. “For our design builds, we’re about 90 percent residential and 10 percent commercial,” Kuperus says. “When it comes to maintenance services, then our mix is more 50-50, along with our turf applications and plant health care.”

With just under 25 employees typically, the business annually brings in $3 million in gross revenue, serving a tri-state area that includes portions of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. “We’ve got a great team, and we are in our happy spot in terms of where we are in size,” Kuperus says. “We’re focused on growing for the future, but we’re also able to run things where we are right now very efficiently.”

Brett Lemcke, former NALP president, with Lisa and Miles after the company won a safety award.

Effective Leadership Style

In addition to overseeing Farmside, Kuperus is active on many state and national industry boards, including serving as former president of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) Foundation Board.

“When I was serving as president, we were going through a lot of change,” Kuperus explains. “We were taking the board from being just a foundation giving out scholarships and refocusing our mission to bringing more industry awareness to the general public and also developing a workforce recruitment initiative.”

Navigating the change in direction and philosophy wasn’t without its challenges. “You had some groups who wanted to stay where it was, and others that felt we needed to go forward,” he says. “So, I was trying to bridge the gap between both parties.”

Kuperus’s effective leadership style was instrumental in helping the group eventually reach consensus. “I was always impressed with him in meetings and with the way he handled himself,” Jacobsen says. “He stuck with what he felt was important. He always spoke with modesty. He always spoke on behalf of what he felt was best for the organization. I was always struck by that.”

“I’d always rather be the humble one in the room, leading through a quiet leadership style.” Miles Kuperus, Farmside Landscape & Design

“Miles has been a guiding force in our industry for more than 20 years, first through ACLA/PLANET and now NALP,” says Frank Mariani, current president of the NALP Foundation Board, CEO of Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, Illinois and a 2006 Leadership award winner. “His sage advice as a fellow Foundation Board member has made my job as president so much easier and, frankly, fun.

“As important as he is in helping to raise public awareness of our green industry and the professionalism of our craft, his abilities far exceed those talents. He is a sterling example of a great family man and a fine gentleman.”

Still, Kuperus is quick to defer credit for the restructuring to the entire NALP Foundation Board. “It was really a team effort,” he says. “I’d always rather be the humble one in the room, leading through a quiet leadership style.”

Kuperus sees serving in leadership roles as a way to pay forward the help and guidance he received from the industry when he was just starting out, he says.

“I love the industry. I love giving back,” Kuperus says. “I’ve been around some amazing people that have really pushed me and developed me into who I am. I feel it’s very appropriate to ensure that what we learn, we give back.”

Miles and Lisa with their children at Renewal & Remembrance.

Service Oriented

Beyond his industry leadership, Kuperus has made volunteering and service an integral part of his family’s focus as well.

He and Lisa have five children together – Miles III, 27; Anna Marie, 25; Racheal, 23; Richard, 21; and Wesley, 16 – and they volunteer as a family in NALP’s annual Renewal & Remembrance three-day service event at Arlington National Cemetery.

During the event, the family joins other landscape professionals to beautify and maintain the grounds of the cemetery. This past year, they worked to lime and aerate the soil, prune and plant, and update pavers throughout the grounds. “I think it’s important that we recognize that freedom’s not free,” Kuperus says. “And for us as stewards of the earth, it’s so appropriate to care for the people that preserved our freedom.”

Lisa co-leads the kids’ portion of the Renewal & Remembrance event, which allows children of landscapers to be involved in the service as well. All of the Kuperus children have been actively involved in helping develop the program.

“We feel it’s important that our kids learn the importance of giving back, as well,” he says.

Miles and his wife, Lisa

Safety Focus

Kuperus prioritizes providing a safe working environment for his employees – a focus that’s earned Farmside many safety awards over the years, including a Gold Performance Award at both the 2017 and 2018 NALP Safety Recognition Awards Program.

“In the last five years, we have been really focused on safety for our employees,” Kuperus says. “We’ve been passionate about making sure that our guys take safety seriously and see it as a hallmark of professionalism.”

To drive that point home, Farmside has weekly company-wide meetings to discuss safety protocols and tips. “We talk about near-misses and improvements to protocol. We also applaud guys for doing a great job with safety as well,” he says.

The focus on safety is just another example of Kuperus’s commitment to continuous improvement, a drive that he feels is behind his firm’s overall success.

“We have a passion for excellence, and we’re always improving in the spirit of continual learning,” he says. “We are always trying to do our best for our customers, providing honest care and prompt service.”

Kuperus’s ethical approach to business – which he says stems from his strong Christian faith – is being passed down to the next generation, as evidenced by Miles III’s response in a 2015 NALP Father’s Day blog post about what he’d learned from his dad.

“The best thing my dad has taught me? Always maintain your values and integrity,” the younger Miles wrote. “Never deviate from your core values when tough decisions come around.”

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