While waiting for his non-compete to end after exiting as CEO of then ValleyCrest (now BrightView), Richard Sperber said he spent a lot of time with family and dabbled in real estate. He also came to a realization.
“In the three years I figured out I wasn't good at anything else but landscaping,” he told Lawn & Landscape. “I’ve always been passionate about the business and I love it.”
On April 1, Sperber, whose non-compete ended at the end of 2017, announced the launch of Sperber Landscape Companies. Sperber says the Calabasas, California-based company will eventually have a national footprint and focus on maintenance while being selective on high-end installation projects.
The company will launch with between 200-300 employees through acquisitions and partnerships he hopes to announce soon.
Sperber says he didn’t want to go the route of working directly with a private equity firm, instead deciding to work with a mix of investors.
“My whole goal is to build a great business again and have values that we had before,” he says. “It’s a people business, right? It's hard to do that when you have a huge private equity firm breathing down your neck full time and they're trying to manage you from the 50th floor of a high rise building in New York. Don't get me wrong, I want to make money, also. But there's just different ways to making money.”
Private equity firm KKR bought landscaping giants Brickman and ValleyCrest in two separate deals in 2013 and 2014 respectively and merged the two companies in May of 2014. The company was rebranded as BrightView in December of 2014.
“Our families worked hard over the years to build a certain culture, to treat our employees a certain way. It was all about delivering a great experience to our employees and a great experience to our clients. They moved away from that. It doesn't mean they are doing something worse. They just have their own core philosophies, have their own ideas of how to run the $2 billion business versus $1 billion.”
He sees Sperber Landscape Companies eventually having a national footprint but doesn’t have a ceiling on a revenue number.
“As long as there's no shortage of people that want to have some fun and build a great business, I want to get really big,” he says.
As far as the name of his new company, he says that could still change.
“It may not end up as Sperber,” he says. “I call that my working title.”
He adds that he doesn’t feel any pressure to live up to the expectations created by the Sperber name. Sperber’s father, Burt, was the founder of ValleyCrest and guided the company to become one of the largest in the green industry. He died in 2011 at the age of 82.
“I have a lot of confidence because my dad spent so much time with me and taught me so much,” he says. “There are so many people helping me that liked our company and loved my dad, so I owe it to him to do it. We have to write our own ending and not have someone else write our own ending.”