Tips from the Top

Mark Bradley, President, TBG Landscape

January 23, 2012

There’s a first time for everything – the first sale, the first expansion, the first mistake and maybe even the first award. To help gain insight into the successes and lessons learned by successful business owners, every month Lawn & Landscape will talk to companies who have surpassed those milestones and have become some of the newest members of the Top 100 List.

What does being a Top 100 Company mean to you?

It was the first time we ever listed ourselves with the Top 100 and being on that list was certainly a milestone for us in our careers in the industry. It definitely gives us a way of measuring our success and the efforts of the whole team.

What has changed most about your company?

Our core values, attention to detail and overall belief in the way we manage products and customers has stayed the same.

The approach to doing the work has been what has changed the most. We now rely on systems to train people instead of revolving around my personal input. The size of the projects has also become a lot larger and more complex and challenging. One of the best changes is having the access to a bigger fleet of equipment to do the work more efficiently and having the right tool for the job so to speak.

Can you summarize your company's core values?

Our main order of operation has always been safety, quality and then profit. We try to live that every day. If we can't do the work safely and if we can't maintain the quality, then it's not worth being in business. We've always felt that profits come naturally if you do the work properly.

Did you plan to grow your company this big? How do you maintain the safety and quality standards with larger projects?

Our goal was definitely to grow the company from the start. But we never put growth in front of professional development. If we weren't ready to take the next step, then we would hold off.

Our larger projects require a higher level of safety and quality assurance, so we made sure we had the right systems and the right people in place. We implemented some new roles in the company, such as a full-time health and safety person who ensures that we meet and exceed the government regulations.

We also have a human resources person to make sure we're hiring the right people. As we've taken on more complex work, it's been easy to scale up on the equipment and operations side, but we've increasingly relied on human resources and health and safety.

What mistake have you learned most from in your career?

Yeah, plenty of those. I think some of the major ones that come to mind would be taking on more than we were ready for. We've made that mistake a few times.

In the early days, one issue was that we were growing too fast for our cash flow. We didn't have the financial backing to expand and be able to take on the work, and I know that a lot of growing companies struggle with that. They grow so fast, and even though their work is profitable, they're very short on cash because the cost of growth is consuming their profits faster than they can manage.

I think the most common mistake is not spending enough time planning. Most contractors start to do the work before planning it, which leads to inefficiencies and is certainly one of the most costly mistakes. It's important to have a type of measurement system in place to ensure that projects are monitored very closely.

Are there any other pieces of advice you would give to leaders who want to grow their companies?

The key thing as an owner is to spend at least 25 percent of your time focused on hiring the right people, and a further 25 percent on creating systems and training people on those systems to duplicate what you've already been doing. If you just simply try to grow and manage all those people without those training systems and the right people in place, things can go backward pretty quickly.