Tips from the top

Tips from the top

Dean Murphy, president at Terracare Associates, talks about how he's grown his company.

March 6, 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 it mean to you to have been named to Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100?

It means we are making progress. Our goal has been to grow our business in a very intentional and measured way. We have been very fortunate to do so and appreciate the recognition.

What has changed about your company as it has grown?

I call them the three D’s: detail, development and discipline. We have to be more detailed than we’ve ever been, not only on the work, but how we run our business. You can’t just take a swing at it; you have to have market research.

We work continually on development of people and processes. There is no sitting still. If you sit still in these times, you get run over. We put a lot of money in our budget for training every year, and we train our senior staff, not just our field staff. So we’re taking folks that are middle managers or higher, and we’re putting them through significant management training to bring them to the next level.

The discipline is having a plan and everyone sticking to that plan. This allows you to go back and understand what the results of our discipline were.

The other side is culture, creativity and communication. We’ve had to make a lot of changes in our culture. We’ve had to be incredibly competitive. Our people are very dialed in, and we know what our market is and what our production rate is for every single thing we do. We’re able to chart that on a weekly basis and look back to see “did we hit it or did we not?” So we’ve had a pretty significant change in culture to be more aggressive, more accountable. On the creativity side, we’re encouraging our people to come up with a new and better way – “What have you heard? What did you try? Did it work?” – and that’s kind of an interesting dynamic. We have these conversations internally, because you have to be careful. If you want to encourage people to be creative, but if you beat people up when they make a mistake, then they won’t do that. So you have to encourage people to take chances and think outside the box a bit.

We also have a structured communication process, starting with me, all the way down the line. We make sure everyone talks.

How has your role changed as your company has grown?

One of the challenges to manage is what level of detail to be involved. As the company grows, I can’t really live off of the to-do list. It’s a question of where we’re going. I have to ask myself every day, do I work in the business or on the business?

How do you and your company avoid getting complacent?

We communicative about it constantly. We have a set of values: leadership, integrity, value and environment (L.I.V.E.). We are constantly pushing next. For example, right now, three new technologies that are truly right on the edge of what’s available are in the hands of our field staff for testing. We’ve created a culture that says change is not frightening, change is good. And that’s the only way to live, or else you get left behind. We also spend a fair amount of time looking at the world of business. What are other industries doing? You can apply a lot of things outside the industry to the industry because they are general business principles.

Is there an aspect of your company that you’d like to change or improve?

There’s 50. We’re never finished. There’s never any aspect of the business that’s exactly where we want. For example, we’ve been a large snow removal contractor for 27 years. We’re doing some things new this year that we’ve never done before, like the way we route. We want to improve everything that we do. And it may just be just a little bit, but that’s OK. We’ll get a little bit better tomorrow.