The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist

Jerry Schill doesn’t want to hear about what he can’t do.

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April 11, 2012
Chuck Bowen
Jerry Schill knows how to make tough decisions for the good of his people.

“Every day I’m motivated by our people. I’m not going to be happy until they can have everything they want. We’re competitive. Every day something’s broken, it needs fixed, and every day something is obsolete and needs to be retooled. If we don’t push, we may never know what could have been. And there’s always a better way.”

Because you’ll never get there.

“No.”

But the idea is that you can.

“Yeah. It’s scary thinking you can’t. You don’t accept it.”

Most every Sunday night, you’ll find Jerry Schill on a farm in Castalia, Ohio. It’s 1,000 acres in the middle of nowhere, with a great stream for catching trout and good dirt to grow corn. He’s there with his family – his girlfriend Krista and her parents, their kids, Grandma Ruth and anyone else who drops by – to laugh and be loud, cook a big dinner and catch up.

Running Schill Grounds Management and being the single parent to four very active children keeps him on the go, and these nights on the farm are their only real downtime.

“Sunday dinners are what I live for,” he says.

Schill spends as much time with his family as possible (top). Schill at the farm with his girlfriend’s son, Mason (bottom).

Schill never considered landscaping as a career – he’d studied English in college, wanted to coach football. But eventually he switched to business, graduated and got a job as an management trainee in a chemical plant an hour away from home. But he soon learned that he couldn’t sit inside all day.

“I just hated being cooped up,” he says. “We grew up outdoors. Sun up to sun down, you would find us in the woods behind our house, on a ball field or camping.” Schill and his brother Joe started doing some landscaping side jobs, and decided to give it a shot.

And it took off. Schill Landscaping built beautiful projects all over Ohio, winning awards and growing fast.

Schill and his four brothers grew up as part of a big extended family in Sheffield Lake, Ohio. He’s got enough first cousins to field an entire baseball game.

It taught him one important lesson. “Eat fast,” he says, grinning. “Or you’re not eating.”

But he also learned to respect the value of hard work, and to depend on the support of his family, especially two parents who encouraged their boys’ energy and drive.

“You know, both our parents have always given us everything we needed, and some of what we wanted,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of gray area in the house. It was either right or it was wrong, and you knew. They gave us a lot of leeway but at the end of the day, we knew exactly what was expected, where we stood, and how to conduct yourself as a gentleman.”

In 2009, it had become clear that Schill Landscaping couldn’t survive. The three owners – brothers Jerry, Joe and Jim – had two very different visions for the company.
 

The Right Reasons

“The first word is strength. He is a very energetic, go-getter kind of guy, just not afraid to make the tough decisions when he has to, and yet carry out his business with compassion as well. You can tell he’s excited about this business, and really, really wants to do well.

“I know he’s been through challenging things with partners and brothers, and having gone through that type of thing myself, I know the difficulty of trying to do that. What I was amazed with was, he was really focused on what was very important for his business, the people in his business and his brother as well. In that order, his name was last.

“That is the true measure of a good man: willing to make a tough decision, but not doing it for personal reasons, but doing it for all the right reasons.”
 

– Jim McCutcheon, owner, HighGrove Partners, Leadership Class of 2005

 

“It was ripping us apart. We were traditional business, and we did everything, and we’re average at all of it. We made a big push to grow the maintenance, and it changed the dynamics of the company,” Schill says. “And as the economy changed and the environments changed and people’s passions change, so did kind of our philosophy on how to do things. And we decided that it was time to focus on what we were passionate about. The problem was we were creating too much internal competition.”

Schill had two options: Do nothing, continue down the same destructive path and risk the entire company failing. Or change the company entirely, split it in two.

“You can sit and watch the walls crumble down around you,” Schill says. “Or move and do something.”

Schill couldn’t let all those people down. He had to move.

“The organization’s way bigger than any one individual. Jim and I may own the company, and Joe at the time, but it’s way bigger than that,” he says. “At the end of the day it’s not about one, two or three families. It was about eighty other families. And it was the hardest decision we’d ever had to make.”

The split officially completed last summer, and Schill isn’t looking back. He’s in a new office with his new company, and he’s focused on his new competition.

“We’re back in the game. It’s been an up and down year for my family and the entire organization, but exhilarating at the same time,” he says. “It’s bittersweet, but at the end of the day it was the right move.”
 

Giving Thanks

Around Thanksgiving a few years ago, Jerry Schill was looking for some volunteer opportunities for himself and his four children.

“I give the kids all the credit for it because they aggravated me one day. And they seemed to be a little ungrateful, and a little more concerned about themselves than anybody else,” Schill says.

He couldn’t find anything that fit, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He reached out to some of his clients, and raised $6,000 to serve a Thanksgiving dinner in his church basement (pictured above) for anyone in Elyria, a hard-hit industrial town on Lake Erie.

And then it took off. He and his kids now serve hundreds of hot meals on Christmas and Easter, too.

“All the proceeds are raised privately through a lot of my clients. And it’s allowed us to do it every holiday,” he says. “There are many businesses struggling, but they continue to give what they can for those less fortunate. It helps us realize all the things we’ve been blessed with.”
 

Pictured above: Schill’s son Jerot and his friend Ray Cunningham help serve dinner.