Tips from the Top: Sean Lynam, Urban Farmer

Sean Lynam, Urban Farmer

March 5, 2013


Sean Lynam has seen Urban Farmer through many perspectives. Eight years ago, Lynam started work as an account manager in the maintenance department, then moved to business development and estimating before taking over the installment and pre-construction departments. He has also ridden out a major company change – two years ago, Urban Farmer lost Owner and President Dave Tollefson to a heart attack. Though devastating to the hearts of employees, the loss did not cripple the company’s success.

The hardest part about it was the shock. It was a massive, instant change. There’s always a little trepidation in a family business like this one when the head of it unexpectedly dies. It was a little easier for us in that Karen, Dave’s wife and now our president and owner, was the vice president of operations, so she was already familiar with everything and the team underneath her was in place. Aside from walking everyone through what had happened, we were able to very quickly get back to business as usual and keep moving.

The overall mission statement of the company has always stayed the same. When Dave started it, it was all about customer service and providing the best product at the best price. That’s stayed the same even after his passing.

The company has changed the most due to the ebb and flow of the economy. When I started, we blew up from $25 million, and we probably got there a little too quickly from $15 million. We went through a bunch of lean management and scaling back. We focused on being more efficient and being smart about how we are doing things.

Usually you can tell pretty quickly where a person’s value is best utilized. If you overload people with things they just aren’t comfortable with, or if your top level is so inundated with the growth that they aren’t paying attention to any other aspects in some form or fashion, then that’s when things get sideways and that growth gets hard to manage. Now you’ve got people that are unhappy and you’re growing faster than your infrastructure can keep up with. Keeping that infrastructure tight as you grow and growing smartest is probably the best way to do it.

When Dave switched the company from residential to commercial, the biggest thing was dealing with a property manager and keeping that property’s curb appeal Class-A all the time. It’s easier to make a house look good than a business that has hundreds of people in and out every day.

While Urban Farmer has maintained being bigger in the landscape industry, it still has a very small company feel. So the manager and the owner are still able to touch all of the pieces. We have an internal quality control program where department heads will check on each other’s work. It’s a nice check and balance system. It keeps everyone moving in the same direction, which breeds success.

I would say you make mistakes every day and learn something different from all of them. One of the biggest things in our construction division is making sure that the estimate you provide off of a set of plans is 100 percent complete because you don’t want to miss something. That costs the company money in the long run.

Know who your good customers are and take care of them rather than casting a wide net and just grabbing as much work as you can. Everyone is certainly guilty of that especially in a down economy, but if you jump on ship with someone you’re not sure about, maybe that relationship doesn’t grow the way you wanted it to and maybe your companies just don’t mesh well together. That’s a tough situation.