Tips from the Top: Jim Cali

Jim Cali, COO, Southern Botanical

July 19, 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 our Top 100 list.

What does being a Top 100 company mean to you?

It means that our team is working really hard to provide a record-level service that is being recognized by our clients. If we weren’t doing that, we wouldn’t be growing like we have been.

What kind of training do you provide to make your client service top notch?

We train 52 weeks a year for an hour every week. We spend time on horticulture practices, safety practices and client services. We make sure that the crews know the clients’ names, that we move the newspapers to the front doors, providing our clients a customized personal service. Our clientele is very high-end, and so we do training based on being a white glove service. We’ve read books on the Ritz-Carlton and other service based corporations and we take their practices into the field. We make sure that team members are in clean uniforms and the trucks are spotless. Everything we do is crisp, clean and on time.

As your company has grown, what has been one of your most difficult decision to make as a leader?

Our most difficult decision was probably to not lay anyone off during the recession. That was really, really tough for us, because from a business perspective, we should have laid a number of people off. But we knew that what we were building for the future and layoffs would have lessened our ability to come out of the recession – we had worked so hard to recruit our talent to begin with.

Choosing to live in a loss situation by keeping the entire team on board during some of the toughest times is really hard to do. But I can tell you now post recession that keeping the team is the best decision we’ve ever made. We’re not short-term thinkers around here, we’re long-term thinkers. Since 1995, we still have the first four team members working for us.

What has changed about your company as it has grown?

Something that’s changed is our use of technology. For a number of years, we’ve been working on the same operational platform based on meeting our client’s needs. And we’ve built that platform based on client service leaders that we strive to emulate like FedEx and Ritz-Carlton.

In addition, there’s no company like us that leads in irrigation technology. All of our clients will be on remote control irrigation controllers if we haven’t installed it already. We installed technology that could save the client water while driving our own operational efficiencies – and it is working.

Is there any one aspect of your company that you’d like to change?

We’re always changing. There’s not one thing that will remain stagnant at this company. In the next three years innovation is truly going to help us grow.

We’re always evolving; I think the only thing that will stay the same is our core principle of being a benchmark in everything that we do. We’re going to do everything that we can do to make sure we are tops in class and tops in landscaping, not just in Texas but nation-wide.

What advice would you give to leaders who want to grow their companies?

It’s all about your ability to execute on your core principles of your business plan and your ability to always innovate to make yourself better.

I think that’s why nothing stays static around here very long.