Tips from the top: Joe Rotolo, president, Rotolo Consultants

Departments - Top 100

July 15, 2013
Chuck Bowen

From left: Michael Rotolo, Keith Rotolo, Joe Rotolo, Rod Rotolo and Brian Rotolo

It was purely by accident. In 1978, my father, surprisingly, bought a nursery from his brother-in-law as a retirement opportunity. That lasted less than a year: When I finished at LSU, I came to Slidell and bought the nursery from my father.

I was 21.

The family is the business. Without the family, we would never have achieved what we’ve achieved.

Kerry came in within months of us going into business. And then my brother Rod joined in 1983. Each of us has a specific skill set. I was more of the construction minded. Kerry was more of an accounting/finance background. And Rod, even though his major was in hotel and restaurant management, his love and his hobby was horticulture. He had a greenhouse in the backyard when he was in junior high.

Our youngest brother, Keith, joined in 2000. He runs our maintenance division, and of all four of us is probably the best manager of the group. Rod handles all estimating and construction management. Kerry retired two years ago. Kerry’s son Brian is our new CFO. Kerry’s other son Michael runs our hardscape and pool construction division.

We found that we could spend an hour with a retail nursery customer and have a $100 sale or we could spend an hour with a customer and have a several thousand dollar sale on a landscape project. So it was just a matter of recognizing the amount of time spent for the dollars earned.

I was able to take a class with Dr. Reich at LSU, who the landscape architecture department is named after. He really lit the fire for me and confirmed that this was what I wanted to do.

We went on a walking tour through some residential properties that he had designed. Before that I would look at a landscape and say, “That’s nice.” I understood after just a few of his classes the importance of how it all worked together.

We do business development, which means when we become involved in a project or with a developer or contractor, we really do get involved and help resolve the issues. When you have that mentality, you become a problem solver.

That is where we struggled in 2009 and ’10 and into ’11. There was very little design/build. The market had changed into a very, very competitive hard-bid market. And that was a very difficult transition for us, mentally, to go from looking at a set of plans and trying to evaluate them as opposed to looking at the plans and just seeing what opportunities there would be once we’re on the job. We just had never been a change order company.

You learn how to be more competitive. You learn how to run a little leaner. But I will say this: It is hard to continue to run lean for an extended period of time. It’s very wearing, and it took us a little while to come out of that mentality and start enjoying the business and enjoying the type of work we do again.

The best advice was from my father: When you walk in that door, when you walk in your office, you have to be consistent, you have to have a smile on your face. And no matter what, you have to project that life is good. You have to be a positive influence when you walk in your business.

He saw his four sons run it for several years. Dad was quiet. He was a tough disciplinarian, but a great father. Everybody says, “How can four brothers, and now nephews, all work together?” The reason is he instilled a great work ethic, a strong sense of family. And he was very proud.

The first year we were in business, I don’t think we did $100,000 in total revenue. I think he had a tremendous amount of pride to see us grow the company the way we did. L&L