Tips from the top: Pat Covey

Tips from the top: Pat Covey

Departments - Top 100

The President and COO of U.S. Operations for Davey Tree explains what it takes to make a company successful.

August 22, 2014
Chuck Bowen
Industry News Business/Finance

I’m from Madison, Wis., originally. I saw an ad in the paper that Davey needed an internal auditor. I didn’t know a lot about Davey at the time.

My job was to make sure we were conforming with our systems and processes that we had set up internally from an accounting perspective. What it provided me was a really good way to go around and see a lot of different parts of the company.

Now I’m involved a lot with the strategic plan for the company. Anything to do with acquisition and mergers, I’m very involved. A big part of my day is focused on growing the company and creating opportunity.

One of the things we’re celebrating this year is 35 years of employee ownership. We’re proud of that, but it means we have a group of people that have been around for a while and elevated into high levels of the management team who are getting close to retirement.

When you have high-level people leaving the company, you have to have succession planning four or five levels down to make sure you’re backfilling with the right people. That creates a ton of opportunities all the way down the line.

In the past few years, we relied heavily on mergers and acquisitions. We were very active from 2008 all the way up to this year, every other year growing through pretty significant mergers and acquisitions. That’s proven to be a great way for us to grow, especially during that time in the economy when we weren’t growing very well organically.

Looking forward, our strategic plan focuses on shifting that mix a little bit more heavily toward organic growth, creating our own internal opportunities through improving client experience or through expansion of existing branches.

We’ve become very good at adapting our integration to meet the expectations of the company that we’ve merged with or acquired. I think it says a lot about our ability just to get them to trust the system, trust our culture because, frankly, a lot of times these other companies see us as the main competition.

We can point to a number of people that are high up at the organization that came from acquisitions that show that we’re very open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

We feel good about the consumer’s desire to spend on tree care. We feel good about the commercial side of things. People are getting more and more confident around doing things, spending some money.

The economy seems robust. There’s a lot of activity in Florida around new housing. There are good reasons to think that from a real estate perspective, those states or markets that have been hurt are starting to rebound, which is always good for our industry.

It’s always getting quality people. People that want to work in our industry. It’s a challenge to get people that want to work hard.

The way the industry’s going, there’s going to be tremendous opportunity for someone that wants to make a career out of landscaping. If you have some motivation and you’re willing to work hard, I think you’re going to be in high demand by any company.

I used to hear people say that we should go in as a loss leader to get the work. I never really understood that, going in a loss leader. That’s just a bad business model for service.

We got away from that, thankfully. I think that’s ultimately setting an unrealistic expectation about what the price needs to be. And, at least for us, it never really materialized into anything but more losses.

You can be aggressive, but it’s a fine line you walk when you go in and set pricing expectations at unrealistically low, not-maintainable points and then expect that the client is going to understand when the pricing has to go up. That doesn’t always happen.