When it comes to being a strong leader, it’s not only important to give direction, but to also lead by example.
That rings true for Kristen Fefes.
“We preach the value of industry certification,” says Becky Garber, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) director of communication. “Kristen, as a true professional, went out and earned the certification for people who run associations. She made the effort to do it and I think that says a lot about her and her commitment to professionalism and doing herself what we preach.”
Fefes joined the ALCC in 1999 as the assistant executive director. Prior to that, she’d been working at Selz/Seabolt Communications in Washington, D.C., after she graduated from Catholic University in 1992.
After seven years there, she was ready to leave Washington and head back to her native Denver, although she wanted to stay in the trade association world.
“(The) concept of people coming together in a volunteer capacity to make an industry better and to make standards; I had really enjoyed that,” she says. “I wanted to stay in that.”
Although she had no previous experience in the landscape industry, she called herself “lucky” for finding the open position with the ALCC.
“I think that’s one of the fun things about working for associations,” she says. “Is that you quickly learn how to talk about the important things that matter. You learn the lingo of horticulture.”
A year after starting, the ALCC longtime executive director resigned and Fefes became the acting director. In October of 2001, she was named Executive Director.
“The thing I’ve always found fascinating about Kristen,” says Dean Murphy, president of Terracare Associates and past president of ALCC for 2014, “is she can do anything she wanted, she’s that talented. I’ve always found it interesting that she chose this industry to be part of. It’s because she likes it.”
And it’s her love of the industry that plays a role in the work she does with ALCC.
“She really gives back to the industry, and puts her heart and soul into what she does,” says Sandy Munley, OLA executive director. “She’s definitely one of the leaders in the industry on the association side of things.”
When asked about the best and worst advice she’d ever been given, Fefes had a list. The advice ranged from things told to her by family members and peers in the industry, and it’s obvious that she follows all of them in her daily life.
Always know what you want out of a meeting.
“If you asked my husband what I did all day, he’d say go to meetings,” Fefes says. And though she’s joking, her day is packed with them. From January through May, the Colorado legislature is in session.
She’s part of an umbrella organization in Colorado called GreenCO (The Green Industries of Colorado). It brings together seven green industries (landscape companies/contractors, nursery, garden center, sod growers, lawn care, landscape architects and arborists), and helps them collaborate on legislative and regulatory issues.
She’s also part of ProGreen Expo, which is the largest green industry conference in the Rocky Mountain Region. It is presented by a group of organizations, including ALCC.
At each of her meetings, Fefes makes sure the focus stays on the people she represents in the association, but she also puts focus on the industry as a whole.
“It’s not just about Colorado for her,” Garber says. “It’s about how can we throw our weight as an association into something that is impactful at a national level that does come back to our members?”
Fefes travels to Washington almost every year, advocating for the industry at NALP’s Legislative Day on the Hill. She also lobbies at the statehouse for things important to the industry in Colorado, including H-2B and pesticide regulations.
“It’s your job to advocate for the industry and represent them,” Fefes says. “You quickly learn how to talk about the important things that matter.”
Listening is a learned skill, not an innate one – anyone can do it with practice.
“She’s very reasonable about listening to someone else and their position,” Murphy says. “Intellect has nothing to do with what you know, it’s more based on what you ask. People who ask the best questions are the best people to deal with, and she’s one of those people.”
Fefes says some of the best parts of board meetings are when everyone’s talking before the meeting gets started.
“That’s how I learn,” she says. “Open your eyes to the nuances.”
A good listener doesn’t listen to the loudest talkers in the room, and Fefes is certainly a good listener.
“She’s equally attentive to the leader of a huge company as she is to a young person getting started out and trying to make a place in the industry,” Garber says. “I think that speaks volumes. Kristen makes time for everyone, and we’re here to serve everyone.”
You grew because of someone.
Help someone grow because of you. Fefes has done a lot to help the industry, but it’s more the manner of how she’s done it that affects people so much. Being available and willing to help others is what helps someone stand out in a crowd.
“I think she’s just a dynamic leader who’s very thoughtful and very easy to work with because she is so thoughtful and always makes sure to be very inclusive to people,” says Munley.
In fact, Fefes has stood out so much, many of her industry peers feel she’s helped make their jobs better.
“We love Kristen. When she leaves, we may have to follow because we love working with her so much,” says Garber, talking about what she and another coworker tell applicants when they ask about the association in interviews. “That’s the truth and we have told countless applicants that. That’s just what resonates with us: how much we admire her and appreciate her.”
“She’s on my short list of people I’d trust with anything,” he says. “We talk all the time about anything that happened where we lose her would be a step down.”
You’ll be amazed at what 10 minutes outside every day will do for your disposition.
Living in Colorado, where there are over 300 days of sun each year, Fefes finds a lot of time to spend outdoors. When she’s not in the office or at meetings, she can be found hiking or riding bikes with her husband, Dimitri, and her two sons, ages four and five.
“My five-year-old can actually ride his bike now,” she says. “So that’s one less person in the Burley that I have to pull.”
Fefes and her husband are both avid skiers, so her hope is to start skiing again when her sons get old enough. But even if it doesn’t involve the outdoors, Fefes is almost constantly active in her free time.
“I’m an early morning exercise person,” she says. “I feel like I’m in on a secret when I’m awake and the rest of the house isn’t.”
You can’t govern without the will of the governed.
After taking over the role of Executive Director, Fefes put an emphasis on teamwork within the association, something she feels associations should be about.
“You’ve got to create the two-way communication,” Fefes says. “It’s not about one person’s agenda. Nobody in my position can do their job without the membership. Associations are so interesting because the shareholders, the customers and the workforce are all the same people. We really can’t do our jobs without them, and I feel lucky that I wouldn’t want to. That’s what makes our work fun; what makes my work fun.”