Lawn & Landscape’s sister publication, Snow Magazine, recently named its 2015 Leadership Award winners. The following pages are snippets about a few of the award winners. For full coverage, check out Snow’s September issue, or visit bit.ly/llsnowaward to read it online.
Buying a business is a big enough challenge on its own. Throw in having a child the same year, and you have quite a task on your hands. That’s what Jeannie Schenderline was facing 1990 when she and her then husband welcomed their son Damen Koso into the world and bought Jeffco Grounds Maintenance, a snow management and landscaping company in Anchorage, Alaska. Jeffco was already established with a reputation in the Anchorage area, and the project looked like a solid investment.
But what she couldn’t account for at the time was her and her husband separating in 1992, leaving her at the head of the company, alone. A commercial fisherman, he died not long after while king crab fishing. Schenderline was on her own with a toddler to care for and a company to lead.
“When you’re a parent and you’re in that type of situation, what are you going to do? What are you going to do with your child when they don’t have another parent?” she says. “I walked into it. Right from the get-go, it was ‘I have to make this work.’”
The first step to doing that was finding out just how to run a grounds maintenance company. She had spent most of her career in the office working in accounting, but if she and Koso were going to survive, she had to face that challenge. “I was scared,” she laughs.
But Schenderline perservered and has been at the head of Jeffco for as long as Koso, who grew up working alongside his mother, can remember. It meant a lot of sacrifice, and it was a different family life than he saw others living, but it was theirs. It wasn’t easy making friends and keeping up with school with a plow schedule to work around. But some of those things “get thrown out the door when you have to put food on the table, and you have other staff who have to put food on the table to make sure their families are taken care of too,” he says.
You’re never going to find a beer can in the garbage can at Oberson’s Snow and Ice Management in Cincinnati. Owner Chad Oberson has established a culture of professionalism and pride at his $7-million snow and landscape business.
“In 99 percent of landscape companies, when they’re done at the end of the day, they get together and have a beer,” Oberson says. “That’s the atmosphere a lot of these companies portray, and that’s fine, but we just don’t let that go on at our company.”
He says most of his laborers have been working for his company for 11 years.
“They love it and try to get their acquaintances to come work for us,” he says. “We have a very different culture than most companies in our industry in that it’s very structured and safety conscious. Our industry is very blue collar, but we have a lot of policies and procedures in place regarding safety, alcohol, smoking and tobacco.”
Oberson leads by example, being present at the shop at 6:15 a.m. every morning, seven days a week and putting in 10-hour days. He visits with all of his employees, making sure everyone is happy and supplied with what they need.
“A lot of times, all the interaction happens between 6 and 9 p.m. when guys are rolling in,” Oberson says. “I’ll see a truck pull into the nursery and I’ll hop in my golf cart and run down there to see how the guys are doing and how their day went to make sure everything is good.
“That’s what I do. I want them to know I am part of every part of the business and want to make sure they succeed. I will take care of whatever they need.”
And it’s easy for Oberson to check in with his crews in person that late because his main location is also his home, as well as the home of his H2B workforce. Being so dedicated to the job and having work so close to home has led to having to make a lot of sacrifices, but Oberson doesn’t mind a bit.
“I’m 39, and I’m going to work seven days a week,” he says. “I love my job and I love what I do almost to the point where it doesn’t seem like work because I have such a good staff. It does take time away from my wife and family. My wife is wonderful and helps run the business as well as our household. I am not the dad who takes their kids everywhere or the dad you see at school functions because I simply don’t get to do that. It’s just not going to happen with the type of business and workforce I have.”
Steven Summer remembers the first time he felt like he couldn’t do his job properly. It was around when his company, About Time Snow in Huntington Valley, Pa., hit $300,000 in gross sales, and Summer began to feel tremendous pressure.
“So I went out to look to hire someone who was in the landscape industry who also managed snow,” he says. “After I hired them, they did a really good job at it, and then we hired more people through the years. I think it forced me, as we grew, to go out and try to get some of that responsibility off to other people. That process of continual growth and not being able to get a handle on the books and run the business and do sales and do operations – it really pushes you out.”
Now, Summer is in a completely different phase of his business where he is intentionally trying to transition out of the day-to-day operations so that he doesn’t necessarily have to be at his business every day.
“My management style is really a hands-off approach now,” he says. “When I manage people, I do it from a global perspective or big picture view. I don’t like to give a lot of details. If I’m pressed, I will get into details, but then everybody rolls their eyes and I talk for hours.
“So I like to stay away from the details and stay near the bigger picture and let other people figure out the details. But I do like people to follow up with me, and that’s the type of person I’m looking for. So if you’re working in our business and directly under me, I will be completely hands off but you should update me on where you’re at with your project.”
The company’s COO, Jenn Bubba, says Summer recently overhauled the business and put in a different management team.
“I come with a strong management style and he comes with a strong knowledge of the snow industry and how to make things work,” Bubba says. “He knows where to put people in place when it is something he can’t do.”
Being surrounded by family is important to Michael Weiss and treating his employees like family is another important priority to him. Some employees have been with Weiss Commercial Service Properties, which also provides landscaping services, for more than 20 years, so it’s hard to not consider them as family.
“I’m out on the truck with the guys. I’m there before, I’m there afterward. I’m not an absentee boss,” Weiss says. “I got into it because I like doing it. I still like doing it. I believe that when I’m out there working with them or beside them, we are working together so we can all achieve the same goal. I do set a time to sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever been woken up by my guys. I’ve been woken up by friends and they’re like, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Look at the snow.’ They’re good guys. They just take care of it.”
Besides being family orientated and a hands-on boss, Weiss is passionate about his customers. John Allin, a consultant of Weiss’s, knows that Weiss’s clients come first. “He is customer oriented, not to a fault, but he is obsessed with customer satisfaction,” Allin says. “And he passes that on to the troops. It permeates down through everyone’s psyche. His culture is one that the customer needs to be taken care of. It is probably the biggest reason for his success. Once he gets a customer, it is very rare that they leave.”
Allin, who has done business with Weiss for five years, attests that Weiss’s singular way of running his business has made him stand out.
“Michael is a very private individual, however, people that know him and know how his company operates try to mimic him and espouse to be like him,” Allin says.
Event planners at the 2015 ASCA Executive Summit made sure attendees had ample time to network with one another. Contractors took this time to talk a lot of shop and pick each other’s brains about their approaches and philosophies toward snow and ice management.
For more photos and a complete run down of the Executive Summit, check out next month’s L&L Snow and Ice Report.
Explore the October 2015 Issue
Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.
Latest from Lawn & Landscape
- CASE previews new small articulated loader line
- Kubota SVL75-3 compact track loader
- Kubota introduces new SVL75-3 compact track loader model
- Average Day: Episode 2
- Bartlett Tree Experts acquires two companies
- Albaugh announces acquisition of Corteva Agriscience’s Glyphosate Business
- Transform your workplace
- Taking the burden out of budgeting