Industry Pride: David J. Frank

Features - Leadership Winners

David J. Frank started a gardening service more than 50 years ago, and credits his success to his staff.

November 19, 2009

David J. Frank is a leader in the green industry not because he speaks of his accomplishments, but because he has a pride for the industry as a whole and for the people who are its backbone.

Frank, president of David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, says there is a certain camaraderie unique to the green industry.

“That is what makes this industry different,” he says. “There is such a professional camaraderie and respect in the industry. We have helped each other to overcome business obstacles.”

It’s not only the industry professionals who have his respect, but his employees, as well. Frank explains that of all the accomplishments and industry awards he has received throughout the years, he is most proud of his staff.
“I’m fortunate and honored to have so many great people – people who are retiring with 25 or 30 years of service,” he says. “It’s their credentials that I celebrate.”

He credits longevity and stability in the business to the people around him.

“They make my job easy, and they make my job delightful. If I had one single accomplishment, it’s this group of people,” he says.

Frank started building his business back in the 1950s and ’60s in Milwaukee. He says he started a neighborhood gardening service when he was only in grade school. Even at such a young age, he started growing quickly and employed his school friends.

Industry colleague Tom Lied, CEO and landscape architect at Lied’s in Sussex, Wis., finds Frank’s longevity in the business commendable.

“He started a young business that he worked at while he was going to high school and grew it to one of the leading firms in our region and that is very admirable,” says Lied. “David has made a practice of learning and understanding corporate leadership.”

Not surprisingly, he wasn’t satisfied with just sitting back and running his business. Frank used to spend every Saturday morning in the off-season going through his Rolodex, talking to colleagues about everything from technical issues to business issues and everything in between.

“I’m so blessed to have these relationships in the industry,” he adds.

He was strongly influenced by Lied as well as Dick Brickman of the Brickman Group, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Md., early in his career and beyond.

“They significantly changed and improved a professionalism in the industry,” Frank says. “Before those guys came along we were known as gardeners.”

Frank tried to follow their lead and began to champion professionalism in terms of lawn maintenance.
“It used to be the stepchild of the industry in the 1970s. I tried to take (Lied’s and Brickman’s) professionalism and passion and put that into the maintenance industry.”

In such a demanding industry where you fight weather, competition and labor problems, you have to have a family that is understanding of the long hours, Frank says. With challenges like these, it can be overwhelming to someone just getting started in the industry.

Frank says an effective leader should understand how to install beautiful landscapes as well as the business side.

And, while he was busy building his own business and championing others over the past several decades, Frank says he has had a great family support system.

“Without support I think you are handicapped,” he says. “I see a lot of support in our industry.”