On the fly

Leadership Awards - 2019 Leadership Awards

Emerging Leader: Andy Kurth helped build a fast-growing Weed Man business, and now he’s focused on empowering his ‘cast’ to own the type of career that has been so rewarding for him.

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October 4, 2019

Photos courtesy of Andy Kurth

Wading in a mountain stream with rod in hand and a quiet world as wide as the eyes can travel, Andy Kurth exhales. He casts a line and reels in the slack, methodically moving – never stopping. A tug alerts him that a trout has pinched the bait, and the adventure of guiding the catch to a net triggers an adrenaline surge. Focus. Precision. Patience.

“I could fly fish all day,” says Kurth, president, Weed Man (F.R.I Group) and a multi-franchise owner with operations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Colorado and Idaho. “With fly fishing, you’re always doing something – every part of the process is active. It takes ultra-focus. And, there’s the rush of watching the fish take the fly.”

Kurth first fell in love with fly fishing while on a work trip with his dad, Terry Kurth, a green industry leader and 2002 Leadership award winner. Terry, who headed up what was then the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA), had organized a meeting in Big Sky, Montana. “We’d take family trips centered around the lawn care business, so you could say that fly fishing was a side effect of being involved in the industry,” Kurth says.

Kurth was always around lawn care, helping his dad out in the business in summers by treating lawns or doing irrigation work. By college, when his dad joined Weed Man, Kurth started selling accounts. “It wasn’t like this was my development plan – I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do,” he says, though he knew the soil sciences degree he was earning from the University of Wisconsin would translate to a job where he could spend time outdoors.

Phil Fogarty, longtime Weed Man sub-franchisor, remembers Kurth attending meetings with his father. “He is a quiet, reflective guy – always thoughtful,” Fogarty says, adding that Kurth has a leadership style of his own. “He’s just so grounded, and it’s never about him. It’s always about the team.”

Kurth quickly moved from being in the background at meetings to selling Weed Man franchises a few weeks after college. “That was really important in terms of my personal growth, having to step out of my comfort level,” he says. “I was used to calling on leads for Weed Man service, and closing lawn care is one thing. Calling landscapers and getting a hold of decision-makers and selling the Weed Man system is a totally different thing.”

The experience was tough, he admits. “We were introducing a new brand.” Yet, it was exhilarating.

Within six months, Kurth would take on another challenge when the sales manager of the Madison, Wisconsin, Weed Man office left his keys on his desk and never returned. It was April 10, 2005. “I became the sales manager the next day,” he says.

Kurth held his focus, kept moving forward – aspects of fly fishing he enjoys the most apply to the way he runs operations. Fogarty says, “He is always after his next challenge.”

Fourteen years ago, the Madison Weed Man office employed about a dozen people during the busy season. Its revenues were about $600,000. During the next eight years, over the course of buying out franchisees and creating partnerships, the business expanded exponentially. By 2015, it was $6 million in revenue – and Kurth expects to close out this year at around $15 million.

“We doubled in size during the last few years,” he says, adding that creating career pathways, leveraging technology and good old-fashioned hard work is taking the business to new levels.

Fogarty says, “He runs the largest group of businesses in Weed Man’s USA operation. He runs more business with more locations and satellites with more remote salespeople, and he has more moving parts to manage.”

You could say that Kurth has been doing some serious fishing.

Kurth, pictured here with his sons Dawson, left, and Logan, enjoys fishing in his free time.

Creating Career Pathways

Candor and courage; Kurth uses these words to describe his management style. “In conversations, I try to make sure people are very clear about what my expectations are,” he says, adding that the third “c,” consideration, has developed since he and his wife, Nicole, have grown a family of three. Their children are ages one (Adalynn), six (Logan) and nine (Dawson).

“I realize more about what I want out of my career and have more understanding of how to work with our people and create a path for them – to understand what is important to them and pair that with opportunities,” Kurth says. “So often, people get frustrated at work because they don’t now what their path is and they aren’t sure what they want out of today or tomorrow. We work on that so it’s a win for the company and for them.”

Kurth’s own development and succession into the role as president happened for this very reason.

“You would think that dad would be over my shoulder hovering, and it was never like that for me,” he says. “I’ve been blessed that he has always given me the space to be myself and to blossom, and to allow me to lead my way and grow this business. And, for him to have that level of trust in me to do that has been very rewarding.”

Fogarty adds, “Kurth never tried to do anything just like his dad did – he did it his way, and in a very thoughtful, precise, determined way. He has always been very efficient getting things done, and he never stopped taking on more.”

“More” used to be related to revenue, but Kurth says now he is less interested in financial rewards and instead passionate about growing people. “I’m motivated to see others take on new challenges and see their opportunities grow so their lives can be changed,” he says.

Technology is helping Kurth and the organization focus more on people. And, it has opened the door for hiring talent because of the ability for salespeople to work remotely. “If we were reliant on having salespeople always in our office, we wouldn’t have had the growth that we’ve had,” he says.

Kurth (second from right in the front), pictured here with Weed Man representatives, led the growth of a Weed Man office from $600,00 in 2005 to $6 million this year.

Catch the Energy

No one asked these employees to hold up a Weed Man sign at the Milwaukee Brewers game. Kurth didn’t even realize that his company’s logo was being proudly displayed. “We had a big get-together for our people at Miller Park and we brought everyone to the game,” he shares.

On Facebook, one of the employees decided to post a picture of her colleague holding up a Weed Man sign. “They were holding it up and commenting about how awesome it is to be part of Weed Man, and it was like, ‘Wow.’ That is such a great litmus test to what you’re doing as a business and that it’s something people want to be a part of.”

The energetic culture is contagious.

“When you have a culture of people who want to be here, the labor market doesn’t affect you as much,” Kurth points out, adding that while not perfect, turnover is relatively low.

It all goes back to valuing people and showing them opportunities. Team members watch their colleagues take ownership and run with it. “What’s exciting to me is how we are bringing partners – shareholders – into the company,” Kurth says. “We’re putting them in a position where they can have the reigns and drive this machine, and I can help continue the vision and strategic thinking of how we get there. But watching them grow this has been awesome, and our people are energized and they see what their success can provide.”

Kurth is a big proponent of a work-life blend (not balance). So, there’s flexibility for people to take care of family business, go to that Little League game or pick up a kid from school – as long as the work gets done. Kurth also recognizes the importance of this in his own life. “I’m excited to be as present as much as possible with my kids and their growth and sports,” he says. For him, that includes coaching flag football and spending time on the acres they live on outside of Madison, fishing in the lake, hiking in the woods and bow hunting – a new hobby Kurth discovered.

For many years, Kurth was involved in a group called Veterans on the Fly, which teaches veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to fly fish. “I can teach others to fly fish and also help,” he says.

Supporting veterans is important to Kurth, whose close high school friend is an Iraq war veteran, dispatched to Iraq shortly after 9/11. His grandfather is a World War II veteran. “He was very much a storyteller – the amazing stories,” Kurth says, noting how his grandfather’s tears would show how deeply his military experience impacted his life.

The fishing gives veterans focus and it’s a peaceful world away from the past. Kurth adds of his own time reeling in the fly, “A whole day can go by and it’s one of the few times I’m not thinking about anything work-related or any stress in my life.”

Back on the grid, business life is in constant motion and Kurth is looking forward to seeing what the next five years will bring after doubling growth since 2016. The company is piloting a robotic mower program, Turfbot.

“It’s energizing to be on the front end of creating a whole new industry and having so many people want to be a part of that,” he says. “Seeing how our people develop – the sky’s the limit. It’s always a new adventure.”