Do the right thing for the right reason. That’s the philosophy that has driven Nada Duna throughout more than 30 years of work in the green industry. Making her way from gardener to foreman, all the way to senior vice president for Valley Crest, now BrightView. She’s currently the chief operations officer of maintenance at Gothic Landscape in Valencia, California, but her core values of people, passion and persistence haven’t changed.
Those who know Duna describe her as people person who’s extremely driven, and her enthusiasm for the industry rubs off on those around her. She takes the time to get to know who she’s working with and provide support in any way she can.
“We really believe in service leadership and she’s a living definition,” says Jon Georgio, president of Gothic Landscape. “She puts everyone else – her staff, her clients, her trade partners – she puts all their needs before her own. She’s really rolled up her sleeves in dedicating to have everyone around her accomplish their goals.”
For example, one Saturday, when Gothic Landscape was just starting a new location, Duna went out to meet the first five employees hired for the branch. The crew needed to get to a job, but they quickly realized that no one had the proper driver’s license. So Duna drove them an hour and a half to the job, worked with them all day and then drove them back.
When asked why she did it, she simply replied, “They needed to get the job done.” Plus, she had a good time doing it.
Duna’s determination and talent have earned her a reputation among her peers as a fierce competitor and an asset to any company.
“She makes her expectations very clear and then holds people to that,” says Bruce Wilson, former vice president at ValleyCrest. “Some people – when they hold people accountable – are kind of gnarly or don’t make it a fun place to work and she always did. I think that’s kind of a unique talent. I think her personality just engages other people.”
Finding a passion.
Duna was born in Lebanon and while her siblings wanted to grow up to be medical doctors, she had a different calling. “I just loved plants,” she says. “I love plants; I love the outdoors and I love people.”
So she studied agriculture and horticulture with a minor in business. Then, during the Lebanese Civil War, she started working as a research assistant for a Professor Bob Rice at Cal Poly who sponsored her to come to the U.S. on a student visa. She says without him, she wouldn’t be here today.
She arrived with $5 in her pocket and started studying horticulture again. It was then that she got a job with Environmental Care (which later became ValleyCrest) moving her way up the ranks from gardener to foreman to supervisor and all the way to senior vice president.
But it wasn’t easy. When she first started, some of her Spanish-speaking coworkers were taking bets on how long she would last, not knowing that Duna speaks five languages, including Spanish.
“They raised about $200 and when they found out I spoke Spanish and I understood them all this time and I kept working there, they wanted to give me the money,” she says, laughing. Duna refused, and instead they threw a party with the pot of money.
She kept learning as much as she could from each job she held and eventually gained an extremely thorough understanding of the industry from the business, the management and the technical sides.
“If you ask those that have competed with Nada, she’s fundamentally raised the bar for what excellence is because she is so customer-focused and her teams do such great work,” says Roger Zino, former CEO of BrightView. “She’s just raised the bar for excellence and innovation in the industry.”
Taking the time.
Duna is constantly driven to improve the lives of those around her, whether it’s by creating a beautiful landscape, helping an employee develop their skills or inspiring great work. “Resolving issues and coming up with solutions is kind of fun so that’s what keeps me going,” she says. “It’s a very special industry because every industry deals with people, but the impact people have on clients and our environment is amazing here.”
And people are the most important thing to her. During her time at ValleyCrest, she knew the names of all 500 of her employees. She’s adept at identifying talent, putting the right person in the right job and helping them grow, Zino says.
“Her ability to develop people is just phenomenal, but she does it by spending a lot of time,” he says. “She’s really observant and she asks a ton of questions, so she gets the right people lined up against the right things and then she invests the time in them and you just watch them thrive. It’s just really cool to watch.”
Her intelligence and forward-thinking nature have made a big impact on Gothic Landscape as well, Georgio says. She’s made the company quicker to act on decisions, staying up to date on the latest sustainable techniques for Gothic’s projects.
“We believe, and she believes, that growth is only followed by doing the right things for the right reasons and she’s done this by quickly creating a lot of energy and excitement,” he says. “She’s made us much more nimble and quicker in our decision-making, and that’s really propelled us forward.”
Leading by example.
As someone who’s constantly driven to do her best, Duna inspires great work from those around her. She knows where she wants to go and knows how to get there, but she doesn’t try to go it alone.
“She has a vision of where to go next that’s better than where it is today so that’s helpful and exciting for people,” Zino says. “She does a nice job of articulating that vision and explaining to people how they fit in going forward. She’s not delegating the work; she’s there working with you and it’s just infectious.”
And Duna has some words of wisdom for those working their way up. “Learn everything about the job. Don’t just learn the business aspect of it,” she says. “Learn, listen, focus on people and be persistent.”
Her basic philosophy involves a lot of Ps, she says with a laugh. “People create performance and performance creates profit and it’s not the opposite,” she says. “It starts with people. Think about the things you’re improving for people and plants and the planet.”