When I talk to people, especially successful people, I like to ask them how they got to where they are now. Many of them told me they learned and polished their skills by starting from the ground and working their way up; Lebo Newman is one of those people.
Newman was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1954. His father was a career Air Force officer and, like many kids whose parents are in the service of their country, he was known as a ‘military brat.’ The family moved often, from post to post, Newman’s first memory as a child was when the family was stationed in Long Beach, California. He loved being an officer’s kid and the opportunities for the unique travel it created.
From the beginning, he felt he had a knack for getting to know people quickly and making friends. That could explain why, with all the moves the family made, he had no problem fitting in.
And move they did. The family spent the years 1959 to 1965 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They then moved to Tokyo, Japan, for a stint lasting from 1965 to 1968. Then it was on to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, for the next three years.
Maybe there is something to be said about learning from the experience of constantly moving around; perhaps because of that, Newman learned the knack of fitting in and making friends quickly. After high school at Andover, he enrolled at the University of Tennessee, bent on becoming an architect. Studying architecture then pointed him in the direction of landscape contracting.
Newman knew he had a mind for business. He was young, confident and thought he could do it all. He’d also met his ‘California girl,’ married her and they started to raise a family. He now had to make a living to support that family.
He moved to Whittier, California, in 1973 and went to work for a company that boarded up reclaimed houses. He would trim all the bushes and cut the lawns. He hated it. Then, he moved to Northern California and started his own small business. It was a nursery, where he grew organic vegetables and specialty plants.
In 1974, he took a job working at Redwood Landscaping. Newman claims to have learned much of the landscape business working for Bill Davidson, the owner of the company. As he developed his skills, he realized that he had the desire and the ambition to have his own landscape company. In 1979, he bought a portion of Redwood Landscaping; ten years later, he bought the balance. He then owned the company outright.
Over the next several years, a few landscape contractors talked about merging and creating a national company. In 1998, Newman merged his business into the new company, called LandCare USA. It was then purchased by TruGreen, and within a short period of time, all of the owners of LandCare left the company. Newman was 44 years old, and went into retirement—sort of.
Since he always loved the business end of any business, Newman took some courses and got certified as a business intermediary from the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA). Over the next four years, he worked as a consultant, helping potential clients buy or sell their companies.
Newman later started working with companies as more than a simple consultant, where his input was actually implemented. This fed his hunger to be more in control, more of the ‘driver.’ And, like the business man that he is, he also got a percentage of the profits as part of the deal.
An ex-employee, Rick Clark, convinced Newman and his wife to travel to Reno and work as consultants and financial partners. The couple fell in love with the area so much that they eventually relocated, took over the company and partnered with Justin Trimble to help run the company. It was the genesis of Signature Landscapes.
He would eventually acquire what was the northern part of Coast Landscape with another ex-employee, Rob Solomon and his wife Kelly. They rolled their business, UpValley Landscapes (Napa, California), in with the Coast operations to create the new Coast Landscape Management.
Newman thought about his ten years of experience as the owner of Redwood, and decided that he wanted to run Signature and Coast differently. His goal was to operate more efficiently and effectively, and grow his companies like never before. However, in order to truly achieve what he wanted, he knew that he couldn’t go it alone.
Early on, he and his group of partners decided to run Coast and Signature as two separate companies. But, as a result, he didn’t have the volume to garner the same offers as his larger competitors, so he eventually decided to combine the two companies.
Recently, Newman has received some major funding from a venture capital group with an eye toward growing the business to higher heights, so he merged Coast and Signature under one umbrella. With a combined revenue of approximately $31 million annually, the company has more buying power.
With bases in Reno, Nevada, and Napa, California, Newman will now begin looking at other companies that he can acquire and roll into his company. He enjoys being the chairman, the visionary who can dream up future plans, knowing he has capable partners in place who manage the day-to-day divisions.
What does Newman do in his spare time? He enjoys collecting Statue of Liberty memorabilia. “I love the Statue of Liberty and the values she represents. She says, ‘Our doors are open…make something of yourself. You have an opportunity here.’” He also loves spending time with his four grandchildren, “I cherish the time we spend together.”
How does Newman envision the future? “I’m excited about the possibilities; I see tremendous growth, especially in our business. This industry is rapidly moving away from being a ‘mom and pop’ business, while retaining the family values we built it on. There will continue to be further consolidation and mergers,” he said. Not one to sit on his laurels, Lebo Newman, at the age of 62, still has a lot of growing and living to do. When asked how high he wants to grow his company, his response is, “How high is high?”