Making a partnership work is a daunting task, and finding an example of a successful one isn?t always easy. But within the landscape industry, one doesn?t need to look farther than American Landscape Companies to find a healthy, 30-plus-year team.
?Partnerships are much like a marriage in that they need to be evolving all the time as things change,? says Gary Peterson, the company?s executive vice president. ?One needs to be able to change with the evolution of the business, the evolution of the relationship and the evolution of the responsibilities.?
Peterson and President Mickey Strauss obtained at least a portion of their business sense genetically: Strauss?s father was a home builder; Peterson?s an engineer who was involved in highway construction. Before either was old enough to join his father full-time, their dads had moved out of their chosen professions; Strauss?s father had become a real estate appraiser and Peterson?s dad had retired.
In the late 1960s, the two found themselves working side by side in a landscape contracting company, in capacities similar to the roles they fill today. Realizing that their abilities were complementary to each other, they began planning their own company in late 1972, launching American Landscape in the autumn of 1973.
From the very beginning, the men have been recognized for their commitment to the industry. Strauss, for example, was named the 1975 ?Man of the Year? by the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA), and in 1976, he became the chapter?s president. Other recognitions along the way include CLCA?s ?Man of the Year? in 1980 and CLCA President in 1981. In 1992, he received the Allegiance Award from CLCA, the organization?s highest honor.
Why has the team of Strauss and Peterson thrived, growing the company from a couple of employees in 1973 to approximately 850 today, where other partnerships might have fallen by the wayside? Both men agree that one of the most notable keys to their success is the lines they drew at the start: Strauss handles the administrative chores, while Peterson manages the equipment and makes sure the jobs get done.
Another key to success has been diversification. Strauss has em-phasized from day one that the company should never be dependent upon any one market. American Landscape Companies is involved in everything from golf course construction to landscapes to irrigation to wholesale nursery operations.
Perhaps it would surprise other professionals who have taken the partnership route, but even after all these years, Strauss and Peterson are still friends.
Says Peterson, ?Our families live very close to each other; we?re very friendly and share a vacation property. For instance, all of us got together this Fourth of July to go boating. We socialize regularly.?
Both men are avid boaters and skiers, although, like a lot of successful businesspeople, finding time to be involved in such pursuits is often a challenge.
Nor is lack of time the only hurdle they regularly face. As is the case with other companies in this profession, it?s an ongoing challenge to find employees with the same passion for landscaping as the owners. But Peterson thinks they have a two-tiered advantage for overcoming this: first is the size of the company, which permits them to draw qualified and committed employees from across the nation. Secondly, a lot of internal recruitment takes place, in which current employees are pulling family members into the organization. In fact, Strauss has two sons who are involved in the company: one manages American Landscape in Los Angeles; the other is the manager of their Ventura County nursery.
Of course, their long involvement in landscaping and the challenges they?ve faced have equipped them with considerable knowledge and wisdom ? truths they?ve observed and concepts that newer professionals would do well to grasp.
For Strauss, one of the most important lessons he?s put to the test is the need to be ever mindful of evolution.
?You have to stay on top of the changes,? he insists. ?For instance, the industry has gotten much more technical, both in terms of equipment utilization and in communications. We have computers on every desk today that we never used to have. All our offices are linked together via computer.?
Says Peterson, ?I?ve learned that landscape contracting is a business. It isn?t just landscaping or gardening. It?s a business that?s as complex as any other business. And it has an element about it that adds another dimension in that you?re dealing with a living product, and its relative beauty is subjective.
It isn?t like a manufactured piece, where you can store it in the warehouse and get it out when you need it. It needs to be nurtured and monitored and watched, and the larger our business becomes, the more important it is to have really well-trained, experienced people working in our business, people who care and have the same passion for it as we do.?