April 21 2008 12:00 AM



The defining moment that would set the stage for the Kinkead family legacy came in the European countryside during World War I, when Robert Kinkead took note of the sickle mowers being used to manage tall grass. He carried this image with him, and seeing a market for maintenance equipment upon his return to the U.S., he founded National Mower in 1919. He started with the sickle mowers and then began to manufacture triplex mowers, which he sold to golf courses. These machines are what put food on the Kinkead family table through the Depression. In the 1950s, Robert's son John came aboard, and it was he who later purchased Turfco.

Depending on how you want to look at it, laughs George Kinkead, grandson of Robert and president of Turfco Manufacturing today, his own involvement in the green industry has spanned either 17 years or 40. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Washington & Lee University in 1985 and has worked formally and full-time for Turfco since his graduation. However, his employment in the family business actually began at the age of 13, when he worked part-time and summers.

"Their dads didn't send them off to college, bring them back and then flaunt them into management," says Turfco's Director of Lawn Products, Bob Brophy, of the Kinkead family. "These guys started sweeping floors, working in the parts department, and working on the assembly line. It was years before they even got to move into the sales department. They held down every job in that place at one time or another. So, when somebody in the factory talks about some problem, they know what the guy?s talking about. They've been there."

So strong are Kinkead's ties to the industry that they even have a habit of showing up in his recreational life. An individual who occasionally likes to unwind with a bit of golf, he says, "As many people in the green industry know, sometimes you're so close to it that you don't get a chance to enjoy it. When I do play, I enjoy the game, but it's hard for me to play without trying to think of some product to make the superintendent's job better."

One solution to such an all-encompassing mindset is to choose a sport that has absolutely nothing to do with one's vocation. Golf is an enjoyable game for Kinkead, but it isn't his passion. His passion is downhill skiing, and whenever he gets a chance, he enthusiastically hits the slopes in Colorado.

"It's something completely opposite of the green industry," he chuckles. "Maybe that's why I enjoy it so much. There's very little I can sell to a ski slope."

Playing with his kids is another cherished pastime. He has a 9-year-old son, a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. He jokes that their development is measured by how well they can play catch.

"They're a lot of fun when they get to the point where you can throw them a ball and they can actually catch it," he says. "I think for every guy, it's kind of challenging until the kids can catch the ball."

Brophy underscores the fact that George Kinkead is first and foremost a family man, recalling an incident from Halloween 2001: "George took his kids trick-or-treating," says Brophy, "and he lost his cell phone. We joked with him that there's some little goblin running around with his cell phone and all his numbers."

Will he encourage his kids to follow in his footsteps? Even though he'd love for them to come into his line of work, it's totally up to them, he says. He feels strongly that they should only pursue what they're passionate about. He feels that the only way any industry survives – and the green industry is no exception – is when everyone in a position of authority has a passion for what they?re doing.

Kinkead says he feels blessed to be a part of this profession and describes it as a group of people who love to work outside and work with their hands. Such people, he has found, tend to be among the best folks in a population.success,customer

A heritage like the one shared by the Kinkead family has its rewards, such as the passing down of the keys to success. In this case, one of those keys comes in the form of a philosophy that the three successive generations have shared.

Says Kinkead, "The way you serve the customer best is to know the customer, which sounds a little trite in today's world, but we feel that we survive and thrive in this business by getting to know the customer better than anyone else. That's the way you can succeed. You need to know what his problems are in a day and what is stopping him from being successful. If you make your customer successful, then your success will follow."