One of the fastest growing privately held companies in the landscape industry, Girard Environmental Services in Orlando, Florida, generates more than eighteen million dollars in annual revenue. But things weren?t always so rosy. Hard work, perseverance and pride brought the Girards from bankruptcy to banking big bucks. Rick Girard began mowing lawns for neighbors and family friends after school and on the weekends. During a class project, he printed business cards and named the company Rick?s Lawn Service. It provided him with ample spending money. Soon after, he changed the name of the company to Rick?s Handyman Service, and began performing other odd jobs such as pressure cleaning, painting and resurfacing asphalt driveways.

Once Rick was in the 11th grade and able to drive himself to work, he worked for South Shore Landscape, a small South Florida lawn maintenance company, in the summertime, and during the school year he held down two other jobs.

Upon graduation in 1987, Rick decided to pursue a career in landscape architecture. But after attending Broward Community College for only a couple of months, he decided school was not for him, and began working full time for South Shore.

Rick?s brother Randy was now a freshman in high school, and began working alongside him on weekends, school holidays, spring break and during the summer.

After two years, Rick thought he had learned the business inside and out. He became foreman, and was responsible for the field operations of the small company. So in 1989, at the age of 19, he started his own lawn maintenance company. Randy, now a sophomore in high school, worked for Rick along with several of his friends. Girard?s Landscaping & General Maintenance enjoyed a modest level of success during its first two years.

In 1990, father Leo received a promotion, necessitating the family to relocate to the Orlando, Florida area. Randy was still in high school, so he moved with the family. Rick decided to stay put, but after a while he decided he wanted to be near his family. He sold his accounts in South Florida, and moved up to Orlando.

Rick started his business in Orlando, quickly picking up new customers and growing the company. After graduation, brother Randy joined the company; father Leo followed two years after that. Throughout the early 1990s, the company grew to employ approximately 30 full-time employees, with monthly revenues of about $85,000.

About this time, things started to unravel. Remember, a few paragraphs ago, I said Rick thought he knew the business inside and out? Apparently, Rick never really mastered the ?business end of the business,? because inexperience caused him to make a series of bad business decisions, compounded by poor financial results. The company, unable to meet its obligations, was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in October of 1995.

At age 26, Rick experienced first-hand the ultimate failure that every businessperson fears most ? bankruptcy. This life-changing event made a profound impact on Rick. The overwhelming feeling of failure is difficult for anyone to completely understand who hasn?t experienced it themselves.

Rick went to work for Environmental Care, now ValleyCrest Companies, while Randy struggled to start his own small lawn maintenance company. After a number of months, Rick realized that the salary he was making would never allow him to pay off the $100,000 he owed the Internal Revenue Service.

He planned a new start-up company, beginning with one truck and three employees, but was anxious to grow the company. He began searching for a business partner to help with the financial situation. Like many other partnerships, this one didn?t work out, making Rick more determined than ever. He approached his brother, Randy, with the idea of creating a company. They became equal partners, and called their new company Girard Environmental Services.

Learning from the past, they began with a handful of remaining customers, and a few employees. They scrambled to buy vehicles and equipment. Without any outside funding or start-up money, the brothers lived modestly, reinvesting all of their profits back into the company.

Their quality of work, compounded by an unyielding passion to rebuild their family name and reputation, would prove to be the foundation that would catapult Girard Environmental Services into the black, quickly.

Not one to pass the buck, Rick always faced up to take full responsibility for his first failure. ?It was a lack of financial ability, financial knowledge and not have the guts to make the changes that needed to happen to save the business.?

Along the way, Rick and Randy?s father went to work for their company. ?I was excited to join the company,? said Leo Girard, executive vice president. ?Here was an opportunity not only to work with my sons, but to bring to the business my 23 years of management expertise in the corporate world.?

With the business lessons learned, albeit the hard way, the Girards set out to change the way they ran their business. The new company that began in 1998 posted sales of more than $1.7 million in 1999, $3.6 million in 2000, $5.9 million in 2001; by the end of 2005, they boasted sales of more than $18 million annually, with a fleet of over 80 vehicles and employing more than 200 personnel.

They?ve long since erased their debts, and made safeguards to prevent it from happening again. ?All I ever really wanted in February of 1996 was for my wife to be able to go grocery shopping and not worry about the credit card bouncing,? Rick said. ?Just the basic necessities of life, I wanted them to be there. Now as I look back at what we?ve done and what we?ve got and what our potential is, it?s overwhelming.?

It was a hard way for the Girards to learn their lesson, but learn they did, and that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their careers.