April 21 2008 12:00 AM



"My goal is to stay out of the way," says Richard 'Rick' Doesburg, CCLP, the incoming 2002 president of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). "The worst that a leader can do is step in front of a fast-moving train." As Doesburg takes the throttle, the ALCA train will be steaming into its 39th year, promoting business management skills and sharing insider tips with its 2500 professional landscape contracting firms and suppliers.

Doesburg grew up in Lyndhurst, Ohio, near Lake Erie, and came into this profession directly from college. He met Bill and Gary Thornton, owners of Thornton Landscape in Maineville, Ohio, at an agricultural fraternity at Ohio State where they had been members. "They came back for football games and met at the fraternity house," he says. Doesburg joined their company and ALCA in 1969, and quickly gained experience in residential and commercial landscaping. He got his hands dirty in some very unusual places, like the landscaping for Fountain Square, the signature heart of downtown Cincinnati, and the Cincinnati Zoo Outdoor Gorilla Exhibit.

Thornton Landscape soon garnered more than twenty national awards, an equal number of state awards, and more than 75 local awards. Doesburg himself earned the 1996 Spirit of Cincinnati Achievement Award given by the Greater Cincinnati Convention Bureau and the 2001 Landscape Contractor ?Person of the Year? by Landscape Management magazine.

In 1999, Doesburg bought Thornton Landscape from the Thornton brothers, turning it into a landscape architectural firm, specializing only in design/build. He still calls it Thornton Landscape because he says, "I worked hard for thirty-some years to make Thornton what it is in the Cincinnati market." Though the company changed ownership, it retained all its employees and concentrates now on high-end residential design and residential development. "This is probably our biggest niche market," Doesburg says. "We do a lot of communities and entrance ways. If it's outside, we're involved in it."

"Pretty much what our company is and what I feel I am and my leadership skills and abilities are, I learned through ALCA," Doesburg says. He has served as a member of the Board of Directors and many other committees. He is a Founding Ambassador of the ALCA Educational Foundation and was recently tapped as an ALCA Trailblazer in the Exterior Design/ Build category. ALCA Trailblazers is a new program which recognizes members for their long-term contributions to the industry and for their willingness to continue to share their experience with emerging companies.

Of his new ALCA presidency, Doesburg says, "I'm really glad that I've got the chance to give back just a little bit of what I've taken." His main focus this year will be on educational venues which will help add more value to the membership. This is the area that Doesburg has treasured in his relationship with ALCA for his own development. Two events that are great training grounds are the summer symposium and the GIE Expo in the fall. This year's symposium will concentrate on maintenance.

In Doesburg's term, he will continue last year's theme, The Emerging Company, with his focus called, Through the Years. He will cultivate the value of ALCA membership that begins with the educational sessions but extends into mentoring and support of member businesses. He says he is trying to remind members who have been around for a while just how much they have gained from ALCA and what is yet to come. And for those emerging companies, just how much there is if you hang around and take a ride on the ALCA train.?

He adds, "There is a magnetism in ALCA that I?ve never seen in any other green industry association. I like to call it ALCA magic. The levels to which our members go to, whatever they are responsible for, they make sure it's done well."

Doesburg says he will help guide and give advice to the magical ALCA train, but it already knows where it's going and how to get there. The future looks good. Doesburg says, "We're going to start looking into branding the ALCA name. We know that we have established a lot of value with our name and the quality that surrounds it. We will look to continue to enhance that."

As Rick Doesburg continues to mentor through ALCA, he also does so at home. His 25 year-old son recently joined Thornton Landscape -- specializing in sales -- following in his father's footsteps.