From investment banker to… Landscape Contractor

AFTER 19 YEARS IN THE FINANCE business, Anne Phillips dared to stop and take a long look at herself and her life.

“I asked myself, ‘Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Is this who I really am?’”

For Phillips, a native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles who had worked her way up to being a vice president and shareholder, the answer was a resounding “No!”

The then-investment banker, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University at Northridge, and an M.B.A. from Loyola Marymount University, did what so many people wish they had the courage to do.

She up and quit.

Now, Phillips runs GoGreen Gardeners in Van Nuys, California, an environmentally-sensitive landscape contracting firm. She’s also a former president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for the Southern California District, and blogs on landscaping, gardening and life for The Huffington Post (

Like so much in life, the blog came about because Phillips put herself in the right place at the right time. Then, fate stepped in.

“I was at this ‘green’ event at a hotel a couple of years ago, where Arianna Huffington was one of the speakers,” Phillips recalls. “As luck would have it, I ran into her in the corridor a half-hour after her speech. I told her how much I admired her, and she asked me what I did for a living. I said I did environmentally-friendly landscaping. Her response was to ask if I’d ever consider blogging!”

With that, Phillips’ blog was born; a perfect platform to expound on her landscape philosophy of sustainability. For Phillips, sustainability doesn’t mean hardship, and it doesn’t mean twisting yourself into a labor-intensive, I’m-more-organic-than-you twizzle stick in an effort to stay ‘green.’ In fact, Phillips calls herself the Paula Deen of gardening (though her homegrown-vegetable-heavy diet makes Type 2 diabetes unlikely).

“Yes,” Phillips writes, “you can put in a buckwheat ground cover between plantings. But let’s face it: it’s easier just to amend your soil!”

As with her blog, her journey to landscape contracting was a result of making the effort to do the right thing at the right time, and then let fate take over. After leaving the investment world, she opened a gardening shop on a busy street in her native San Fernando Valley. Her customers would shop for fountains, plants, and the like.

Phillips found herself giving a lot of gardening advice. Then, she got requests to make small container gardens and execute small backyard projects. By 2008, her employees were running the shop, while she was a de facto landscape contractor. A move to full-time landscape contracting seemed natural.

She closed the store and opened GoGreen. She now has a landscaping crew of three, and emphasizes that true sustainability is not just about organic fertilizers, electric mowers, and eschewing pesticides. It’s about people.

Innovation is one of Phillips’ strengths; she’s broken new ground by offering employment to a crew of developmentally disabled adults, under the auspices of a social service agency in Pasadena, California. Once again, it happened because Phillips found herself in the right place at the right time.

“I was doing a lecture on organic vegetable gardening, and met some guys there from the Villa Esperanza agency. I’d always had an interest in autistic adults—work in nature seemed like a natural fit for these guys—and they’re doing great. Dare I say. . . they’re blossoming?” Phillips quips.

There are challenges for a woman in a male-dominated business, Phillips admits, but says that, “If you get the right guys working for you, the cultural factors go away.”

As for potential clients, there can be a baseline assumption that a female landscape contractor will be excellent at layout and design, but weaker on the nuts and bolts of such things as irrigation and lighting. Phillips lays those assumptions to rest in a hurry. “Once they see that I know my stuff and can solve practical problems, those concerns tend to vanish.”

Licensed landscape contractor, employer of the developmentally disabled, blogger, and innovator, Phillips makes the effort to put herself in the right place at the right time, and then let fate work its magic.

Sounds like a magical success formula for any contractor, male or female.