Gary Mallory grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While in high school, he didn’t give much thought to where his career path would take him. He never imagined that he would be in the landscape business, running a company that grosses more than 20 million dollars annually. Little did he realize the impact he would have on so many lives.
A typical high school kid, Mallory had a number of part-time jobs while in school. He graduated in 1973, with offers for a number of college scholarships. Unfortunately, his father had lost his job and couldn’t afford to send him to an out-of-state university. But Mallory managed to attend college as well as start a business.
After high school, he and three friends pooled their resources and started Heads Up, a company that installed irrigation systems; he was just 18 years old. He was also taking classes at the University of New Mexico, studying business, and arranged his schedule so that he took classes all day Tuesdays and Thursdays. He worked at the company Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Business was good, and the company kept doubling in size each year.
Of course, at the beginning it wasn’t a very big company to begin with. “I got through three-and-a half years in college,” said Mallory. “I needed four more classes to graduate but I couldn’t keep up with the business, so I dropped out. Today, I could teach those classes, but I don’t have a degree.”
At the end of the first summer, Mallory bought out two of his partners. One of the original partners stayed with the company for more than 20 years, until Mallory bought him out, making him the sole owner. That was 10 years ago.
Heads Up Landscape Contractors has grown quite a bit since those days. Annual sales exceed $20 million, and today they are a full-service company doing design, installations and maintenance, as well as irrigation, and plant health care. As his business grew, so did Mallory personally.
He thinks of his company as one big family. As with any family, sometimes there are a few who just view it as a job, but Mallory tries to make Heads Up a good place to work. He works hard to keep his employees happy.
Before Valentine’s Day, Mallory got Valentine cards and had his ‘family’ write notes on the cards and send them to their wives or significant others. “It was a big hit,” he said. “We try to surprise our employees as often as we can with these things. We’re constantly working on our culture.”
For Mother’s Day, children of the employees painted pots and planted geraniums as gifts for their moms. Then they had a barbecue, where the kids got hard hats and were allowed on the tractors. “The kids loved it,” said Mallory. “I really like that event because we try to honor the family, and make it seem not like just a job.” At the holiday season, they have a party for the employees, as well as their families. The kids receive presents; there’s food, a Mariachi band, and piñatas. It’s a family affair.
Mallory strongly believes in promoting from within. He is quick to point out that a number of his managers came up the ranks without possessing college degrees.
However, ten years ago, with the company still growing, Heads Up Landscape Contractors instituted a program to bring on college students to serve a paid internship for the summer. This year, nine interns were brought in for 12 weeks of on-the-job experience. “Each year, we find the best and brightest business, landscape and horticulture students from around the country,” said Mallory. “We believe that landscape design, installation and maintenance can be a great career, and we love helping students who are as passionate about ‘growing better’ as we are.”
“We try to find out what their interests are and have them spend most of their time in that position,” said Mallory. Some of the interns come from out of state and get lonely from time to time. “We get them apartments and help with the cost. We schedule regular social events for them; we try to get them to mix with our permanent employees. We plan hikes, outings to baseball games and dinners. We really like our program; it’s been really productive for us.”
“We put them in the field and tell them it’s a short-term deal, but you can’t lead people if you don’t know what they do. Some of them say, ‘I didn’t go to college to work in the field.’ We just tell them it’s an important part of the management process,” said Mallory. “They usually get promoted quickly, because they’re frequently the best candidates.”
Many of these interns come back and end up in middle management. That is what has allowed the company to grow. “We have everything in abundance. We are well capitalized and we have enough work,” said Mallory. “We can sell more work, but we need the young managers. That’s why the intern program works for us, because we need three or four college-educated managers per year.”
Mallory sums it up this way: “We’re interested in sustainability. We want to grow our plant health care division using chemicals that are organic; we also recycle all of our green waste.” Heads Up Landscape Contractors continues to grow at a rapid pace (they opened another office in Santa Fe and some of these current interns will manage that office in the near future.)
The culture that Gary Mallory brought to Heads Up Landscape Contractors is to enjoy what you’re doing, do it well and make the company a family affair. Be a good corporate citizen and think about giving back to the community. Mallory has done just that.