The landscaping company has transitioned to an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, placing control in the hands of its 90 employees, a succession plan initiated by founder Bill Gerhardt. Since opening in 1977, the company has expanded to a full-service landscape and design company for both commercial and residential real estate, as well as snow and ice management.
“I’ve been looking for a way to pass the company along to the people here,” says Gerhardt. “I’ve been approached by buyers over the years, but it didn’t seem like a good fit for the employees, or I was worried they’d want to change the culture here. This way the employees will be able to take the ball, and they can run with it.”
With this new plan, Gerhardt said he’s still planning to remain with the business as president for at least five years, eventually handing over the reins but in a way that lets the company maintain its current client base and culture and allows it to continue to pursue the kinds of clients it wants.
While GreenScapes has traditionally performed landscape design and snow removal, these services are expanding. Commercial installations in particular are becoming more complex as the company keeps up with modern trends, like building irrigation systems for large fixtures and green roofs.
“Much more of the design process has become ours, and so the jobs are just that much more complicated these days,” Gerhardt says. “There’s so much work out there we’re giving up other work to do it. We’ve jumped into the maintenance game in the past few years too, which gives us more sustainable income.”
Employee ownership through an ESOP is a retirement plan that allows employees to have an ownership stake in the firm through a qualified trust. In practice, they encourage companies to stay rooted in a single place and generally keep employee turnover low because they reward tenure with greater financial stakes.