It only takes one “yes” for the start of something spectacular. For Devin Guinn, that moment came 10 years ago while chatting with a customer at the restaurant he worked at during college.
“I was telling her my story and what I was going to grad school for. She was like, ‘Really? You’re going to be a landscape architect?’ ‘Yeah, that’s my ultimate goal,’” he told her.
Guinn was going for his master’s in the landscape architecture program at the University of Texas at Arlington at the time, attending classes at night while working during the day. The woman explained how she had just built a house in Mansfield, an upscale area in North Texas. She told Guinn she’d love for him to design and install the landscape for it.
“Me being young and ambitious, I said, ‘Yeah, of course I can do that,’” Guinn recalls.
While he wasn’t quite prepared for what it entailed, he managed to give her a design, got a crew together to install it, and made the job work.
When he got the check for the job, he thought, “This is equivalent to what I’d be making at the restaurant, and I said, ‘Why don’t I try to pursue this thing even if I do a little here and there while I’m in school?’ So I started marketing residential projects, and that’s how the business took off.”
This initial job was the first of many he’d design and build as principal of his company, AquaGreen Global LLC. Today, the Dallas-based firm has 17 full-time employees and has established a niche in commercial and municipal development.
“We are a smaller company, but we do pretty big work,” says Guinn, as the company works with developers, local government agencies, schools and aviation clients.
Starting in the trenches
Guinn’s industry knowledge started long before he entered college. Growing up, he regularly tagged along on weekend jobs with his stepfather, who has worked in the landscape and irrigation industries for over 30 years.
And while he didn’t always appreciate the hard work of digging irrigation trenches and mowing lawns as a teen who’d much rather be playing basketball with friends, he says these roots were the foundation for his future career.“When I started the business at 22, so young and a little bit naive, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did,” admits Guinn.
It was the educational component, an undergrad degree in horticulture and landscape management at Tarleton State University, and his master’s program at UTA, that helped him tremendously.
“That combination is what has allowed us to be successful over the last couple of years,” says Guinn.
Courses at UTA taught him how to run a firm, how to correctly bid and how to hire. While it may not sound glamourous, he says one of the most important skills he learned was organization. Whether it’s paperwork, job details, following up with clients or archiving photos, being structured and organized has helped him be better at business.
“Even though it can be time-consuming and tedious, there is a method behind the madness,” he says.
Know your role
Like most business founders, Guinn’s role has evolved since his first job. He’s learning to step back and focus on a few main areas.
“I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and I got to a point where I was just like, ‘I want this thing to be operating by itself,’” he says.
Shaping culture remains his top priority.
“My consistent role looks like building company culture, hiring the correct people, making sure we’re building relationships with clients and making sure our core values are instilled,” he explains.
He also remains involved in increasing the company’s sales, including being present on big projects, meeting with clients and constantly looking for leads. His third priority is making sure operating procedures are in place.
“You have to be able to duplicate things for when the next person comes in and it’ll be the same way,” he says.
Guinn knows his purpose inside and out and makes it a point that everyone else at AquaGreen Global does too.
“Defined roles are very, very important — giving people titles and those titles having certain responsibilities,” explains Guinn. “I think that has to be clearcut when you bring people into your organization.
It helps them be more intentional, more direct and more effective in the sense of doing their job.”
“Delegate and empower your staff as much as possible,” he adds. “You have to truly give people responsibilities and not micromanage, let them do it.”
He knows that they’re going to make mistakes, but so has he over the years.
In the small business world, it’s common for everybody to wear multiple hats and juggle many things at once. But one lesson he learned from his stepfather is this: You cannot grow your business in the trenches. You’ve got to have people that can do those things so that you focus on the high-level items, like culture-building and operations, he says. As someone who “started in the trenches” himself, Guinn knows it can be hard to let go of certain things, but it’s the only way you’ll grow as a company.
Revamping a historic Dallas landmark
One of the most memorable projects that Devin Guinn, principal of AquaGreen Global, Dallas, Texas, was a part of took place in the heart of Dallas.
“We were able to work on a project called the Statler Hotel. It’s a historical hotel, one of the oldest in downtown Dallas,” says Guinn. It had been abandoned for years when a developer bought the property in 2017 to return it to its former glory.
AquaGreen Global was awarded as the landscape and irrigation contractor on it. Guinn says the job included multiple Photo: Devin Guinn pool areas, courtyards, interior plants, the valet entrance and four restaurants. He describes it as a beautiful project, from the pavers to the landscape selection to the low-impact drip irrigation.
“All in all, it became a really big deal for the city of Dallas and for us. We were really happy to be a part of that team from the developer to the general contractor to us as one of the trade partners,” says Guinn.
Improving the industry
Outside of AquaGreen Global, Guinn serves on the board of directors of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association. As its irrigation director, Guinn contributes irrigation expertise and his perspective as a young, Black professional in the industry.
He believes representation in associations like TNLA shows young people and underrepresented people about the opportunities that exist in the green industry. “I think that by having individuals on the board that reflect them helps them break those barriers and say, ‘Hey, there’s someone that looks like me, maybe I’ll look at their website and do a little investigating,’” says Guinn.Being involved with TNLA has also helped him professionally, giving him a look into what other companies across Texas are doing. At the beginning of the pandemic, Guinn was on a COVID-19 webinar panel with other board members.
“We were talking about different practices that our companies had created, contingency plans or whatever it may be, to make sure that our staff is safe, making sure that they’re complying with the projects, making sure they’re complying with the county and their state,” he says.
In a time like this, Guinn says it’s invaluable to learn from other companies and board members about practices they’re putting in place to make sure that their staff is safe and healthy.
Guinn is also passionate about staying involved with UTA and impacting students who are pursuing landscape architecture. A few years ago, the Masters in Landscape Architecture program at UTA was up for its reaccreditation. The program reached out to its alumni, and Guinn volunteered to be a part of the process. He says it was a great experience being able to interview with the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board and share how he used his degree and what’s he’s doing in the field now.
Guinn also helps with mentoring UTA students. Right now, he mentors a student, Matthew, who’s in the same landscape architecture program he was a part of 10 years ago.
“We have a lot of dialogue back and forth,” says Guinn. “He’s had sit-downs with me, come to my office and seen some of the projects that we’re involved in and asks me questions. I’ve also connected him with some of my resources as far as contacts to help him get a job.”
Eyes on expansion
Guinn truly enjoys his job and the different experiences he gets to have.
“My office looks different every day. I may be sitting down with a client, having lunch with them at a restaurant, or I may be on a construction job site walking through with a superintendent or project manager — it’s constantly changing,” he says.
And while proud of the growth he and his employees have already achieved, his eyes are set on what lies ahead. His goal is to expand departments and bring on a few more landscape designers and in-house landscape architects. The commercial arena has been the company’s specialty to date, but Guinn knows there’s huge potential on the residential side and has set his sights there too.
“I’d like to be one of the companies that people look at in the North Texas region, as ‘They are the benchmark, they are on a lot of marquee projects, they set the standard as far as techniques,’ and that’s what I’d like to see continue to grow,” Guinn says.
Seeing how far Guinn has come in just the first 10 years of his career, there’s no doubt the city of Dallas will be impacted long term by the beautiful landscapes AquaGreen Global has and will continue to deliver.
The author is digital content editor of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.