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Success tips from 8 ‘Mighty Oak’-winning contractors

December 9, 2016 -  By

Eight landscape companies were awarded Jeffrey Scott’s 2016 Mighty Oak Award, based on their performance and achievements.

The honorees, who belong to Jeffrey Scott’s Leader’s Edge peer groups, were chosen for the awards by their peers. Criteria for winning are:

  • Serving as a positive example to others in the profession.
  • Working with the highest levels of integrity, ethics, and accountability.
  • Achieving significant growth benchmarks.
  • Contributing to the advancement of the landscape industry.
  • Engaging in continual personal and professional development.

Here are eight pieces of advice from the winners, plus details on why each company was awarded the Mighty Oak this year.

1.    “If you are going to take on a contract, be sure you are ready to meet all obligations and beyond. We stand behind our work—integrity in everything we do.”


Brian Cotter, president

Lloyd’s Landscaping

Pickering, Ontario, Canada

Years in business: 53

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 4

Defining reason for winning: Cotter and his firm were awarded the Mighty Oak two out of the last three years due to the grit and perseverance demonstrated to transform his family business into a professional organization based on integrity.

Peer observations:

“I think Brian had to make hard choices and put blind trust in the advice of peers as opposed to those who are around him to save his family business and pull it into the next century. He not only listened, but he executed better than most of his peers due to his willingness to take action. And he is one hell of a nice guy!”

—Sean Baxter, president, Lawn & Landscape Solutions

“Brian took control of a company starving for some real leadership. He consolidated the leadership, took control and turned it around in to a double-digit profit. Who does that? I chose Brian because of his determined conviction at creating a successful legacy for Lloyd’s Landscaping. He spread his roots like a mighty oak and controlled the ground around him. He was calm and thoughtful to family concerns when he needed to be, yet firm and decisive when hard decisions had to be made.”

—Barney Naylor, president, Naylor Landscape

2.          “Hire great people, empower them and hold them accountable. Your customers will be well served.
Trust your staff and respect them so they can show respect to your customers. Without great staff
and culture, you will not be able to service
the customer for 60-plus years and grow at
least 10 percent each year.”


Nathan Helder, president

Gelderman Landscape Services

Waterdown, Ontario, Canada

Years in business: 61

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 7

Defining reason for winning: Helder and his firm were awarded the Mighty Oak for their focus on constant learning and improvement both for Nathan, personally, and throughout the business—while encouraging the industry to do the same. He is humble and fair, and these qualities pervade his business.

Peer observations:

“Nathan has a genuine concern about the well being of others. He is unselfish and always willing to share his precious time with others. Nathan has taught himself how to become a disciplined, focused, strategic thinker. Nathan always looks toward self-improvement, which enhances his ability to improve others. With all that is involved in running a successful business, marriage and personal life, Nathan makes time to pursue what he is passionate about. Nathan’s passion is that of helping the landscape industry become a more astute and educated industry, which raises the bar for all of us.

—Scot Leavitt, CEO of Winterberry Landscape & Garden Center

“Nathan is deserving of this award because of his relentless work ethic and his passion. Under his leadership, Gelderman has become a stronger company with better employees, better systems and better results.”

—Leigh Townsend, owner, J.W. Townsend Landscapes

3.    “Create three matching core values for your company and clients and make all major business decisions
based on these values. It has helped steer us through some troubled times with the correct advice.”


Jeff Ronhaar, president

Jeff’s Lawn Care

Binbrook, Ontario, Canada

Years in business: 22

Years in Leaders Edge peer group: 3

Defining reason for winning: Ronhaar and his firm were awarded the Mighty Oak, because of how they overcame a tremendous setback—that might have capsized most companies—and within 12 months transformed his business into a profitable, highly cohesive team of landscape professionals, showing resilience and growth in their rebound.

Peer observations:

“Jeff is an industry veteran that recognizes he need to significantly change his business to stay relevant and increase profit. He not only was willing to make the necessary changes but make them in a very short time period. These changes had a significant and near immediate positive impact on his business.”

—John Lynch, owner, Lynch Landscaping

“He’s eternally optimistic and has no problem making the hard decisions and living/ working with them to come out better on the other end.”

—Chris Imlach, president, Swazy & Alexander

4.    “Keep an open mind, tell people what you’re going to do, then follow up and actually do it.”


Terry Collins, president

TJ Collins Landscaping

Needham, Mass.

Years in business: 23

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 4

Defining reason for winning: Collins and his firm have been awarded the Mighty Oak twice for showing constant personal growth in the face of adversity, ongoing business innovation, significant profit improvement and a positive attitude that pervades all his efforts and results.

Peer observations:

“Terry has positive energy, a can-do attitude, people smarts and he is tough.”

—Scott Watkins, CEO, Watkins & Co.

“Hearing Terry talk about the growth his company has achieved is inspiring—s obstacles and challenges are overcome by implementing good systems. He says that many of these systems he learned about or refined as a result of being an active part of Jeffrey’s peer group. It is proof to me that by implementing good systems, I too can achieve similar results.”

—Loriena Harrington, founder, Beautiful Blooms Landscape

5.  “I remind myself and my staff every day to never forget what it took to become successful. Our company has a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to make our clients and staff satisfied and want to be part of the Walnut Hill family.”


Photo: Mike Prokopchak

Mike Prokopchak, president

Walnut Hill Landscape Co.

Anapolis, Md.

Years in business: 11

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 5

Defining reason for winning: Prokopchak and his firm were awarded the Mighty Oak based his strong leadership of his company. Mike loves the water, and he represents what it means to have a steady hand on the tiller. He emulates strong leadership, vision and sustained success.

Peer observations:

“Mike is energetic and driven to make his business succeed. He not only cares about his own destiny, but he has a deep care for his people and the strong brand and great image that he has built for his company. Even when up against many obstacles, his self-drive and motivation rises to the top and is displayed in his leadership skills.”

—Brian Edwards, CEO, Colorburst Landscape

“Despite the adversity that we all face in business, Mike has continued to improve and build his company. He has assembled a cohesive team with a great mission that all work well together and allow Mike to do what he does best. His company is built on high quality without compromise. In working with our peer group Mike listens to the advice and has implemented many ideas to help his company become more profitable.”

—Joe Markell, president, Sunrise Landscape & Design

6.    “Be good to your employees and they will be good to you. Decide on your mission, understand your
core values and build a team of professionals that
have those same values. You can’t do it alone.”


Barry Schneider, president

Surrounds Landscape Architecture & Construction

Sterling, Va.

Years in business: 14

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 4

Defining reason for winning: Schneider was awarded the Mighty Oak, based on his steadfast approach to building his team, setting high level goals with his team and everyone being accountable to meeting those goals. Easy to say, very hard to do! Schneider and his team also give back to the industry in many ways.

Peer observations:

“Barry is a true leader who sets high goals and knows how to get them done.”

—Kurt LaButte, president, Todd’s Services

“Barry has set a course for his company and is not wavering in its directions. He has shown great resolve to creating a culture of trust with in his team. This is showing in the profitability he and his team are producing.”

—Glenn Bonick, president, Bonick Landscaping

7. “Think strategically and have some fun! Set a vision and mission for your company that motivates the whole
team to work hard and accomplish something bigger than themselves. Your folks should take a lot of pride in the work they do at your company—recognize them for this, they are the ones that make it successful. Landscaping is fun, bring that passion to life at your company and you will be successful!”


Headshot: Paul Fraynd

Paul Fraynd, president

Sun Valley Landscaping

Omaha, Neb.

Years in business: 21

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 3

Defining reason for winning: Fraynd and his firm were awarded the Mighty Oak due to his innovative leadership style, and his company’s dedication to becoming a “destination company.” He is inspiring to all who work with him in his company and in the Leader’s Edge peer group. He takes action and never sits still.

Peer observations:

“Paul is a people person with a great read on the culture of his company. He is not afraid to take chances on new ideas and people in new positions. He is bold, but also knows when to back off on an idea that is not going in the right direction. Paul’s greatest ability is to create a culture where people enjoy working and creating beautiful landscapes for their clients.”

—David Wright, president, Wright Landscape Services

“Paul is a visionary! He has a highly optimistic, positive personality and deeply cares about creating opportunities for others by providing pathways to success.”

—John Puryear, president, Puryear Farms

8.    “Work hard and play hard together. We have a lot of
fun together and we work very hard as a team
to succeed. Also, build a team of highly-committed
and high-performing individuals, give them
authority and direction, and get out of their way.”


Headshot: Shawn Edwards

Shawn Edwards, Managing Partner

A+ Lawn & Landscape

Des Moines, Iowa

Years in business: 28

Years in Leader’s Edge peer group: 2

Defining reason for winning: Edwards and his firm were awarded the Mighty Oak based on his having built a great multiperson ownership team that together has grown their company significantly in revenue, profits and employee buy-in and satisfaction.

Peer observations:

“Shawn is authentic, and he has a well conceived, clear common sense business philosophy, based on clear expectations.”

—Paul Reder, president, Reder Landscaping





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