Faces of the Industry: Jacob Hong - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Faces of the Industry: Jacob Hong

Jacob Hong started mowing lawns with his brother when he was 13 years old, but it wasn’t until he was in college that he realized he could have a career in the landscape industry.

“I felt it was the best of both worlds,” Hong says. “A little bit of business along with working outside. Initially, it was the unknown, but what was the most exciting part to me is that I could do something that I loved and I would be able to support my family monetarily.”

Hong grew up in Idaho and attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in at first and after going on mission for Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he thought he wanted to be a teacher.

However, he decided he wanted to make a little more money and most of the teenagers he’d be working with aren’t interested in school.

“I was about to get married, so I decided I would go into business,” Hong says. “Shortly after being married, I began working with BYU grounds where I met a good friend who introduced me to the landscape management program at BYU. I realized I enjoyed the work and so I went home and told my wife that I was going to change my major to landscape management. You can imagine her surprise when she thought I was going into business and then she thought I would be mowing lawns for the rest of my life. The perception of the industry was quite the shock at first.”

While attending BYU, Hong had the ability to compete in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, which was a life-changing experience for him.

“To any college students that have the opportunity to go, I would highly encourage you to forgo your spring break,” he says. “Spend the time now to save for it if you need to. Or reach out to your local companies and ask if they are willing to help sponsor you or your team to attend. There are hundreds of companies around the country to meet with at this event. The friendships that you make with your school and others are amazing. The competition is a blast and it is what everyone goes for, but it is the companies and people that you meet that will change your life.”

While in the landscape management program, Hong met people who steered him to Minnesota to work with Southview Design, based in St. Paul. He has been working for them for eight years now. He says he loves creating ways for the company to become better and feels he can make contributions that affect the lives of the team and their clients in a positive way.

“Southview is an amazing place to work with amazing team members,” Hong says. “I could go on and on about the people, but one item that stands out to me and is a very important part of Southview that may not be talked about as much as it should be is one of our Three Uniques: ‘We do what we say we do.’ That gives me a lot of freedom to do what is best for my team and for our clients. The ability to be honest and do what is best for the parties involved makes it possible to be my best self.”

As director of client care, Hong says his goal every day is to break down the barriers his team faces.

“We discuss issues and create solutions,” Hong says. “We talk about how we can better serve our clients, how our production teams can improve quality and efficiency. We handle serious issues and issues that are simple. Each day is different, and each solution is unique, but it is all super fun.”

Hong says his biggest challenge is breaking down perceptions, whether it be clients’ or new recruits’. He says when preconceived thoughts are hurtful, they are hard to get past.

“I wish the general public knew how professional of an industry this is,” he says. “That a great paying career can be made in the landscape industry. This is a fantastic industry with fantastic people.”

In April 2023, Southview Design joined Mariani Landscape’s family of companies. Hong says their daily operations have remained the same since being acquired, as Mariani trusts them to continue to perform at a high level.

“There have been some amazing benefits from the changes,” Hong says. “I can now pick up the phone and call a group of people from around the country that have dealt with similar issues. I can get new ideas on how a team is structured. We have been able to pick the brains of other teams for their best practices. Our revenue lines have the opportunity to expand into new markets in our own geographical locations because we have experts across the country doing things that we have not been doing.”

Hong has had multiple mentors, including his professors from BYU, industry leaders Jim Cali and Jason New and Southview leaders Chris Clifton, Johannes Louwers and Ryan Slipka. He says he tries to grab the best parts of others and incorporate them into his life. He says he’s learned to go after his career.

“If you want something, start doing it, and either you will just take it over or someone will give it to you,” Hong says. “You do not have to wait for a promotion.”

Five years from now, Hong hopes to continue to be part of a team that provides a living, allowing his team to live a lifestyle where they can support themselves and their loved ones and are better off each day.

This article was published in the September/October issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.