When Juan Gutierrez came to the United States from Mexico in 1999, he originally only planned to stay for one year so he could earn enough money to buy a truck or house in Mexico, like many of his friends had done.
However, he quickly developed a passion for landscaping and decided his life was better in America. 21 years later, he is now the production manager for Diaz Group, LLC, based in Chicago, Illinois.
Gutierrez’s first job was working at a factory, but he wasn’t happy so he approached a local landscaping company and was hired two days later. He was 17 at the time working as a laborer. When he turned 18 and got his driver’s license, his boss gave him a truck to drive, even though he wasn’t familiar with towing a trailer.
“He pushed me to start to start being a leader,” Gutierrez says.
As a driver, he would often have to pick up plants and materials. That is how he first met Rafael Diaz, president of Diaz Group.
In 2008 when the recession hit, Gutierrez’s employer had to cut back his hours, so he ended up moving on to another landscape company that performed lawn maintenance for public schools. In 2015, he met Ruben Diaz Jr., vice president of Diaz Group, who asked Gutierrez to come work for them.
Gutierrez considered the offer and began working for the company in 2016. He said, in the beginning, he was just working to get paid but with the Diaz Group, Rafael and his brother told him he could make a career out of landscaping and do more.
“In 2017, they told me, ‘You’ve been working outside since 2000,” Gutierrez says. “‘You already know most of the stuff. Now it’s time for you to teach other people.’”
Gutierrez was hesitant at first and didn’t think he wasn’t qualified. He told them he wasn’t good with computers, but they let him know they could help him. They assured him that mistakes happen, but they fix them.
Gutierrez studied online and attended various seminars. He says his co-workers in the office helped him as well. Now he can schedule routes, handle programming and conduct some sales.
He became a supervisor in 2017 and after attending a course on how to be a better leader, he says he was hungry to grow up and take on a whole division. Diaz Group soon promoted him to production manager and Rafael encouraged Gutierrez to help others grow as well.
“That’s what I started doing,” Gutierrez says. “I hired laborers with really good knowledge. Now those laborers, they’re not laborers anymore. They’re foremen. Since that happened, I don’t need to look for drivers outside the company. We’ve got drivers in the company; you just need to teach them and make them grow up.”
He says Rafael has been his mentor in the industry.
“He’s the one who is pushing me,” Gutierrez says. “He can be a little hard because he wants me to prove to him that I can do it. At the other companies in my past, it was just work. That’s it. With Rafael, I’ve learned how to help other people that are behind me.”
He says his favorite part about working in the industry is helping other people. While being a production manager has its challenges, he enjoys seeing others grow in their careers. He still enjoys working outside and will sometimes join his crews out in the field to help.
Gutierrez says he teaches all of his new foremen how to be a good leader. When others insist they can’t do something, he encourages his supervisors not to give up, much like the leaders at Diaz Group supported him.
“I’m a very responsible person,” Gutierrez says. “I put so much heart, time, and love into this company, into the green industry. I’ve only been at three companies in my 21 years. But this is a company that helps me grow up. They give me opportunities. They pushed me.”
He says the industry has changed a lot since he was out in the field, with new technology, better trucks and machines, and companies that appreciate their staff more. Gutierrez does wish the public perception of landscaping as low-class work would change as well.
“We do good work,” he says. “We work hard. The landscape industry is super big. There are always new things. There’s a lot of people that when you say, ‘Hey, you want to work in the landscaping industry?’ They say, ‘Oh it’s so easy to cut grass.’ But no, landscaping is not only cutting grass.”
As for where he sees himself in five years, he isn’t entirely sure, but he likes the idea of being an account manager selling large projects.
“I really appreciate everything the Diaz Group family gives to me,” Gutierrez says. “I’m so proud to work for this company. I love my job.”