For Father’s Day, as part of our #NALPStories series, we talked to Brett Lemke about what he’s learned by working with his father, Rick Lemke, at R.M. Landscape, Inc. in Hilton, N.Y.
What have you learned about business from your dad?
Work ethic first and foremost. From a young age it started with “Don’t say you can’t.” It may have been about learning to ride a bike or ski down a steep run, but I realize now that there are no limits to what can be accomplished.
My father also helped me learn how to develop relationships both in life and in business. Establishing a relationship built on trust, accountability, and honesty. He even showed me how a business relationship can be fun and exciting, which allows me or anyone to have fun at work.
What do you think you’ve taught your dad?
What we are experiencing now is my desire to grow our landscape business as he did these last 43 years. We agree most of the time on what growth means. We agree that we need to continue to drive profitability, but I want to see us grow into a larger firm. As our company has grown I have shown him that managers are needed and we need to trust in people. We can no longer do it all ourselves. Some days it is easier to convince him than others.
How are your personalities similar? Different?
We are more similar than different for sure. Same type of humor, same level of drive. We both enjoy making relationships with people, especially our employees, our suppliers, and our clients. We like establishing those relationships. I think it gives a sense of satisfaction. We both like creating solutions, we may not be the best at following through, but we are strategic thinkers.
Do you ever catch yourself doing something and think, “I’m just like my dad”?
More often it is someone reminding me that I am just like my dad. Nothing makes me more proud to hear that. I love the man and admire him tremendously; of course I want to be my dad.
How do you work well together?
We work well together. We work hard to stay calm, even in the most stressful situations. I have never been mad with my father, frustrated sure and I am sure he would say the same, but never mad. It isn’t worth it we are better when we work together.
I talk to him every day and I find that when I don’t it is strange and we mix family and business throughout the day. We do talk business even when we are “off the job”, but we like it and it isn’t consuming us.
Did you start the business together or begin working for your dad when you were older?
My father started the landscape business with his brother in 1973. I joined the business in a management role in 2002. I of course worked every summer and school break at the company, in every job from nursery hand to foreman. Throughout high school I would find myself going to the office every day after school to hang out with him or around our shop. It is not so much a place of work for me or my father, but rather an extension of our home. We feel very comfortable there.
Was there any ever expectation to work in the business?
I never felt the pressure to join the business, but it was always what I wanted to do. I received a degree in Landscape Development from SUNY Cobleskill. There were days I didn’t want to work I the summers when I was younger, but he made sure I was at work and I really appreciate that now. I never asked him if he tried to guide me in the direction of the company, but if he did that low pressure really worked! I have three young kids now and I certainly think about them joining the business, and am certain they will be working their summers at the company, but they need to create their own passion as I have for the industry and our company. I will be a proud father whatever they choose.
What is the key to keeping work and home separate?
We don’t keep it separate and I don’t know how that is possible when you have the passion for the business that we do. I think there needs to be a healthy balance. We don’t go to deep into business talk when we are off the job. We may bring up a few things, but we know when we shook talk about other things.
What father/son duo (real or fiction) do you admire most?
Nothing comes to mind. What we have really works and is a lot of fun. I joke that I am trying to get him to retire, and while he calls me to others his 401k, I know he won’t ever retire … he will just do what he wants. The more I think about it I don’t want him to retire – I would miss him.
What is the best piece of advice your dad has taught you personally and professionally?
He has shown me that family comes first. We do what we do to support our family, but we cannot lose sight that our family allows us to do what we love. He struggled with managing that time and we often will talk about make sure you are there for all the family stuff. Watching him become a grandfather I see him really enjoying life. We have a lot of fun at work and it really isn’t ever work eve on the tough days. Love what you do and do it well. He has not on told me this, but shown me how.