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Landscape Professional Wade Nomura Shares His Story of Growing, Living and Giving

Photo: Wade Nomura

Wade Nomura’s life could rival that of “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” From being a BMX bike champ to owning a landscape company to being mayor and serving as a Rotary International Leadership instructor, he has led a remarkable life and he’s not done yet either.

Nomura is president of Nomura Yamasaki Landscapes, Inc., based in Goleta, California. However, he has held and holds many other titles as well.

Early Life

When he was growing up, Nomura wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He considered everything from being a heavy equipment operator to going into the medical field.

Ironically, when he was younger the one thing he didn’t want to be was a landscaper. His father had a landscaping business that he started after serving in the Korean War that he worked for in the summers.

“The reason I didn’t want to do it is because my father would take me out every summer and I would have to go work for him after hours, just for the discipline of it and to try and get me involved,” Nomura says.

Nomura’s favorite part of the business is creating custom landscapes.
Photo: Wade Nomura

He started college without any direction and decided he wanted to major in landscape architecture. He attended Cal Poly Pomona but after one quarter he decided he didn’t want to be drawing on the board the whole time. 

He transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and majored in ornamental horticulture instead. After graduating in 1976, he immediately got his license to become a landscape contractor. He also got his pesticide license so he could do everything from maintenance to installations. Nomura started working at his father’s business.

“When I came on, we decided that we would split the business,” Nomura says. “He would do the maintenance portion of it; I would do the projects.” 

Nomura says his favorite type of projects to take on are custom jobs.

“The most enjoyable for me is trying to match up a landscape that suits and fits the customer’s needs and desires,” Nomura says.

Branching Out

Eventually, Nomura started his own business. When he started landscaping early on, he was awarded a contract working at a low-income public housing site.

While he was working at the site, he started seeing kids 10 to 14 years old who wanted to hang out with him. He told them they should be in school, but they said they were told not to come back. He took them on motorcycle rides, and they wanted to get their own. Nomura knew they couldn’t afford motorcycles but offered instead to buy them some BMX bikes if they worked for him.

“They worked a little bit for me, and I bought them two bikes, bought them helmets, pads, everything,” Nomura says. “I actually signed them up for a local race so they raced BMX at the beginner level and they had pretty good time with it all.”

Nomura won five national titles while racing BMX bikes.
Photo: Wade Nomura

The kids encouraged Nomura to sign up for a Father’s Day bike race and he ended up winning the race. Six months later, there was a national championship and a new class for competitors 26 and over. Nomura entered and ended up winning on a bike he had built himself.

He turned pro at the age of 30 after winning five national titles. He also started a BMX bicycle company, Nomura Racing.

“At that time I still kept my landscaping business only because it was pretty rough trying to start up a new business of making bikes that I had no experience doing plus racing, which again, I had no experience doing so I needed a little bit of subsidizing,” Nomura says.

However, by 1984, Nomura had to hang up his bike helmet due to injuries. Nomura says the hardest part was working between his injuries. At one point the doctor pointed out that Nomura had two broken feet and Nomura had been unaware that one foot was even broken.

“When I turned pro, I don’t think there was a single race where I wasn’t injured,” Nomura says.

When Nomura quit racing, he also shut down his bike-building business. Nomura’s bikes are considered artisan bikes because his were hand-built. The time commitment his bikes required meant he sold his bikes for four to five times as much as any of the competition. Now his bikes are extremely sought-after collector bikes.

Nomura eventually gave up racing due to injuries.
Photo: Wade Nomura

In the mid-90s, he incorporated his landscape company and brought on his partner, John Yamasaki. Yamasaki started out working for the company as a high schooler and after graduating from college with a business administration degree, Nomura asked him if he wanted to split the business with him.

Nomura says he first met Yamasaki bowling. After giving up racing bikes, Nomura’s wife Roxanne suggested he take up bowling and he decided to see if he could become a professional bowler.

“John Yamasaki was actually a bowler in the Junior League, and he was working the desk,” Nomura says. “He would be at the check-in desk so I would see him all the time. So that’s how we got to be friends because I was in there probably five or six days a week, at eight or nine o’clock at night to one or two in the morning practicing.”

Serving the Community

In 2002 at his wife’s suggestion, Nomura joined Rotary. He became heavily involved after being asked to go on a water project mission to Mexico.

“I signed up, only because I was bilingual in Spanish, and I put water systems together because of my background in landscape,” Nomura says. “So, I did that one and that ended up being probably one of the most rewarding times in my life.”

Nomura discussing options for a water project in Mexico in 2007.
Photo: Wade Nomura

Nomura says when he visited the village in Mexico the people didn’t want the treated water because they said the contaminated water tasted better. He conducted some studies and found the chlorine injection system was injecting 10 times the proper amount in the water. They ended up replacing the system and found the villagers benefited not only from better drinking water, but the health, education and economic levels of the people improved all because of the water project.

A year later they went back and Nomura says the leader of the community approached him and said, “Thank you for bringing us water because water is life. Thank you for bringing us life.”

“That hit me like a pile of rocks,” Nomura says. “I got pretty emotional, not realizing that what I had done was actually changing their lives. That was because of landscaping. Because of my background and my ability to work with systems like that. Having the knowledge to put something like that in place. Having the skill set that we have, that I have as a landscaper, has given me the ability to now become involved with projects around the world. Never in my wildest dreams would I think I would be able to benefit 2 million people in the world.”

Nomura went on to complete another 200 projects over four years after his first project in central Mexico. He soon earned a reputation for his work on water projects. He is currently working on a model with the United Nations and World Health Organization to help bring water to the entire country of Haiti.

Leading Locally

Nomura speaking at the American Institute of Architects Grassroots 2020 National Conference with other mayors.
Photo: Wade Nomura

For many years different groups had approached Nomura about running for Carpinteria city council and he declined three times because Rotary avoids politics and religion.

One group explained the reason they asked him to join the city council is because of his high ethical standards, integrity and his hard-working nature, so finally Nomura accepted. He won by a record margin his first term and ran for a second term four years later with another record margin. He was appointed mayor two and half years ago and he is now on his third term on the city council.

“They asked if I would be willing to serve as mayor for a second term, which is unprecedented,” Nomura says. “Nobody’s ever served a second term. I said would be happy to only because of the confidence that the council has.”

During his time as mayor, Nomura has led the city through multiple challenges including recovery from the Thomas fire disaster and COVID-19.

“We’ve been able to be very resilient moving forward with it keeping our economy high so that’s why they asked me to run the second term,” Nomura says.

A Balancing Act

Nomura says before COVID, he was putting in 40 hours a week for Rotary being a speaker and also coordinating and instructing people on how to do projects. He put about 12 to 16 hours a week in his landscaping business and then another four or five hours a week into the city. Now with COVID, he’s shifted and put more time in the community but is still spending 12 to 16 hours on his business.

Photo: Wade Nomura

“I do mostly overseeing,” Nomura says. “I’m also the planner. I do all the design work. I do the estimating and project layouts. John handles most of the day-to-day operations and handles the accounting. We have a great working relationship and have been able to remain business partners and close friends at the same time, which is unusual for most.”

He says one of the advantages of being in business for so long is he has a lot of clientele that seek him out, rather than having to search for customers. Nomura says he serves a lot of large private estates along with commercial accounts in the Santa Barbara area. On the maintenance side of it, they have 60-80 residential clients and three or four larger commercial ones they do a lot of work for.

“One thing I’ve tried not to do is get into bid projects,” Nomura says. “If it’s something that’s generic, something anybody can bid on, we usually don’t do it unless we know the clients. We are fortunate to be able to pick and choose, just because we’ve been around for so long.”

They keep around 18 to 20 employees on staff. They experienced a boom of business like many other landscaping companies during COVID and Nomura says he’s still working to get caught up.

Life Lessons Learned

During his diverse career, Nomura says the main key to success across all of them is the ability to be inventive.

“You have to be able to work with what you’ve got, but then think outside the box and try and evolve that idea,” Nomura says. “You’re not thinking in the standard terms. You’re trying to create something bigger and better and coming up with different ideas.”

Another major lesson Nomura says he’s learned is integrity.

“For me, it was more than a business and it still is more than a business, there’s a lot of pride involved,” Nomura says. “If I could live on what I had, I would do a lot of it for free just because I enjoy it so much.”

Nomura says when he has a landscape project, he sees it as art and sees it as an opportunity to create something that he loves. He says only seeing landscaping as a money proposition and how to do something cheaper can cause problems.

“You want to actually be able to walk away from it knowing that that was quite a project,” he says. “We put a lot of time, energy, effort in and you walk with away that pride.”

His advice to other landscape professionals is to enjoy what you’re doing.

“If you can’t do that, re-evaluate what you do because the business is a business and you do have to make some money at it, but at the same time you’re doing something because you like it,” Nomura says. “I think the more important part is to refocus, so you enjoy what you do.”

There is much more to Nomura’s life and story that can be found in his recently published book Creating Destiny, which can be found at www.wadenomura.com/book.

Nomura had thought about writing a book for a long time, but he only planned to write it as an autobiography to pass down to his kids. After his first wife passed away, Nomura remarried and his second wife Debbie encouraged him to write the book and share it with the world.

“The idea of the book was to inspire others to lead a life of service, because for me that’s probably the most rewarding part of my life, serving others,” Nomura says.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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