Meet Claire Goldman, Winner of the 2020 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Meet Claire Goldman, Winner of the 2020 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Claire Goldman, principal, and head of design and business development for R&R Landscaping in Auburn, Alabama, is the winner of the 2020 Woman Entrepreneur Award of the Year. This award recognizes an NALP member who has demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and initiative, ensured advancement of the landscape industry by actions and endeavors, and serves as a shining example to current and future female entrepreneurs.

One thing that Goldman takes seriously is being a leader, not a boss. She says the most significant thing she’s done to enhance the company’s growth has been stepping back and helping her team develop their strengths.

“I was a designer for many years,” Goldman says. “After hiring an incredible designer, I had to decide whether to stifle him in a role that supported my design work or step out of the way and let him go for it. It was an odd feeling to be unsure of my role and where I fit into the company, but empowering him as a designer has proven to be an excellent decision! I have found that I get more satisfaction from supporting, coaching, and watching our team win together than from doing everything myself.”

We recently caught up with Goldman to find out more about her and what it means to have won this prestigious award.

How did you get into the landscape industry in the first place?

I grew up in Atlanta and in high school, I took a forestry class, which I loved. Long story short, I received a scholarship to Auburn and started in agronomy and soils. I’ve always loved the outdoors and it was a good fit. I can’t tell you exactly what the shift was from agronomy and soils to horticulture — but it might have had something to do with the cute boy I had my eye on.

What do you love most about the landscape industry?

The people are what I love most about this industry. I’ve missed having our national events this year. Our industry is so open and warm. We encourage one another and root one another on. I have always loved getting to know and supporting others in the industry.

What have your biggest challenges been?

For us and our company, our biggest challenge has been managing growth in a way that is organized and structured. In the past, we have had rapid growth that we didn’t plan for and we’ve had to go back and retrofit systems to make it work.

How have you addressed that growth in a meaningful way that’s made it less of a challenge?

I think we’ve done it so much now that we’re not willing to be in a situation where we’re just trying to keep our heads above water. So, if we get into those moments of growth where we feel we can’t keep up, we tend to think about where we can shift. Do we want to accommodate the growth or do we want to shift to more of a specialized niche?

Our focus is on having a clear identity as a company that values creative design and sticking to that. We don’t have any maintenance. But we have great relationships with other landscape companies in the area so if people call us and are looking for that kind of work, I have people I’d recommend. If those companies get called looking for high-level design work, they often recommend us, too. We’re all pretty close here in the immediate area — and many of us went to school here. It’s a network.

What has your experience been as a woman in the industry?

It can be a challenge at times, but I think the most important thing is choosing not to be bitter about it. It’s a mindset. It does feel easier now than it did when I started, but I think a lot of that might be a shift in my own mindset. As a woman, you often have to work harder to prove yourself but if you choose to just embrace that, and maintain a positive mindset, you can succeed. It may not be fair, but let’s just do it, knowing you’ll be stronger because of it. You have to lean into the challenge.

What does it mean to you to be the NALP Woman Entrepreneur of the Year?

I was caught off guard — we’re a small company in Alabama. But to be amongst the women who have already won this and those that will ahead of me, it’s so humbling. It is encouraging. I’m so appreciative to NALP for recognizing me. It makes me feel as though I’ll have more of an opportunity to have a voice and I want to use this honor to help better the industry.

What has been the biggest change you’ve witnessed in your time in the industry?

We’ve seen a big shift of companies focusing more on their team and providing an even more meaningful experience at work. It’s no longer just “here’s your paycheck.” It’s, “how can we create a culture where people want to come to work?” As we’re experiencing labor storage across the board, we’re all looking at ways to not only recruit but retain employees.

This article was published in the Nov/Dec issue of the magazine.