Meet Jenny Girard, the 2023 Young Professional of the Year - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Meet Jenny Girard, the 2023 Young Professional of the Year

Photo: NALP/Philippe Nobile Photography

Jenny Girard, area manager for R.M. Landscape, based in Hilton, New York, has developed several successful training programs at her company, manages all corporate strategic coordination and development and is growing her new branch.

Her accomplishments have earned her the 2023 Young Professional of the Year Award, which was presented during ELEVATE in Dallas, Texas. This award is presented to an engaged NALP member who serves as a shining example to current and future young professionals in the industry.

“For me, it means that I can inspire other women and that next generation of women that we can do this,” Girard says. “I hope that through my story, it encourages other people to achieve their dreams, that it can be possible despite the challenges you’re going to face.”

Overcoming Adversity

Girard’s career path in the landscape industry has been a winding one that she has achieved through hard work and determination despite setbacks.

“During the first week of my first semester ever in college, my grandmother, whom I was living with passed away,” Girard says. “When she passed, we lost the house, causing me to lose everything I had and a place to live.”

She worked multiple jobs seven days a week in order to make ends meet, including night shifts at a cab company where she would study and sleep when she wasn’t working.

“That’s why I always like to share this because I want people to know you can do this,” Girard says. “It’s really hard, but there’s a lot of sacrifices down the road.”

Girard earned her associate degree in science and mathematics and by the time she went to get her bachelor’s degree she had met her husband.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think this would have been achievable because we’re like two partners in crime,” Girard says. “He totally supported my dreams and believed in me and said, ‘Let’s do this. I’ll help you.’ He worked nonstop while I went to school and did everything I needed to do to finish.”

Girard graduated with an Honors Bachelor’s degree in plant science from SUNY Cobleskill. Afterwards, she interned at Longwood Gardens. It was there that she started to fall in love with landscaping in general. She originally wanted to be a production grower. She went on to Busch Gardens and became the specialty and event landscaper there for five years.

“I really found my purpose, which is connecting people with nature,” Girard says. “I loved connecting with all the guests, but I would never see them again. I’d see them once and I’d tell them the story of what we were doing, but I’d never get to see them again. So I started diving into what could you do landscape-wise. I didn’t really have a background other than plant science and I found account management and I fell in love, so that’s how I wound up in the landscape industry.”

Professional Accomplishments

In her time with R.M. Landscape, she has grown her branch from a crew of 3 to 15 in four years. Girard says being part of this team is her proudest achievement so far. She has also had zero turnover at her branch this year.

Within two years with the company, she was asked to help coordinate the strategic planning for the entire company while maintaining her branch responsibilities. She has created training courses, education sessions, and operational structures for the company as well.

“I love to develop programs,” Girard says. “It’s kind of a knack for me. I’ve done it at every position. I built an entire training program for Busch Gardens. The developing of it is never difficult. It’s the implementation.”

Girard explains you can build the world’s best program, and it looks great on paper but when you start adding in people, it can all go out the window.

“What’s different at R.M. is that culture of support,” Girard says. “Everybody from a team member all the way up to ownership is supportive of new programs or anything that I built. It’s made that transition easier, but no one likes something new.”

She says it’s important to understand that no program is going to work perfectly the first time. You will receive feedback and there are aspects you’ll have to change. People being patient and supportive determines the success of new programs.

“What I have learned over time is like you have to go with the flow,” Girard says. “You have to be fluid because what you think is going to work is probably going to change. The biggest thing that I’ve seen success-wise is really asking the crew members, the people that are giving the training, up to ownership, ‘How is this working? Does this work for you? What’s not working?”

She says her favorite aspect of her job is seeing the connection of people with nature.

“Whether it’s through training or talking with my clients or the best is I’ll be on a property and I’m watching the customers take pictures of something I just installed and seeing that spark and joy in their face,” Girard says. “That’s probably the number one thing I love about my job is that I get to see my life’s purpose in action every day.”

Girard also enjoys seeing her team reach their goals and grow with the company because others helped her the same way.

“I want to continue to grow with our company, wherever that might lead and I want to continue educating the next generation of landscape professionals,” she says.

Industry Involvement

Girard is passionate about providing a better future for young professionals and strives to provide a voice in the industry about her past struggles. She volunteers to speak on a multitude of topics and wants to promote the industry.

“I think we have such an opportunity for people to grow careers and build sustainable lives for them and their families that can be a fulfilled life,” Girard says.

She even created a mentoring program for students with plant science and landscape management degrees at SUNY Cobleskill to provide real-life experiences. Girard is also highly involved with the NALP Young Professionals Network and the Women in Landscape Network. She is on the WILN advisory council.

Girard makes a point of cultivating relationships with those new to the industry to encourage a passion for the green industry.

“Life is a journey,” Girard says. “Enjoy it. Don’t try to write out every page. Go through that door. Take that job. You never know where it will fall. Never give up. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for and finally, be kind to yourself and others because you never know where someone is on their journey.”

This article was published in the November/December 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.