Meet Mike Rorie, 2023 Lifetime Leadership Award Winner - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Meet Mike Rorie, 2023 Lifetime Leadership Award Winner

Photo: NALP/Philippe Nobile Photography

Mike Rorie has influenced thousands in the landscape industry with his wisdom and his work on software systems like GIS Dynamics and For his contributions to the industry, he was named the 2023 Lifetime Leadership Award winner at ELEVATE.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized by an industry you spent your whole life in,” Rorie says. “To be recognized by your peers, by your industry and receive that award is very prestigious. I hold it in esteem, and it only makes me want to continue to represent the industry at the highest level.”

Rorie got his start more than four decades ago when he started his first landscape company, GroundMasters, Inc., without a college degree or industry experience. He created his business, not from a love of horticulture, but out of a love of driving his truck. His love for equipment also drove him to move from residential to commercial work three years into his career.

He says he chose the landscape industry over construction work as he has no engineering ability.

“But I am really good at anything repetitive where you get really fast, you eliminate all the waste,” Rorie says. “The motivation to grow the business was to get more stuff for a long time. Then after a lot of that, I’m like, ‘Okay, now I want to make money at it,’ because now I’m getting older. I’m in my 30s and been doing it for 10 years and I’m like, ‘Now I want to make money.’”

In 1992, Rorie was introduced to the NALP legacy organization ALCA.

“The lights came on for me because when I went to that first conference, I said to my original partner, there’s people here doing $15 million a year,” Rorie says. “We’re doing like a million and a half and I feel like we’re in the right place. Now we can try to learn this.”

As Rorie rose through the industry, he connected with Frank Ross, Jim Paluch, David Minor, Bob Grover, Gary Thorton and Rick Doesburg, who all impacted him in various ways.

He says his biggest challenge was not having a model or an operating system back in his day.

“In the Midwest, there was nobody,” Rorie says. “There was no $5 million company. There was no ValleyCrest. There was no Brickman. They just weren’t around. They were in big cities and in big markets and that’s where they stayed.”

Despite the challenges, Rorie grew his company to $30 million and sold it to The Brickman Group in 2006. He then became involved with the software side of the industry with GIS Dynamics and GoiLawn. Because of his experience and reputation, he was also asked to be a founding investor at Aspire.

In 2013, he started GroundSystems, Inc. with his daughter, Rachel.

“When we went back the second time with GroundSystems, we brought back everybody we wanted, and they’re all there,” Rorie says. “There isn’t anybody that turned us down.”

He is now a board member of GroundSystems. In his time, Rorie has seen the industry go from one where people didn’t even wear uniforms to one that is professionally branded and trained.

“The software is a big game changer,” Rorie says. “All this software here. There was none of this stuff here 10 years ago.”

He also encourages landscape professionals to get plugged into a peer group to learn from one another. Rorie has been involved in helping build the early associations from nothing to professionalism 30 years ago.

“I’ve tried to share as much as I’ve received, which is hard, because I’ve received a lot,” Rorie says.

Rorie still actively gives back to the industry and says anyone can message him on LinkedIn and he’ll listen to whatever they’re trying to figure out and point them in the right direction if he can’t help himself.

“To be a leader means you’ve risen to a level of contribution, respect and success that you’re recognized as a leader because you’ve made those achievements,” Rorie says.

As for where he sees the industry going in the next 10 years, he says there’s no question robots are going to take on the most repetitious, labor-intensive task of mowing.

“It’s all here now guys; how far do you want to go?” Rorie says. “It’s right in front of you. If you engage, the answers to the test are there, then what’s your appetite? How hard do you want to go?”

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.