Though he grew up around the industry—his father and uncle started R.M. Landscape, a western New York landscape company—Brett Lemcke says he was never pushed into it. But he loved it. After earning a horticulture degree at the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill—and completing an internship at Gachina Landscape Management in California—Lemcke returned to the family business, of which he is now vice president.
We recently caught up with Lemcke—a former NALP president—to find out what he loves most about the industry.
What is your proudest moment in business?
I’m not sure if there is a single moment, but I’m most proud of the opportunity to work with my father and my other family members at R.M. Landscape.
As I became a parent, I also came to understand what it means to have a company and a legacy to pass on. We’ve done some really great jobs and brought on great people. The last three to five years we’ve been promoting managers and really growing from within. I think over the last couple of years we’ve really become a better company for our people and for our clients. At R.M. Landscape, we talk a lot about growing intentionally but realistically. We’re also being asked to grow both by our team and by our clients, and we’re stepping up to that challenge.
What is your biggest business challenge?
While labor is the easy answer, and we have certainly had challenges with that, it’s actually just preparing those who we do bring on board to become long-term fits for us. I mean both from a production role up to a management role. We’re challenged by the engagement of how to get people excited and committed to this work. The official word for that would be “training,” but we’re looking beyond that. We’ve really been working on our culture as a company. As we add people—and we add them quickly—how do we prepare them for what’s ahead? That’s something we’re thinking about regularly.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
When you have some time off and a nice weekend with the family, you get to think differently. During those moments to relax and reflect it often gives me an opportunity to clear my head a bit. I take advantage of that. I’m also an optimistic person so instead of looking at Monday as dreaded or scary, I’m looking at it as a fresh opportunity. It’s a new week with new possibilities.
What business worry keeps you up at night?
I think about the development of us building a team a lot. We have everyone pointed in same direction and ready to help each other. But that’s not something we can become complacent about. We have to keep working to get there especially as we add new people. At R.M. Landscape, we have people who have been with us for more than 30 years and we have brand-new people coming on board—so there are a lot of different perspectives. The goal is to all be working to move forward as one.
Who is your business mentor or idol?
My father has shared life and business strategies with me, so he is certainly a big one. I also had a professor, Jack Ingels, who shared a passion for the industry and really inspired me. And then I will add that mentors, I’d call them friends, through my involvement with NALP have been there for me in so many ways. I have created lifelong friends who I can talk to about anything. They’ve helped me in life but also helped tremendously with my business. That network, many times over, has produced mentors and voices of reason when I’ve needed it.
What is your favorite book?
Currently, I’ve been reading the Harvard Business Review magazine and that’s been a strong source of information. I often read in short bursts but that has a good range of topics and some really great business articles.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
I have a true passion for this industry. But I also have a passion to share this industry with others—even those who may just be considering it. I feel compelled that it be part of my job to spread the word on why this is a viable career; To help others to learn as much as I can offer. I’m inspired by the idea of getting more people to see how exciting this career can be.
What does it mean to you to be an NALP member?
I have tremendous respect for the people within the NALP team, including its volunteers. There are a lot of people working really hard for our causes and our industry as a whole. To be able to give back and do my part is really important to me. But I’ve benefited from it, too. Selfishly, I’ve learned a tremendous amount while devoting my time to NALP.
What was your experience in sending an employee to NALP’s Leadership Academy?
We got a taste of what Leadership Academy would be all about while at Leaders Forum—and we liked what we saw. I am proud that it was a New York State school—Cornell—that was hosting. That is only a few hours away and really convenient for us. But I recognized that I want to bring that kind of high-level thinking into our business. We have the horticulture part of the business covered. We have the processes covered. Now, we’re looking at bigger picture business. As our business is scaling up, we have to recognize that there are a lot of smart people who have already been through these things—and learn from them. I sent Andy Walsh, who runs our construction division at R.M. Landscape. He is a thoughtful person and was really engaged with the idea of attending. He learned a lot and made some valuable relationships while attending.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
R.M. Landscape is a growing business, and we will continue to grow. We have begun to have a regional presence—not just a single market presence. So, I want to explore the opportunities within that business model. Personally, I want to be able to know how to cultivate a bigger and stronger team and just grow a very solid company. We have the goals to be the premier landscape company in western New York.