As one of eight kids—his mom a nurse and his dad an architect—Craig Ruppert, CEO of Ruppert Landscape, says money was often tight. As a teenager in the early 1970s, Ruppert started mowing neighbors’ lawns with his brother, Chris, to earn extra income.
“We were motivated and enjoyed working hard,” Ruppert says. “People began to recognize us for our work and we steadily grew larger. We expanded from cutting grass to landscape maintenance to construction to tree growing and ultimately to large-scale and complicated commercial jobs.”
Today, Ruppert Landscape has more than 1,500 employees and 23 branches and is one of the largest commercial landscape companies in the industry. It may have started as a means to make money, but Ruppert has developed a sincere passion for the industry, which he has had the privilege of watching evolve in many different ways over the years.
Company name: Ruppert Landscape
Annual Revenue: $184.9 Million
Location: Headquartered in Laytonsville, MD with 23 branches along the East Coast (from PA to GA) and in Texas
Year founded: 1976
Client mix: 100% Commercial
Service mix: 50% landscape construction, 50% landscape management
Business motto: Our success is best accomplished through the growth and development of our people, who are the greatest asset of our organization.
What is your proudest moment in business?
I’m mostly proud of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with today and in years past at Ruppert Landscape. I’ve been in business long enough to see some of our best people retire after 30-plus years. That, to me, is the biggest pleasure and reward. I’ve learned a lot from them and had a lot of fun with them over the years.
What is your biggest business challenge today?
While I say the most rewarding aspect of the job is the people, it can also be the most challenging at times because we’re all human. We all face the same family, social, financial and health challenges that life presents. So, my biggest challenge isn’t just making money or taking care of the customer but dealing with the inevitable people challenges that life and business present.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
To be honest, I’m not always motivated. Sometimes I’d rather sleep in, especially after a late night. But because I expect everyone else to be on time, I try to hold myself to the same standard. And when I get there, the energy of the team around me helps provide the motivation I sometimes lack.
What business worry keeps you up most at night? How are you trying to solve this?
The longer you are in business, the better you are at managing your time. This is mostly because the amount of time you have in life is less. Time becomes more precious. So, it rarely keeps me up at night—although sometimes it wakes me up early in the morning.
If I had to choose one, it would be effectively motivating and leading my team on a daily basis.
Who is your business mentor or idol?
I have been fortunate to have many mentors over the years, so it’s difficult to pick out one. Certainly, I was influenced by my parents, who had good values and strong work ethics. Otherwise, I’d pick my first boss who taught me a lot because I knew nothing. At the time, I worked for a small family-owned general contracting company. He took the time to not only tell me what to do, but also to explain why and how to do it.
What is your favorite business book?
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It was my first exposure to basic management best practices. I read it when I needed it most: early on in my career when it had the greatest impact and provided the most value. It really helped me change.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
I’m proud to be a landscape professional. I’m proud of the type of work we do and the industry that we represent. Being a landscape contractor isn’t considered one of the most prestigious jobs, like a doctor or a lawyer. But I think we represent an industry that is known for its work ethic and its focus on environmental sustainability. We have a hand in many of the beautiful landscapes that make our world a better place.
What does it mean to you to be a member of NALP?
Joining a trade association is one of the smartest things a young business person can do because you’re instantly exposed to other professionals who understand your business and have already made the mistakes that you’re about to make. We didn’t join until 12 years into the business, and we learned more in the first year as a member than we did in the previous 12 years. For those who are willing to listen and adopt change, it’s a priceless investment. The knowledge you gain is huge and much greater than you are going to get elsewhere.
Additionally, being a member of NALP has really broadened our perspective. Membership enables us to interact with others in our industry and become more informed about some of the legislation and issues affecting us all. They’ve been a great partner for us, helping us advocate on important issues, such as H-2B, and working on the critical issue of expanding our workforce. Additionally, I think they’ve helped raise the visibility of our workforce and have promoted the industry and its professionalism in a very positive way.
In five years, where do you see your business going? Where will you be?
We have specific goals laid out in our Ruppert Landscape’s five-year plan. However, our overall goal is to continue to grow in the markets in which we currently operate. This growth will allow us to continue offering opportunities for our employees to develop their careers. It will also enable us to increase our charitable giving. The keys to success over the next five years will be the continued investment in our people, prudent geographical expansion and continued focus on the values that make us a reputable company.