Although he grew up around landscaping, Dean DeSantis, owner of DeSantis Landscapes in Portland, didn’t initially imagine he’d follow the same career path as his father, who started the business in 1974. At the time, DeSantis was just eight years old and says he spent most of his summers helping out. Even so, he just wasn’t sure if it was right for him.
“I had another career for 12 years and even worked abroad for a while,” says DeSantis. “But around the year 2000, my kids were just born, and I knew I needed to put down roots. I wasn’t loving what I was doing, and my dad was in the process of looking for an exit strategy. I had earned a business degree and approached the business with a different perspective than I had when I was younger.”
It may have felt serendipitous that he wound up in the green industry after all, but DeSantis says the passion was always there. He loves that his job is to “create beautiful spaces” and that he gets to spend so much of his time outdoors.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Year Founded: 1974
Client breakdown: 70% commercial, 30% residential
Services breakdown: 50% design/build, 50% maintenance
What is your proudest moment in business?
For me, it’s been about developing people. When people come in at an entry-level position and rise up through the ranks and can feel good about their own career development at DeSantis Landscapes, that gives me great pride.
What is your biggest challenge today?
Like many others, the work force is my biggest challenge—specifically the climate around immigration and the mess of the H-2B program. There is a lot of work out there and we could grow a lot faster than we currently are but the labor question of whether we will have enough workers is always looming. To be able to fulfill promises to DeSantis Landscapes clients, we simply can’t afford to grow without the labor to support it.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
We’ve developed our strategic initiatives and goals for the year, and what motivates me is always the next step for accomplishing those goals. Seeing those plans play out gives me motivation to start the week.
What business worry keeps you up most at night?
Cash flow. Our mix at DeSantis Landscapes includes not only commercial maintenance and some residential maintenance but also big commercial bid work. However, those huge contracts are sometimes slow to pay and can really impact our cash flow. We are trying to solve that by always being the squeaky wheel. We’re always on the phone, sending reminders and finding out what we can do on our end to keep things moving and get paid.
Who is your business mentor or idol?
I have learned a lot from Jim Collins. I don’t know him personally but his book, “Good to Great,“ has been a bit of a Bible for me. On a more personal level, my Dad has also been an idol, and I’m inspired by what he did to build DeSantis Landscapes. We have very different skill sets and that allowed us to really complement each other early on. It worked out well.
What is your favorite business book?
I read so much and that makes it hard to pick just one but if I had it, it would definitely be “Good to Great.” The things talked about in that book have really become part of the business lexicon and I constantly find that book relevant and have revisited it many times.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
I think for myself and most people in the industry, we are people who love the outdoors, beautiful spaces and opportunities to create and build something new. It’s something that brings me enjoyment. There is plenty of stress in everyone’s lives these days, but I think what we do helps relieve some of that pressure and stress. We are creating beautiful, green spaces.
What does it mean to be a member of NALP?
I have always been a believer in supporting the professionalism of the industry. I think it helps everyone “up their game,” and is important to our overall success as an industry.
In five years, where do you see your business going? Where will you be?
We have a vision and plan for our business for 2025.We are mapping out where we see our service percentages, how big our staff will be, and what our revenue will be. There may be some expansion of the branches. Right now, we are at three, but we may expand that.
Personally, in five years, I will be 57 and may start to think about a succession plan at that time. I have always believed in mapping out the future and making plans.
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