For years, H. Jaclyn Ishimaru-Gachina, president and CEO of Gachina Landscape Management, was by her husband’s side as he ran the company. A “Game of Thrones” fan, Ishimaru-Gachina jokes that she was like the “hand of the King.” Though she was at home raising her boys, Ishimaru-Gachina’s husband, John, spoke about every aspect of the company and the industry for the last 30 years—and she listened. Like a sponge, Ishimaru-Gachina absorbed and learned it all, never quite realizing that she would be stepping up to the plate to apply that knowledge. The plan had always been for her sons to take over Gachina Landscape Management.
However, after 10 years in remittance from prostate cancer, John Gachina succumbed to the disease in 2015. The company was suddenly at a crucial crossroad.
“John had hired a general manager prior to his passing who was tasked with mentoring our sons until they were ready to take over the business, but he didn’t work out,” Ishimaru-Gachina says. “I was the only person to step in to bring John’s heart and soul back into the business. Failure was not an option. I had a mission and a legacy to continue: Keep the company thriving until our sons were ready.”
Today, Ishimaru-Gachina actively oversees the day-to-day operations of Gachina Landscape Management, which celebrated its 31st anniversary in July. What had begun as a humble three-employee “gardening company” has now grown to 450 employees with Ishimaru-Gachina at the helm. Recently named the NALP’s 2019 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, NALP caught up with Ishimaru-Gachina to find out more about what drives her.
What is your proudest moment in business?
Looking back over the past three years, seeing the best managers in the industry every morning working at the company because they chose to stay and support my leadership.
What is your biggest business challenge today?
The tight labor market and the uncertainty of the available talent is a constant concern. In April 2018, our human resources director, Denise Ritch, introduced the certification program. New employees are graded on experience and knowledge and trained before joining a crew. This way a new employee is joined by other new employees to form a team that experiences onboarding together; they are in it together. Best practices are trained consistently throughout the company. The new employee doesn’t join a field crew until they are competent. This program has also afforded a new job opportunity for crew leaders and has greatly reduced turnover.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the landscape industry?
There are not enough woman role models in our industry, but that is changing. It is inspiring, timely and hopefully aspirational that NALP recognizes women leaders.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
Hearing the successes and the “what I learned stories” about how we’re satisfying clients to keep Gachina Landscape Management one of the best companies in the industry. With “what I learned stories,” I give the managers the opportunity to not only speak about their successes, but also difficult situations that they’ve encountered and had to be creative to solve. The team can learn from these experiences. Many times, you learn more from difficult situations than from successes.
What can people find you doing on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m.?
I am in the car traveling to Livermore to train and raise my skills in dressage. In French, dressage means training. Originally it was a way to train the horse to understand the cues that the rider was giving for a movement. In battle, the horse needed to move sideways, forward, turn, speed off, jump and back up to keep the rider in battle and alive. In the Olympics, it is the event where you see the rider intimately moving with the horse in a choreographed performance. Men and women compete equally. I started initially because I was a stay-at-home mom and my sons didn’t need me so much. I needed something to occupy my time.
Previously, I had volunteered at the elementary and middle schools. However, in high school, there were few opportunities. My husband worked long hours. So, I started to learn something for myself and to challenge myself, and for exercise—it provides an intense core workout—and planning for having an empty nest. In order to be successful, you must communicate in a language that the horse understands—pressure and the release of pressure and being the “leader” of the herd; in this case horse and rider. You must multi-task constantly, keeping the conversation with the horse ongoing. It keeps my mind engaged and challenged. While I am nowhere close to being competent, I enjoy it and will keep training for years.
What business worry keeps you up most at night?
In the Bay Area, where real estate commands exorbitant prices, and the available light industrial properties are shrinking, where will I be able to move the branches should landlords choose to sell out to the tech industry? The tech industries have the money and the resources to pay high prices and they are buying properties that are zoned for landscape companies. The green industry is a +/- $90 billion industry, but it depends upon an immigrant population for labor. They are performing work that many Americans won’t. With the cost of living so very high in the greater Bay Area, affordable housing for our team members is crucial. The H-2B program is insufficient and not the be-all answer. Factoring in that many other industries depend on the same labor pool, we don’t have enough talent to go around.
Who is your business mentor?
I have met many awesome and kind leaders over the years. Frank Ross, Dr. Paul Allen, Frank Mariani, Bob Grover, Steve Adelman and Quang Trihn, to name a few. I would appreciate having a mentor. Any volunteers?
What woman inspires you most?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a glass-ceiling breaker, a trailblazer and still relevant well into her 80s. She is thoughtful and persuasive.
What is your favorite business book?
“Option B.” This book is my life. Having a life-altering event pushed me in a totally unforeseen direction. I have many titles that I want to read; I just need to do a better job in finding the time.
What does it mean to you to be the woman entrepreneur of the year?
It is a wonderful and inspiring tribute to all women who persevere against odds to realize their dreams. I am proud to be counted among the new leaders in the green industry. Women are coming into their own. Watch what we will do now given the opportunities.
In five years, where do you see your business going? Where will you be?
Gachina Landscape Management will continue to grow organically under the direction of my two sons and the managers mentoring them. I will be riding and enjoying the life I have the privilege to enjoy.
What advice would you give to women trying to break into the landscaping field?
Creating a work environment that promotes diversity and that couples “The Gachina Way” (Respect, Courtesy and Professionalism) has allowed women to thrive within Gachina Landscape Management.
Also, it is very inspiring to see so many women at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, who have chosen the landscape industry. When interviewing female candidates, their greater numbers encourages me. These women are self-confident, knowledgeable, driven, prepared and inspired to make an impact. We encourage them to intern with us and after graduation join our team. The fact that 45 percent of our senior management team is female speaks volumes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: NALP’s Women in Landscape Network (WILN) is committed to connecting, empowering and advocating for women in the landscape industry, driving the change necessary to recruit and retain female professionals and amplifying the voices of women leaders. The WILN is led by a group of landscape professionals, women and men, passionate about female representation and advancement in the landscape and lawn care industry. Ishimaru-Gachina is on the advisory board of WILN. Join WILN at LANDSCAPES at 2:30-3:30 p.m. on Oct. 15 for a Network Coffee Break in the Cherokee Triangle Room at the Omni Louisville Hotel. Socialize with peers, exchange knowledge and ideas, and create and grow productive relationships in a relaxed atmosphere. Opening remarks will introduce the vision and purpose behind the formation of this new group. Women and men are welcome to attend.