Christopher Brown’s start in the industry began as a summer job working on a golf course. He loved being outdoors in the fresh air. That and his fascination with grass maintenance science lead him to pursue a turfgrass science degree from Penn State. Though he imagined he’d wind up back in the golf course industry after school, some of the aspects of being a golf course superintendent did not appeal to him. He ultimately decided that starting a lawn care business would be his best path forward. In 1995, Brown met Peter Teed, who had been working at a local lawn care company. The two started GrassRoots Lawn Care Inc. that year, which became Teed & Brown Lawn Care in 2004. Since then, the business has grown tremendously. Today it has location in Connecticut and New York.
Brown recently became one of NALP’s newest Trailblazers and we reached out to find out more about him.
What has been your proudest moment in business?
There have been a lot of moments, but one stands out. One summer my business partner and I neglected to coordinate with one another. We both scheduled a two-week summer vacation at the same time. We weren’t initially sure what to do, but we knew we’d built a good organization. So, we said to Teed & Brown management, “It’s yours for two weeks.” We left it in their hands but said we’d be available if we were needed. By the time we both returned, not only had they not reached out for more than a few quick questions, but we found the company had grown. They had signed up new business while we were away. It made us proud that we had built a good organization that could run without us.
What has been your biggest challenge in business?
My biggest challenge has been internalizing and understanding that management styles must evolve. The management style you use at a certain size might work well at that size but won’t necessarily work any longer once the company grows to a certain point. Understanding you have to constantly change your management style and the structure of the company and systems as you grow to accommodate that growth is a big realization—and a challenge. There’s no perfect blueprint for how to do it—just something you have to be aware of and ready to handle as you grow.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
I love the challenge of trying to grow the business and develop a more comprehensive and larger company. For the last several years, we been growing at about 25% over the previous year. The challenge that motivates me is about thinking toward the future. What do we need to improve now at Teed & Brown but also what problems will we run into a year from now that we should prepare for? Working on those strategies keeps me motivated week after week.
Who is your business mentor or idol?
Instead of having just one, I like to draw a lot of inspiration from a lot of people.
For instance, you take someone like a Steve Jobs. He is such a visionary and was so fearless in moving forward with his bold ideas and vision. He had such confidence and willingness to make mistakes and that was truly inspiring to me. But I’ve also heard he was horrible to work for. So, I don’t see him as someone I want to emulate as a person leading my employees. But in terms of boldness, he really inspires me.
There are other business leaders who have been great at building a really positive workplace culture, which is something else that I strive to do. Another inspiration to me is Abraham Lincoln for the primary reason that after he won and became president he pulled together “a team of rivals” that included the people fighting against him. He got them to come on board and become part of his team, so he wasn’t surrounded by “yes men.” That is probably one of the reasons he was such an effective leader—he wanted to hear other opinions besides his own.
What is your favorite business book?
There are many, but one that sticks out as being unique “The Goal.”
The reason I enjoyed it is the author is innovative in writing from a fictional standpoint but still develops business lessons he wants to get across. You learn some tremendous business lessons about how complex organizations can run.
What led you to become an NALP Trailblazer?
Over the last 25 years of business I have learned such a tremendous amount through trial and error and kind of wish I’d availed myself of the program at an earlier stage for myself. I think a lot of the mistakes we learned over the years could have been avoided had we talked to others who’d been through it. So, I wanted to be able to give back that way—to help others learn from our trial-and-error process.
What do you hope to offer through that experience?
I think just from my own perspective, I’ve moved away from a lot of the turfgrass management work and much more into the business leadership and company building end of things. I think so many people are in this industry because they are good tradesmen. They start a company and build it. But then they don’t have a lot of interest in the behind-the-scenes management that goes into running it. That’s boring to them or simply not their area of interest. They want to be out there creating new landscapes. What I hope I can offer is enough insight into that end of things to show it’s equally fascinating in its own way.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
We have a five-year plan in place. We are hoping to add three more locations to make it five in the next five years. We also plan to be two-and-a-half to three times our current size in terms of total customer volume and revenue.