Talking with Titans: Carmine Schiavone - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

We recently updated our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use this website, you acknowledge that our revised Privacy Policy applies.

Talking with Titans: Carmine Schiavone

Carmine Schiavone is CEO of SavATree and is a member of its board of directors. Schiavone joined the company in 2020 and has more than 25 years of experience leading large, complex businesses in manufacturing, construction and field service-based enterprises. In his previous role, he led the multi-billion dollar North American fire protection installation and services business for Johnson Controls, with 130 field offices and more than 11,000 employees.

What’s it been like moving from the security solutions industry to the tree care and landscape industry?

It has been an incredibly positive and smooth transition, as I get a lot of energy from being in industries that do important work for society and make our world a better place to live. 

Prior to joining SavATree four years ago, I spent nearly twenty years in the security/life safety industry at Tyco and Johnson Controls. While the industries may seem different from the outside, I see a lot of similarities to SavATree.

First, both businesses are all about people: customers and team members. For the end customer, both businesses focused on the importance of delivering a consistent, 5-star experience that delights the customer and drives a lot of word-of-mouth growth. For the internal team, both saw the importance in investing in them to help grow their careers and providing an environment that sets each of them up for success.

Secondly, both businesses have an incredible focus on safety – that was the product we were offering in my past professional endeavors. Here at SavATree, we think about the customer’s property as something we need to keep safe, healthy and beautiful while ensuring that the work we perform is executed safely every day.

Are there any best practices you’ve carried over from your past industry?

There have been a number of initiatives and principles I’ve brought over, but I’d say the #1 thing is the focus on our people. A few examples of what that has looked like at SavATree:

Leadership Team: People-focus starts at the top and I’ve assembled an executive team here at SavATree that I consider to be exceptional. Not only because of the skills and depth of expertise each brings in their domain, but their deep care and empathy for our teams in our local branches.

Career Growth: At SavATree, our talent tagline is “Work Here, Thrive Here.” It’s something I feel very passionate about. I want SavATree to be the best possible place to build a career in the green industry. That’s why we have invested a lot in our Learning Management System, dedicated trainers who support our field crews, sales coaching for our arborists, and more.

Culture: At the time of this article, we are actually in the process of rolling out an updated set of values to our team, based on their feedback. One thing I learned from my prior roles is that culture is ever-evolving, and ensuring you maintain a pulse on the people is top of mind.

What are the benefits of being a Six Sigma Green Belt?

I got my Six Sigma Green belt 18 years ago and definitely find myself applying the principles regularly at SavATree.

Lean and Six Sigma are data-driven process improvement methodologies and tools that allow organizations to improve quality, reduce variation and ultimately provide a near defect-free service or product for its customers. 

SavATree is a continuous improvement organization – which means that we are constantly working to improve the processes we have through reducing waste, rework, waiting, and overprocessing as well as ensuring that the end services we provide have less variation and higher quality.  

For me, using Six Sigma and Lean tools allows me to support the continuous improvement and transformational projects that we are working on daily, which is helping us deliver on the promises that we have made to our customers and employees.

With SavATree being so large – how do you ensure the company still operates like a family?

As a company with over 3,000 employees, I can see from the outside how it seems like we are a large company – but when you think about what SavATree is, it’s 90+ unique branch locations, most of which have just a few dozen team members.

What I focus on is how we ensure the day-to-day experience is excellent for our people working in our field locations. And that we ensure that functional teams that help support them (we call them Shared Services) have high empathy for those teams and ensure we’re supporting them as internal customers. When we do that well, the branch locations feel super supported and empowered to do their best work as a local team. Most importantly, we take the time to celebrate wins, honor the history and contributions of our team members, value diversity and inclusion, and treat everyone like family members!   

What advice would you give to others looking to grow their business through acquisitions?

Part of SavATree’s growth each year does come from mergers & partnerships. Last year, we partnered with more than a dozen companies and brought them into SavATree. While there is no one right way to do M&A, what SavATree focuses on is simple: find entrepreneurs who have built customer-centric companies with strong team and safety cultures and who share our passion for the environment. My advice to others is to understand your unique value proposition to those entrepreneurs you want to partner with. In the case of SavATree, our partners tell us they chose SavATree over others based on the depth of expertise we have in the industry, the quality of service we provide, the caliber of our team, and the support that partners get from our Shared Service infrastructure.

What strongly held belief have you changed your mind over the years?

Businesses move at the speed of trust and the more trust that exists between team members, the healthier and more successful the environment will be. I used to believe that new team members needed to earn trust before they would measure up, and I have changed my approach to giving away trust fully – which allows for faster relationship building and teamwork and ultimately business success.

Another item that I have changed is wanting to pilot things as close to perfect as possible and I now work to find ways to increase learning velocity – allowing us to learn fast, fail fast, and quickly iterate as we go.

What has been your biggest challenge leading SavATree?

Like most businesses, you need to know how things work and why systems were designed the way they are before you can make improvements. My biggest challenge was learning the business, which involved spending time with our field teams, who are what make the organization work. I had to take the time to understand the ‘why’ behind the decisions that had been made to date, which ultimately prepared me well to help identify and spearhead the transformational projects we are committed to executing.

Where do you see SavATree in the next five years?

It once again will come down to people.

For our customers: SavATree will be one of, if not the, largest residential & commercial tree & lawn care businesses in the world. SavATree will be available to people throughout the country in every major market.

For our team members: over the next five years, SavATree will develop the next wave of industry leaders in the company. They will help lead us through this next phase of growth. Ultimately, we are building a legacy organization that will provide amazing careers for all team members who share a common passion for the quality work we do and helping the environment thrive.

What changes would you like to see in the industry?

Unfortunately, we still have too many industry participants who get injured while doing the important work we all do. I would like to see us as an industry continue to improve and accelerate innovation on safety through training, qualification, and validation that all who participate are capable of doing the work without the risk of injury. No matter how large or small the company, we all play a major role in building expectations for our industry and its safety future.

What advice would you give to others trying to grow a successful business?

This is hard to narrow down to a couple of items, but I would say focus on business fundamentals and listen to the voice of the business and the voice of the customer. That starts with the employee experience and ensuring that you have well trained, highly engaged, employees who care about each other and the customer. Understand what your customers are saying about you through reviews and customer satisfaction surveys – when you don’t deliver, run towards the problem, own it, and learn from it. Be committed to change – even good processes, tools, structures, etc. can be made better. Remember, growth is fun, so relish the journey and be willing to try approaches along the way.

This article was published in the May/June issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.