Talking with Titans: Mike Bogan - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Talking with Titans: Mike Bogan

Mike Bogan is the CEO of LandCare. He began his career in the design/build division of a regional company in the Mid-Atlantic states. He spent 23 years with The Brickman Group and then went on to create Monterey Pine Advisors, a consultancy serving the green industry. He assumed leadership of LandCare at the end of 2014.

What were some of the key lessons you learned over your 23 years with The Brickman Group? 

Two come to mind: 1) People are the most important asset to your business. Recruiting and developing the best talent is the number one priority of a leader. What you can accomplish alone is limited, but what you can achieve with a growing team has no bounds. 2) Don’t waste adversity. Challenging times allow you to identify chinks in your armor and make your business stronger. They allow you to be tested and learn what you are capable of. And they allow you to earn credibility with team members and customers when you demonstrate how you care for them when the chips are down.

Did your time as an industry consultant provide you with any wisdom before stepping into your role with LandCare?

My time as a consultant affirmed my love for the industry and my desire to work with a team and not alone. It also clarified my views of the type of company I wanted to lead – one that ‘helps people lead great lives’ demonstrated by putting the needs of its team members and customers and other stakeholders ahead of its shareholders.

What was it like taking on a company that was struggling and had just undergone a significant rebranding and restructuring?

Every day was a new challenge and that first year was spent assembling a team and creating a business that we were proud to be part of. Honestly, going from bad to okay wasn’t that hard, as the bar was set pretty low. Going from okay to good has been more challenging, as we have to fight complacency and keep our edge to fight hard, which isn’t as easy when your back isn’t up against the wall. Our mission is to be great, measured against our own standards, and that is even harder but also very compelling as we build a company like no other in our industry.

What has been your biggest challenge leading LandCare?

It changes. Early on, it was convincing people that we could create something viable here. That means employees, investors and lenders. Then, it was building a culture that has the same feel and positive impact on people in 50 different locations. After that, it was creating constancy of purpose by buying and talking control of a large, successful company from its private equity owners. Today, it’s recruiting and building the next generation of leaders so LandCare continues to meet its greatest potential.

As your company continues to grow, what are the keys to maintaining a consistent culture across all your branches?

I spend a lot of time face-to-face with our market and branch leaders teaching them about our history, our values and our culture, so they become the standard bearers. ‘Culture is local’ means no matter how I lead or what I believe, the way a branch team member experiences LandCare is largely determined by their leader – their branch manager, production manager or crew supervisor. So local leaders have to be educated about the way we do things and be able to explain why, as well as mirror the values and belief system of our leaders.

How did you develop your leadership style of focusing on people?

My earliest experiences, from being in a large, close family to playing on sports teams, taught me the power of collaboration and that ‘we can go farther together.’ Professionally, my experiences at Brickman helped me learn how people want to be treated, what they respond to, the power of motivating them with mastery, autonomy and purpose and their need to feel seen, heard and cared for. When I’m good at it, my professional relationships flourish, and when I’m not, I struggle. So I try to surround myself with people who share those values and inspire me to be better.

How do you continue to find ways to invest in and grow your team?

We share inspiration with each other all the time. We are constantly passing around books, sharing podcasts and sending articles. More broadly, we have an executive team member devoted to professional development for our team members, and hold conferences at the local, regional and national levels to learn and grow professionally. And even though we are spread across the country, we are very intentional about being together. Some of our growth and inspiration comes from open, candid discussion around the conference table, but an equal amount emerges over a cup of coffee, a cocktail or a dining experience. We put tremendous value on time shared together to build trust, deepen understanding and expand relationships that make us more cohesive and effective.

What caused you to propose the idea of creating the Women’s Initiative Network?

One of our leaders and a dear friend for many years, Karen Wilkinson, gets credit for that, not me. She once lamented that our meetings are the only place she goes where the line for the men’s restroom is longer than the one for the women’s restroom, and she wants to change that. I worked with her to put together a team of women who are breaking barriers and succeeding in roles long dominated by men in our industry to build out WIN – creating a mission, articulating a purpose and setting goals. I’m so impressed and proud of what they’ve accomplished and know that women will find support, mentorship and opportunity at LandCare.

For my part, it helps to have a wife who had a career as a landscape architect and a daughter who is building a career in our industry to fully appreciate the biases and barriers that exist for women and the importance of creating an environment where they can be overcome.

You’ve often been cited as not a fan of the phrase ‘work/life balance.’ What’s a better term for this concept and how can owners achieve this with their companies?

Hmm… Being whole or complete, maybe? To me, it means you don’t think of work as ‘have to’ and life as ‘want to’, and you’ve defined the roles you wish to have and are accomplished at each of them. If you’ve heard me talk about this, you know I mean that ‘life’ should be filled with growth, challenge, fulfillment, learning and relationships that inspire you and allow you to inspire others – and ‘work’ should be filled with those same things. So they shouldn’t be depicted as opposing forces on either side of a scale, where one comes at the expense of the other. But to be your best, you should have time when you are fully engaged with family and friends and interests and services that aren’t part of work. Fully engaged means you are focused and fully present and can turn off other distractions, including work, and be intentional and committed with your time and energy.

Where do you see LandCare in the next five years?

We are growing organically at a rate that will have us more than double in revenue in five years. And we constantly have companies that approach us to become part of LandCare because they find our model compelling, so we will grow in that way as well. But we are not focused on size or a list that compares us to buy & build platforms. We are driven to be an incredible place to work – for everyone – and amazing at serving our customers. We measure our improvement and have been constantly progressing since 2015 and have really high aspirations for the future.

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

Get involved with NALP. You’ll meet so many professionals who have faced challenges similar to yours, and they are famously willing to share their knowledge. It is a uniquely open and candid group that will invite you to visit, open their books and share their resources. The conferences provide tremendous learning opportunities both in the presentations and networking after hours. All around, you won’t find a better place to foster growth and advancement. Additionally, be a lifelong learner. Look for thought-provoking ideas in books, podcasts, articles and lectures and never stop exploring ways to improve.

This article was published in the November/December 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.