Supporting one another

Richard Rogers is an evangelist for apprenticeship. He is now enjoying retirement, having sold R.J. Rogers Landscaping of North Gower, Ont., to longstanding employee Geoff  Pratt. Rogers calls himself the type of leader that gently guides the ship from the bow, rather than manning the rudder, and every other detail, from the stern.

How does mentorship work in the landscape industry?
Mentorship is not formal in our industry, and often it happens accidentally or informally. I met industry pioneer Horst Dickert only one time, when I happened to sit next to him at a lunch. We got to talking about how to set up operations, and he impressed me very much. Horst mentioned he dated and hole-punched every single piece of paper that went through his hands. So I adopted his practice. A few years later I was holding a tailgate meeting on a windy, blustery day — I just looked up and thought, ‘Thank you for that, Horst.’

What about formal mentorship?
Apprenticeship is a great venue, and I have been a teacher in the program for 30 years. I was asked again to teach this year at Algonquin College. The program is so beneficial, and I just love the questions and the enthusiasm.

In working with younger folks, did you ever feel they did not ‘get’ what you had to say?
Well, I always took a ‘people’ approach. One person I remember just did not know how to price. So I sat down with her, and I explained how overhead is a cost she must get paid for; that charging only for time on the job is not enough. It took a few hours. She got a better understanding out of it, but the best part was, it gave her confidence.

What does it take to be a great entrepreneur in the green profession?
Willingness to take risks, to think outside of the box. Drive. Stamina.

Was there a Eureka moment that turned your business around?
Not really. When I reflect back, I understand I got a lot from working beside my mother, who ran a store. She was never shy about asking for money. She taught me you have to talk to people, which was so helpful on the sales side. I also learned from having a paper route, and I looked for that type of money-management experience when I hired.

Have people you mentored gone on to help others?
Yes, many. Geoff Pratt is like that. He is a real builder with his employees; he sees their value. Quite a few of the apprentices I trained are helping others within their own companies — many are running big operations. Ian Stewart of Yards Unlimited Landscaping is up to 40 or 50 employees. I don’t  know if “mentor” describes our relationship, but we sure talk a lot.

Why did you succeed in business?
The number one reason was keeping good people. Geoff Pratt was with me for 25 years, then he bought my company. What made him stay? Well, along the way, he bought a Bobcat, which I rented from him. It helped Geoff feel like an entrepreneur. Later, he got financing to build a garage/shop on his property, and I rented it. When he bought the company, he already had a paid-for shop. One time Geoff told me, “I never feel like I work for you. I work for the customers.” The customers love him; it was an easy transition. 

If you have a question to suggest, or a mentor to recommend, please write to editor@landscapetrades.com.

Landscape Trades June 2018