March 1, 2016
Brian Dougherty
Brian Dougherty

Top notch staff key to conquering rapid growth

This month’s mentor is Brian Dougherty, general manager of Horizons Landscape Contractors in Langley, B.C. Dougherty joined HLC — founded by his brother Michael — over a decade ago after a stint in the restaurant business. He says that while the green profession is “10 times harder” than the hospitality industry, for him, being part of an an award-winning maintenance, design and construction company is much more fulfilling. 

What are your biggest challenges? 

Growth is definitely the biggest challenge and hurdle that we have had to deal with. We grew from a small company, to a medium company and now into a large company, all within a six-to eight-year period while at the same time (Michael) decided to take another career path and only be here part-time. Then my dad (who was also involved in the business) decided to retire. So there was a lot going on all at the same time we were experiencing 30-50 per cent growth year after year after year. 

The key to meeting the challenge was finding the right people who fit into our family culture. We like to consider ourselves a Horizon family and even though we’re a big company, we don’t want to become too corporate. We still want to be able to have situations where we can treat people like people and family, rather than ‘nope, I know this doesn’t make sense but it’s the policy so that’s the way it’s going to be.’ We want to be able to have some grey areas, but you don’t want too many grey areas, so it’s about finding a balance. But again, you need to find those people, and we did find those people at a younger age who could execute at a higher level of business and strategic thinking. 

How do you avoid “problem” clients?

There are different approaches here between maintenance and the construction sides, as well as the residential and commercial ends.

I can’t lie, we have definitely been burned in the past and that makes us a little bit more cautious. One of the things that we do on the residential side is charge a small consultation fee. It’s only a $75 fee, and of course, that $75 fee doesn’t cover the amount of time and effort it takes to go out for a meeting. But what it does do, is it helps eliminate having to deal with people who aren’t really serious about wanting to have landscaping done or maybe they are just looking to get some ideas from a professional and are planning to do the work themselves; or, the tire kickers and the people that are looking to get 15 different quotes. So that has helped and I would say that we are about 40-50 per cent successful in turning consultations into jobs. 

On the general contractor and developer side of our business, I would say developing relationships is the key to avoiding problematic situations. It’s about building that trust and being able to hash things out because people are going to have differences of opinion. Contracts can be worded with our lovely English language a certain way so that one person interprets the responsibilities one way and the other party might see it differently. So you need to make sure that you don’t go into a contract without making sure there isn’t any room for those kinds of problematic differences of opinion.

We also have a no-fly zone with developers and clients we have worked with over the years or that we have heard about through the industry. That’s something you learn over time through experience. Everyone is going to get burned at some point, so you just have to hope you don’t get burned so bad that it sinks the company. 

How do you find — and keep — quality employees?

We have been fortunate over the years in that our growth seemed to attract progressive, quality employees who wanted to be able to move up in a company that had a lot of opportunity. A fast growing company has a lot of opportunity and so you’re not just waiting for people to retire or to move on or quit; there are positions opening up that employees can move up into. So those personality types are attracted to working for companies like ours.

For the group of employees who want to take it to the next level, you want to be able to be a part of that. You want to find new opportunities for those individuals that give them the opportunity to better support their families and live the secure, prosperous lifestyle of their dreams.
If you have a question to suggest, or a mentor to recommend, please e-mail