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Leading in landscaping: Craig Ruppert

Ruppert Landscape CEO Craig Ruppert believes that one of the most important things you can do as a business leader is be smart and efficient with your time. “Managing others begins with managing yourself,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “It’s about managing your time, having the right balance between family and work, taking care of your health, exercising and getting enough sleep.”

Craig Ruppert CEO of Ruppert Landscape

Craig further highlights the importance of working hard. “That doesn’t necessarily mean being the first one in and the last to leave,” he says. “It means when you’re there to work, really focus on it and go about it in a deliberate way. And learn to trust others; developing the ability to trust others allows you to effectively delegate. That will help you find the balance more easily and help those around you develop as leaders.”

As a teenager, Craig and his brother Chris would mow their neighbors’ lawns to earn money. “I was one of eight kids,” Craig explains. “Mom was a nurse and dad was an architect. We didn’t have a lot of extra cash. As kids, we naturally did paper routes and found ways to make some extra money.

We were motivated to work. Even though we didn’t enjoy cutting the grass and picking weeds at first, the pay was good motivation to do the job well.”

In 1971, at age 18, Craig launched a business offering residential lawn and garden maintenance. “I went from not liking lawn mowing and not understanding it to liking it and understanding it,” he says. “And now I’m passionate about it.”

As the business continued to gain recognition, Craig branched out into commercial landscape contracting and landscape maintenance and later established a nursery to grow trees. In 1998, however, the company – bar the nursery – was sold.

“We had 850 employees and we went down to about 20,” Craig recalls. “We got out and didn’t plan to come back. But five years later, we decided, ‘Hey, we’re young enough, maybe we can do this a second time.’ So we started the business all over again, and here we are now 15 years later with about 1,600 employees.”

Craig Ruppert CEO of Ruppert Landscape

With the return to business, Ruppert Landscape rehired several of the people who had worked for it previously. “The biggest reason for our success is our people,” Craig says.

“The biggest reason for our success is our people.”

“Many of the people who have joined us are hardworking, loyal and capable. We trust them. We know we need them so we work hard to keep them. This includes treating them fairly and showing them appreciation; we really become friends.”

Today, Ruppert Landscape spans 23 branches in seven states. It specializes in landscape management and landscape construction, with some of its notable projects including the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, the Asia Trail Exhibit at the National Zoo in DC, Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC.


Craig Ruppert’s top business advice

• Be responsible with your finances: “Spend wisely and save your money.”
• Keep your wants simple: “My father-in-law told me years ago, ‘Keep your lifestyle simple.’ It’s easier to be happy when you don’t have aspirations that are too high. Allow them to go up slowly as you go up.”
• Be humble: “Stay humble and be an ordinary person who can easily connect with others.”

The company also hosts a Field Day each year – an annual day of service to the community. Through this charitable initiative, Ruppert Landscape transforms everything from parks to schools to retirement homes. “We have a big contest that involves horticultural skills along with fun, camaraderie and teamwork,” Craig explains. “At the same time, we’re improving a park or facility and really doing something positive for our community.”

The 2018 Field Day was held in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where the team renovated the grounds of Corpus Christi Catholic Church. More than 800 hours were spent planting trees, improving drainage, weeding and pruning on the seven-acre site – not to mention the workers enjoying several games such as dodgeball and a tug of war.

“Giving back is important to us because, first, it’s the right thing to do,” Craig says of the Field Day. “To be able to share some level of what you earn through doing business within the communities that have given you the opportunity is a fantastic thing.

“Second, it’s just good for business. No-one is going to think poorly of you for being generous and trying to help your community. And no employee is going to feel bad about their employer doing that. If the community feels good and your employees feel good, then that’s really good for the business.”

Craig Ruppert CEO of Ruppert Landscape

The Field Day is just one of Ruppert Landscape’s philanthropic activities. Every year, the company donates 5% of its profits earned from the previous year to socially responsible activities. The amount is divvied up between its 23 branches for this purpose. “There’s a higher value associated with a social contribution, particularly in today’s competitive, millennial work environment and atmosphere,” Craig points out.

When it comes to leadership, Craig makes sure he regularly acknowledges all the hard work his employees do. “If you recognize the value of your people, in terms of thanking them and showing appreciation, you better your chances of keeping them around for the long haul,” Craig says.

“The other thing that happens is that the company is able to steadily grow because everyone’s talents are put to good use. Growth creates opportunities for people at all levels to either move up in the company or, if they’re already at the top, to grow as the company grows.”

Craig adds that it’s important to figure out how to continue to give growth opportunities to his team so they can continue to learn, take on more responsibility, be more financially stable and take better care of their families.

“That’s the real business we’re in,” he comments. “We plant trees and cut grass, but we’re really in the people growing business.”

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