Where do I begin? I asked myself the same thing repeatedly as I sat before the keys of my Mac writing this introduction to our newsletter. Every newsletter introduction takes some thought to prepare, but this being the kickoff of our forty-year anniversary, and me just having spent much of the week attending classes and shaking hands with industry friends at the 2016 Green and Growin’ Show, I am full of thoughts, ideas, and memories about life as a self-employed landscaper.
Let’s start from the beginning; I was born at the old Rex Hospital on Wade Avenue, on June 3rd, 1975, the first of two boys born to Tom and Nancy Bland. With a goal of providing for their new family, in March of 1976 my parents founded the company I now lead, and I have watched as it grew from a part-time mom and pop business into a diversified regional company that is known for its corporate citizenship and pursuit of excellence. Some of my earliest childhood memories include working in our family’s business, and they extend so far back in time that I struggle to recall which of them came first. At a very young age, well before I could get a worker’s permit, I was on the job site, in the office, or bouncing down the road in a truck. One time in fact, I literally bounced down the road out of a truck! Yes, sometime back in the late 70’s or early 80’s, we had bought some ragged old CP&L work trucks and one of them had a faulty passenger’s side door that sometimes would not latch. My father was driving that old truck with me in the passenger seat, and as he made a left at the stoplight, the door decided to open, and out I went into the intersection, slightly bruised, and quite shaken up, I walked away unscathed and made sure to tell my mother of what a crazy time we had that day. Little did anyone know, but that would be the first of several near misses during my youth, and not the only one to happen at work.
When I was twenty years old, in 1995, I was helping on a construction site during my summer break from college, and as I moved and loaded pallets of sod onto a flatbed truck, I rolled a Bobcat skid steer loader. Before the 8,000-pound machine came to a stop I had a severed thumb, a 30% amputated index finger, and a concussed head from steel weights that ended up in the operator’s cab. I learned the most valuable lesson about operator safety that one could imagine, and it stays with me to this day when I am on job sites.
When I was twenty-five years old, in 2000, I remember how excited I was coming home on vacation from my job at Del Conte’s Landscaping in California so that I could help surprise my parents with the creation of The Tom and Nancy Bland Scholarship Endowment at North Carolina State University. The endowment was created with seed money raised by employees and friends of my parents in celebration of 25 years in business. Today, the fund is fully endowed and provides several thousands of dollars in scholarships every semester, to deserving students at NCSU studying a field related to landscaping.
When thirty came around in 2005, mom was fighting cancer and dad had suddenly retired from the business to take care of her. My brother Matt and I were one year into our rapidly unfolding futures as owners and senior most managers of the business we had both been in and around our entire lives. That year, when we had our annual client appreciation day, mom was very sick, but she was able to join us and visit with employees and friends of the company to share in the good times. This was the most difficult chapter the business and our family had been through together. It was also the time that Matt and I committed to carrying on with the company as a family business.
Our thirties were trying, for the business, and for all of us operating it. We lost mom in 2006, then two years later the economy tanked as we were still going through a huge transition. Almost exactly five years later, we said goodbye to long time BLC manager Kyle Martin as he too was taken by cancer at too young of an age. Kyle had worked with us since he was a teenager, and at 42 he was like a member of our family. In spite of these and other significant challenges, we overcame the economy and leadership changes and stayed focused on revising the structure of the company to reflect the reality of the market conditions. We hunkered down and toiled away for what seemed like eternity, inspired to push ahead by figures like Winston Churchill. In 2012 things finally started looking more favorable for our future. Determined to capitalize on a recovering economy, our newly installed executive team became super focused on building BLC Gen 2.0; a more competitive, better organized, leaner, stronger, more diversified company under the leadership of myself and my brother Matt along with an incredible group of closely aligned men and women.
Today, as I sit at my computer and reflect on forty years of history, I realize more than ever how I cannot untwine many of the stories of my own life from those of the company my parents started when I was an infant. That is both the beauty and the caveat emptor of growing up in a family owned company. Fortunately, I love my work and I feel fortunate to be working with my brother, leading an organization that I believe is stronger than any one person could make it. We have built a highly motivated team of exceptionally talented people, and while I am astonished by the seemingly bright future that lays ahead for our rapidly growing team of more than 200 full time associates, I remain mindfully scarred by how quickly things can change. The current economic recovery is several years into its cycle, and for that reason we are wasting no time to act upon our regional expansion plans and our continuous improvement. This week, we have hired our first manager in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and the rest of the Triad, and we intend to expand service in these areas along with the Greater Raleigh-Durham Triangle area and the Charlotte Metro area. Next week, after six months of planning, we are deploying Silk Road, an online HR management tool to leverage our managers’ time to make them more effective leaders of their respective teams. Looking ahead, to prepare for our forecasted growth, we are exploring the possibility of opening a regional Operations Support Facility, a few miles north of Pittsboro, in Chatham County, on a once overlooked timber farm that my great grandparents barely held on to when they lost their livelihoods during the Great Depression. It is nearly one hundred years later, but this fabled piece of property may also have a place in the story of this family owned business after all…
To show our sincerest of thanks for helping make the last forty years possible, we are planning a 40th Anniversary Gala for later in 2016. The date has not been set, but we will be sending Save the Date notices in the next sixty days. We hope you will be able to join us for what promises to be a celebration forty years in the making…
Kurt H. Bland