Singing Hills shares secrets to 20 years of success Email
Tuesday, July 07, 2020 04:00 AM

Mike LemanFor an admitted introvert, Mike Leman’s influence in the landscape industry has been significant, especially around his advocacy work for H-2B guest workers. Leman is president & CEO at Singing Hills Landscape, Inc., Aurora, which is celebrating 25 years in business. He may be a quiet guy but his passion for “doing the right thing” is his steadfast “moral compass.” He knows what he believes, and with care and planning, he moves toward shaping changes he wants to see. His company has been the vehicle, but its employees have been the fuel.

In the beginning
Leman and future wife Deb had each moved to Colorado from Illinois in 1982, and a year later became engaged. Deb was in nursing school and Leman found work with Green King Landscape. He ended up working with owner Greg Anderson for 12 years before the Lemans opened Singing Hills in 1995.

Though Leman had no business experience, he had the skills for the work. “I learned a lot of hands-on skills and industry knowledge at Green King,” he says. “And I took some classes at Front Range Community College from some great people, including Jim O’Shea.”

“Before we opened Singing Hills, Deb got a nurse practitioner position making good pay, so I dropped to part-time at Green King for two years and played ‘Mr. Mom’ with our four boys,” says Leman. “When we opened, Deb worked in the company part-time doing accounts payable while working her main job.”

Though she has retired from health care, she still works at Singing Hills part-time handling accounts payable and serving as secretary/treasurer. Anderson, who sold Green King several years after Singing Hills opened, joined Leman’s team and now serves as fleet and facilities manager.

And then came Pepe
When we started the company, I was not planning on having employees,” Leman recounts. “Most of the projects in my first year were for irrigation work subcontracted from Green King, and I could handle it. However, the next year the irrigation work was more than I could handle myself so I had to hire someone.”

Hiring that first employee, was a turning point for both Leman and Singing Hills. Pepe, a Spanish-speaker, was a seasonal worker from Mexico and by the end of the season, Leman had learned enough Spanish to communicate. When Pepe invited Leman and his family—Deb and their four boys—to his home in central Mexico, they went.

“We saw how they lived,” says Leman. “They had no running water at that time, yet their generosity was amazing.” He realized then that he “wanted to give people opportunities.” For Leman, “This is the richest part of having employees.”

Since this first employee experience, Leman has advocated strongly for seasonal workers, and in 2017, he received one of the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ first-ever advocacy awards for his work on H-2B seasonal workers.

Support employees to ensure happy customers
Leman’s service philosophy directly embraces the company’s core value of selflessness. “Our service mentality is: if we treat our employees better than ourselves, customers will be well taken care of.” He says that it naturally happens. The selfless behaviors trickle down through the employees to the customer, which is why the company’s website states “…excellent landscapes begin with excellent employees and…core values are the lifeblood of excellent employees.” The company hires people with shared values, then trains for the skills.

During its 25 years, Singing Hills’ has grown into a full-service landscape company with about 70 employees during peak season—full-time plus seasonal. The company provides design and installation for mid to high-level residential properties as well as maintenance for commercial properties. Many employees have more than 15 years of service with the company.

The company also offers a unique guarantee for customers that supports its commitment to quality workmanship. “The workmanship of everything we install is guaranteed for life,” Leman says. This does not include plant material, which has a typical industry warranty of a year.

What’s next
Growth has not been without its road bumps, which Leman considers part of the overall learning experience—both the positive and the negative have shaped the company. “Overwhelmingly, the most positive experiences have included the dozens of exceptional employees that have formed the Singing Hills family for 25 years,” he reflects.

Although each of Leman’s four sons has spent some time working at the company, only Jake has made it a career and currently manages the landscape construction division.

Sell to, don’t sell out
Singing Hills has had offers from investment companies, but Leman is not interested. Instead, the company is in the process of developing an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), eventually converting it to an employee-owned company.

“We have shared profits whenever possible,” says Leman, “but have always wanted to make it more concrete for employees. Though there are several hurdles to overcome for the IRS, Leman hopes to ensure that employees who are not American citizens can be part of the ESOP so they can fund a part of their retirement. “We have always considered our crew to be owners investing sweat equity rather than dollars.” Leman wants to reward them with dollars. An ESOP is a win-win situation for all, including Leman whenever he decides to retire.

The Singing Hills team also has some ideas for new service offerings they hope to implement in the near future. Stay tuned!

This article appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Colorado Green magazine.

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