All photos: © Courtney Potter

Since her career in the green industry began roughly 15 years ago, Angela Howes was taught from the get-go that just because you haven’t done it and don’t know how, doesn’t mean you can’t.

Howes has been with Ruppert Landscape for the duration of her career in the industry, and for someone who began with no experience, she’s nearly done it all. What started out as a job as an assistant has turned into an impactful career and the turnaround of a struggling branch.

Meant for more.

To start off her career with Ruppert, Howes was hired as an assistant to Bob Jones, president of the landscape construction division. She came from a sporting goods store, and Jones says she immediately fit right into the culture at Ruppert, based in Frederick, Maryland.

“Our culture is kind of tell like it is, very direct. And maybe she was overly direct at points, but she was not afraid,” he says. Jones quickly realized being an assistant wasn’t a fit for Howes. She needed more of challenge. Jones says he has a reputation of being a bit intimidating, but it was never an obstacle for Howes. “She was never too concerned with that or scared of me,” he says. “And she put me in my place. I knew right away, she’s smart.”

Fast forward six months later and Howes was Ruppert’s newest purchaser. “I had no idea about anything in this industry,” she says. “I didn’t know plants, I can’t speak Latin. Like, I knew nothing.” But Jones wasn’t worried about any of that. He knew she would be able to perform well in the position. He told her that he was confident that she would figure things out quickly, and she did.

“In short order, she was probably one of the best purchasers we’ve ever had,” Jones says.

After eight years of purchasing, Howes was able to train a new purchaser and transitioned to division purchasing coordinator. Like before, Jones knew Howes needed another challenge. An opportunity opened up at a Virginia branch for a business developer and Jones encouraged Howes to apply for the job.

“I said, ‘Bob I’ve never sold anything before,’ I didn’t know a thing about sales,” she says. Again, Jones told her how confident he was that she would be able to do it. “I said ‘Angela, just be you and you’ll be fine,” he says.

Howes excelled as a salesperson and sold plenty of work for the company. She says somewhere in there she did take some time off for maternity leave, but it wasn’t long after that she was on to her next position – operations manager.

At Ruppert, the operations manager position is a huge stepping stone for those who are hoping to move up in the ranks.

While Howes was excelling as an operations manager, one of the branches in North Carolina had an opening for a branch manager.

When Jones got word that Howes hadn’t applied for the position, he let her know she needed to at least put her name in the hat.

“A branch manager, that’s the position in our company,” he says.

Howes initially wasn’t interested in uprooting her husband and their son to move to Raleigh, North Carolina, from Frederick, Maryland, and she was again adamant that she had no field experience. But her track record of overcoming her initial worries leaned in favor of the move.

After the same pep talk and convincing from Jones, she applied. Her husband told her it would be good for her career, at least just to interview, but Howes knew how this worked. If she interviewed, they were moving.

“I know how Bob Jones operates,” she says with a laugh. I’ve been working with them for 15 years. I know what’s going to happen. I told my husband, ‘if you’re not ready to relocate, I won’t do it.’”

“My family has always been like, ‘Why? Why do you work so hard? Why do you work so much harder?’ My mom got to see firsthand why. I don’t ever get those ‘whys’ anymore. Now they understand why I care so much and I have so much passion and why I give so much to this company.”

The turnaround.

Howes made the move and was faced with a branch that wasn’t up to par with the rest of the company.

The branch was struggling to make a profit, employee morale was sub-par, and things just weren’t being done the “Ruppert way.”

“The branch was struggling,” says Patrick Luzier, regional vice president. “Their operations were not operating on all cylinders and clients weren’t happy.”

Luzier says Howes came into a pretty hostile situation from a business perspective, but in a matter of months, she was putting out fires, meeting with clients and starting to lead the employees to a better way of operating.

Right away, Howes noticed the branch had been lacking the culture and vision prevalent at other branches.

“I was trying to figure out how I was going to thread the culture I’ve grown in amongst 40 people,” she says. “They didn’t have anybody teaching it. So just little by little we chipped away, went through what our values are and what our policies are and what our procedures are and sort of what a well-oiled branch looks like.”

Luzier says Howes explained to the team that this would be the new way of doing things. “(She explained,) ‘Here’s what we’re going to do going forward and now we’re going to work hard and we’re going to do the right thing,” he says.

“We’re going to under promise and over-deliver and make sure that we’re all working together as a team and taking care of one another.”

Howes did face some push back as she began to take over the branch. Employees stuck in their ways weren’t on board with the new policies and the new, more direct style of leadership Howes brought to the table.

“I’ve always been pushed very hard. That’s one of the reasons why I am where I am. I keep getting pushed,” Howes says. “My people were pushed very hard and some of them don’t appreciate it and some of them do understand why.”

It’s personal.

Howes says the dedication she has for the company comes naturally. She’s seen it from her leaders and mentors in the business.

“I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working for Ruppert,” she says. “They’ve been my family this entire time.” She’s seen from the higher ups how far it goes to get to know your employees, and it’s something she continues to work on as she leads the Raleigh branch.

Even though she may seem tough to her employees at times, she says it’s always because she expects more from them and wants to see them reach whatever their next level might be.

“I’ve always been pushed very hard. That’s one of the reasons why I am where I am. I keep getting pushed,” she says. “My people were pushed very hard and some of them don’t appreciate it and some of them do understand why.”

While it once struggled to turn a profit, the branch is seeing profit percentages in the double digits. Howes was recently awarded the highest honor from the company. Ruppert’s Clyde Vadner Merit award is reserved for employees that have demonstrated exceptional contributions to the company.

The award ceremony gave Howes a chance to see her Ruppert family and her own family come together in celebration.

“My family has always been like, ‘Why? Why do you work so hard? Why do you work so much harder?’” she says.

“My mom got to see firsthand why. I don’t ever get those ‘whys’ anymore. Now they understand why I care so much and I have so much passion and why I give so much to this company.”