After watching lead foreman Lance Smith operate skid-steers and dozers, a Proscapes client – in awe – told owner Michael Krintz “he runs machines like they are extensions of his arms.”
“There isn’t a wasted move or a second lost when he is in the seat,” says Krintz, owner of the Madison, Wisconsin-based firm, which focuses on creating outdoor living spaces and jobs like grading and excavation.
That said, Smith wasn’t necessarily planning on a career in landscaping. He literally ran into the opportunity in 2006. Krintz let a friend of Smith’s, who worked for Proscapes, drive his Ford Mustang. He gave the employee and Smith the keys and a gas card and said, “Go have some fun.”
After a mishap in the vehicle, Smith and his buddy had to work off the damage. That’s when Krintz began to notice how skilled Smith was at landscaping. Smith plowed snow during the winter, and by spring of 2007, Krintz tried to recruit Smith.
Smith wasn’t so sure after the car wreck, but Krintz didn’t care. He knew Smith was a fit for the company and he’d make a great team member. “He thought I would not want to speak to him again, but I knew immediately after meeting him that this was the guy I needed to propel this business to a multi-crew company that would become very profitable,” Krintz says.
Krintz says Smith started with a shovel. But he quickly recognized that Smith was a natural when he worked his way up to tasks like preparing properties for hardscaping projects.
Smith had grown up on a farm in the Lake Mills and Jefferson, Wis., area. “I like doing stuff with my hands,” he says. “I grew up spending all my time outside.”
By age 8, Smith was helping his dad plow fields, and over the years, he did some light landscaping at home and for friends. “I like seeing how projects look when they’re all done,” he says. “And it’s a great feeling when a client shares how much they love the results – when they say, ‘It’s beautiful, thank you.’”
Smith, a humble guy, isn’t the type who talks a whole lot about himself. “He has zero ego,” says Bob Wambach, sales and designer. “Lance has the perfect marriage of temperament, personality and knowledge, and having a farm background and the work ethic, he can fix just about anything.”
Krintz attributes Smith’s contribution to Proscapes for the company’s success. Since he joined 12 years ago, the company has grown into a multi-million dollar landscape design, installation and snow removal firm with projects scopes that are usually in the $30,000 to $100,000 range.
“Rarely does a company find a person that can not only meet the expectations of a basic foremen, but exceeds it to the point that I rarely make a decision without consulting him first,” Krintz says.
“Lance has taken a few other employees under his wing and turned them from office worker bees into experienced hardscape installers... That not only shows leadership, but the ability to teach people a trade and the value of a hard day’s work, all without ever raising his voice.” – Michael Krintz, owner, Proscapes
Leading by example.
“Lance really gets down in the dirt with new guys to show them how to do something,” says foreman Chad Zimmerman. “He is a fantastic leader – he shows crew members how to do something real quick, and then he’s like, ‘I showed you, now the next one you can do yourself.’’’
He lets go and gives team members a chance to try a new skill on their own, and whether they get it right or mess it up, he’s patient. “He does more directing and showing,” Zimmerman says.
Krintz adds, “Lance is someone the new guys want to train under.”
Now, Zimmerman didn’t necessarily think this was the case when he first joined Proscapes 10 years ago. A cousin of Krintz and a self-described “city boy,” Krintz says Zimmerman “didn’t have a callous on his hand before he came to work here.”
The first year, Zimmerman mostly trained under another cousin, but after a while, Zimmerman began working with Smith.
Zimmerman was under the impression that Smith wouldn’t want to be slowed down. He was a foreman known for productivity and making every job profitable. But Smith’s show-not-tell leadership set the tone for crew members and helped teach Zimmerman how to hardscape.
“Lance has taken a few other employees under his wing and turned them from office worker bees into experienced hardscape installers,” Krintz says. “That not only shows leadership, but the ability to teach people a trade and the value of a hard day’s work, all without ever raising his voice.”
Smith modestly explains his leadership style: “I’m here to answer questions and I try to let new guys do a little bit themselves and figure it out, and I help them if they are doing it wrong.”
The way he teaches others is how he developed hardscaping skills of his own. “I learn from watching people,” he says.
And, Smith shows crew members the value of working with your hands.
“If you stick to it and learn, you can have a good career,” Smith says.
Proscapes has become more than a career for Smith – it’s a family. Zimmerman has become a close friend, and the two often spend off-work hours together fixing cars or hanging out. “Our kids are going to grow up together,” Zimmerman says.
In the field, the two foremen joke and jab at each other like an old married couple, Wambach says. “It’s literally like watching two people together who are on their 50th year of marriage.”
Zimmerman says he’s learned more from Smith than he can say. Having come from years of working in retail, getting his hands dirty was a whole new world – and for Smith, the outdoor environment has always been his world.
“There have been times when, I will admit I have some cockiness, and he will have to put me in my place and show me, ‘This is how you do it, I’ve done it before,’” Zimmerman says.
Smith is a special part of Proscapes’ future, Krintz says. Smith is part of the reason Krintz started Lazy K transport, a small trucking company focused on local quad-axle dump truck hauling of dirt, sand and gravel. Lazy K supports Proscapes’ needs, and Krintz has always loved dump trucks.
But also, Lazy K is a succession plan and a way to continue giving Smith opportunity.
“Lance has made it clear that he never wants to be a salesman, designer or anything else to do with an office,” Krintz says. “So, when the time comes that his body doesn’t allow him to work out on the job, I’ll have a brand-new truck waiting for him so he can still help out and be a major part of the company he helped build.”
“(Proscapes) feels like a family,” Smith says, “I enjoy the people and joking around with everyone. You’re not just a number in a group here.”