Whether it’s on stage in front of thousands of industry professionals, or in a small garage full of crew members ready to start their day, Jim Paluch brings the same passion, energy and creativity.
The industry icon started his consulting agency, JP Horizons, in 1988. Paluch has spoken at hundreds of green industry conferences — keynoting sessions for NALP and others, along with hosting educational leadership events and working with the companies who hired JP Horizons.
“Some of my favorite talks I’ve given through the years, and I’ve given thousands of them, have been in somebody’s maintenance bay where the audience was sitting on mowers and crates,” Paluch says. “Because we knew if we could get a few people on the frontlines excited, it would help push the owners to stay engaged.”
But after nearly four decades at the helm of the business, it’s time for Paluch to pass the torch and retire.
“JP Horizons is still going strong,” he says. “I’ve just decided to step back.”
Still, Paluch adds he’s leaving with nothing but fond memories.
“We’ve worked with hundreds of landscape companies through the years,” he says. “It’s a profession that I’ve always loved. I think it’s one of the greatest professions in the world.”
A legacy taking shape
But before there was JP Horizons, Paluch was working as a landscape architect for YardMaster in Cleveland.“Jim came to work for me in the mid-80s,” says YardMaster Founder and President Kurt Kluznik. “We were recruiting a landscape architect. He worked for me for three or four years.”
Paluch says it was during those early days at YardMaster that his desire to open his own consulting firm really started to flourish.
“At YardMaster, I got introduced to consultants,” he says. “I’d sit there and think, ‘This is really good stuff.’ But I’d also see glazed eyes and people staring off into space. I thought, ‘If only we could make this fun and make this enjoyable.’ Consultants should know how to excite, energize and engage.”
Kluznik adds that YardMaster was able to benefit greatly from Paluch working to fine-tune his craft.
“My company was young when Jim joined us. We were learning a lot and growing a lot. It was an exciting time back then as we were adding crews, adding offices, adding salespeople and adding services. He was right in the thick of it,” Kluznik says. “He did some things within our company that he took and applied in his consulting business, so in some ways, I guess we were a beta test for some of the things he would go on to do.”
Though what Kluznik remembers most about Paluch is his competitive nature.
“I had half a dozen people selling for me at the time and he would do whatever he could to have one more sale or a higher sales volume than the others,” he says. “The better they did the better he did.”
Paluch says he seemed to just have a knack for selling — due much in part to his ability to relate with people on personal levels.
“I had a skill that doesn’t always come to landscape architects, but I could just sell,” he says. “I was able to achieve some great sales numbers.”
Kluznik also remembers early morning games of racquetball with Paluch. Once, the wager at stake was a deck for Paluch’s home. Kluznik says he could beat him pretty regularly, but that was one time where Paluch pulled out on top.
“So, he got a free deck out of me early on,” Kluznik jokes.
For Robert Maffei, founder of Maffei Landscape Contractors, his first interaction with Paluch changed the trajectory of his business and his life.
“Jim worked with my company for 25 plus years, and it change my life,” he says. “From my heart, I don’t think I’d be where I am today without Jim Paluch in my life.”
Maffei remembers hearing Paluch speak at an event and being immediately impressed.
“Jim came to speak at New England Grows in Boston, and I was just a kid with a landscape company,” he says. “It was just incredibly inspiring, so I went up to talk to him afterwards and said, ‘You’re coming to Cape Cod.’”
Follow the leader
Rorie says it was after Paluch’s first visit to his Ohio headquarters that he was convinced that hiring a consultant was the right move.
“Jim came and visited me in Cincinnati and talked about what he was hearing in terms of my issues, and he put a proposal together to come in and begin working on a solution with myself and my management team,” he says. “It was called Circle Q, which was his idea of a quality circle. It was one of his original consultancy products for small businesses to introduce to your team in a systematic approach. It gained engagement and accountability.”
Leadership was a cornerstone of what Paluch, and JP Horizons, taught so many.
“He helped me tremendously in terms of how to teach my people leadership skills,” Rorie says. “And he helped me help them take themselves to the next level.”
Paluch says the foundation of what he told clients was simple — leaders make time to connect with people and engage with them.
“We can’t grow ourselves as leaders if we aren’t willing to do meetings, get together and create a culture within our organization that enables people to feel a part of it,” he says. “That sounds so doggone elementary, but buying into it and doing it is another thing.”
Paluch also utilized collaboration quite a bit as a way to hone clients’ leadership skills.
“He really opened my eyes to the power of not only my state association but also the national association and participating in a lot of networking,” Rorie says. “What it did was show myself, and therefore then my folks, that we could become whatever we wanted as a business versus thinking, ‘You’re never going to get over the next wall or the hurdles that are in front of us.’
“He’s one of the pioneers of peer groups,” Rorie adds. “He would get your people together at their levels and he’d run programs to increase engagement and accountability.” Paluch says these educational retreats would help push clients to start thinking out of the box.
“We started doing our events like Sales Jam, which was all about brining salespeople from around the country to great places like Fort Lauderdale or Miami or Las Vegas and we’d bring these 100 people together and create an atmosphere where we put the ideas out there and then they debated, and discussed and learned from each other,” he says. “We’d put them through crazy outlandish days. We got people thinking in a different way and that became our brand as JP Horizons.”
Rorie remembers these trips fondly.
“I participated in probably nothing less than 50 JP events over the time I spent with Jim,” he says. “He invited us to everything, and I always sent people to it because I was trying to keep them excited about their job and excited about personal growth within their job, which translated often into personal growth beyond the job.”
Maffei also benefited from these collaborative events along with one-on-one guidance from Paluch.
“Jim came to my company, and not only did he inspire my team, but he gave us cutting-edge information that most folks weren’t utilizing,” he says. “Jim was bringing advanced concepts, like lead management, to the green industry in a way that it hadn’t been done before.”
Maffei says Paluch understood landscapers on a deep level, which allowed him to tailor his consulting to them. He adds that it led to such tremendous growth for his company, which he has since sold.
“He helped me take my company from $2 million to $12 million and more,” Maffei says.
Paluch recognizes that what he was asking of companies in terms of leadership weren’t easy changes to make. But those who stuck with it reaped the benefits and those who couldn’t make the commitment to change struggled.
“Being able to stick with it can be a challenge,” he says. “For all of the great companies we’ve worked with over the years, there are still those who struggled — who aren’t around and didn’t make it. Because we couldn’t establish a sense of patience or process.”
A passion for people
But Paluch says leadership, growth (both financial and personal) and success aren’t anything without people — something that he always focused on.
“My interest has always been in people, and how do we take this person, whether they’re the owner of a company or it’s their first day on a mower, and build them up,” he says. ‘Our whole idea was how do we connect people with people. It’s not so much about all the great wisdom and knowledge that sometimes we consultants think we have…it’s about getting people thinking and getting them to talk and communicate.”
Maffei says it’s that mindset that made Paluch such a pillar within the industry.
“Jim was never really about the money; it was about the idea,” he says. “He was about helping people get energized and grow.
“The biggest thing he taught me was it’s about people first,” Maffei adds. “He taught me to not be afraid to build an organization and believe in the people and challenge those people and take responsibility for their success.”
Maffei notes he wasn’t the only one inspire by Paluch. He recalls Paluch motivating everyone from upper management down to hourly crew members.
“He changed lives in my company,” he says. “He spoke to field guys who he impacted and changed their lives. I can name at least five guys from my initial H 2-B class in the early 2000s that now own their own companies. I guarantee Jim Paluch had more to do with that and creating a spark within these guys than I ever did.”
Kluznik says Paluch’s caring nature has always been evident.“We learned a lot working with Jim,” he says. “He was very much a people person and a student of human behavior. Jim would become such good friends with his clients. He would have clients call him and consult with him on naming their kids and crazy stuff like that.”
Rorie says that in addition to being a trusted advisor, Paluch has always been a dear friend.
“Coincidentally, we’re both the same age,” Rorie says. “When he came to see me, we were going to dinner every night and you’d be covering kids and business and relationships at home and all kinds of stuff. It was a valuable friendship and resourceful relationship for all of my 30s.”
He adds that it’s been nice reaching milestones right alongside Paluch and being able to share the experiences.
“He has grandkids now, and I have grandkids now, so we’re both in that lane and that’s exciting as well,” Rorie says.
Reflecting on a rockstar
With so many close friends after years of networking, a party was held recently in Boston to commemorate Paluch’s distinguished career.
Those who know him best believe that Paluch’s mark on the industry will be an everlasting legacy.
“He’s turned into a little bit of a rockstar in the industry. He’s brought a lot of energy to what he does,” Kluznik says. “The landscape industry can be a fairly conservative group of people, and Jim pushes people beyond their conservative comfort levels. He brings an energy and an appreciation for people.”
Rorie agrees, saying he’ll be remembered for bringing the leaders of the industry together to learn and evolve.
“Jim is one of the most well-known names in the industry. He was instrumental in the initial networking and event gatherings…it was super valuable,” Rorie says. “I think Jim promoted the growth, professionalism and leadership that the industry so lacked 25 years ago. There wasn’t another place that was working on your behalf to support you and challenge you more so than JP Horizons.”
Yet retirement isn’t slowing Paluch down he says — just taking him down a new path. This path will include plenty of time with his wife, two sons, daughters-in-law and grandkids.
“I’m going to get good at oil painting if it kills me,” Paluch adds. “I enjoy painting landscapes and spend a lot of time doing that.”
Paluch says he’s been incredibly lucky to have the career he has but is ready for what’s next.
“Retirement is a process, and it doesn’t mean you get up in the morning with nothing to do,” he says. “It’s about getting up and thinking, ‘How can I make a difference?’”