It takes a lot of dedication to be an Ironman competitor, and that’s without running a business. Joe Ciffolillo was doing both, but five years ago had to focus on the business.

“Since then, I’ve been able to promote and delegate to some really great people who deserve a lot of the credit for the success of the company,” he says.

The company’s growth keeps Iron Man training on the shelf. “My goal was to get back to it one of these days coming down the pike, he says. “We’ll have to see.” Lawn & Landscape spoke with him about field workers and when a promotion doesn’t work out.

Photo courtesy of Greenscape

L&L: How do you make this industry appealing to frontline workers?

JC: We try to offer a competitive wage up front, and try to create really good work environment for our folks. We work hard to respect their dignity and realize that they are our frontline people. We need them as much as they need us. I’ve got a number of employees who have worked for us for over 20 years, field employees actually, too.

L&L: Do you ever end up promoting them or do they just like staying in the field?

JC: It’s both. We work really hard to take care of them and listen to them. I think the day you stop listening to your frontline staff is the day you’re going to start to have problems. But we work hard to create a scenario where any frontline person, the lowest laborer, can have a career path all the way up to my seat if they have the aptitude and the drive and if that’s what their goal is.

But that’s not for everybody. I have people who are truck drivers who worked for us for 20 years. I have people who are landscape maintenance crew laborers who have worked here for 20 years. I also have managers who have worked here for 20 years who started at the laborer level and now are running a whole division. We’ve got a pretty aggressive program where we will tend to promote from within.

But it doesn’t work out for everybody. Every now and then you get somebody who’s sharp and driven and really responds to the challenge and they want to move up.

L&L: Have you had someone who is promoted and it doesn’t work out?

JC: We’ve had people that we’ve moved up, and quite honestly, they’ve asked to be put back down. It’s very infrequent when that happens, but we have had a couple that have moved up into an account manager trainee role.

We’ve got a very detailed training program that we follow for anybody who we’re putting in a more advanced position. I’ve had a couple people just say, “Oh, this isn’t for me,” or some people, they work their eight hours a day and they realize on the management side it doesn’t shut off.

They want to sit in an office and they want to be dressed in a golf shirt and chinos and eating with clients. Well, the clients aren’t always happy or it’s not always a good meeting.

L&L: It’s not always a fun day of golf.

JC: Exactly. It’s eye-opening for a lot of them. But we’ve done that with a pretty high level of success. It’s one of the most rewarding things to me in business to see a kid who came in and has worked his way up and is really doing a good job. Those are going to be our future leaders, actually.

Interviewed by Brian Horn