Benny Abrigado picked up several employees of Performance Landscapes one morning to drive them to work – a fairly typical day. He has always been willing to give a crew member a lift to work, whatever it takes to help guys who started out like he did as a Filipino immigrant working to support family back at home. It was 2008, and the fast-growing landscape firm had a rigorous day lined up in the Honolulu market.
Then, one of the workers in the backseat alerted Abrigado that his friend wasn’t breathing. They shook him a bit, trying to get a response, but none came. He began to turn blue. Abrigado pulled over the vehicle and the crew lifted their colleague out of the truck and laid him on the ground.
“I did CPR and I told one of the guys to do the pumping – continue pumping, and call 911,” Abrigado says.
He had just received Red Cross CPR training through the Landscape Industry Certified Technician (LICT) program. Of course, he hadn’t planned on having to use the skill – who does? But Abrigado has a sharp focus. He immediately began administering CPR breathing while his crew member did chest compressions for about 15 minutes until paramedics arrived.
“We went to visit our team member in the hospital, and I asked the doctor how he was doing,” says Matt Lyum, who started Performance Landscapes with Abrigado in 2002. “The doctor says his heart wasn’t pumping (when he passed out), so Benny kept him alive.”
Two months later, their colleague was back to work on Abrigado’s team until retiring in 2017. Abrigado earned a Life Saver Hero award from the American Red Cross for his courage. When the CEO of Hawaii Red Cross recognized Abrigado, she called him “a special individual who has shown courage, caring and a commitment to others.”
Indeed, courage is a word that describes Abrigado’s approach to life, Lyum says. “He is pretty much one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met,” he says. “Benny is willing to step up to any challenge. He had the courage to leave his family to come to Hawaii so he could work. He had more courage than me when we started the business. And, then he had the courage to save his friend and employee when he had a heart attack.”
Abrigado, humble, says of his accomplishments, “Yes… I’m so proud.”
Education Creates Pathways
Abrigado’s story started in a way similar to other Filipino immigrants who come to the United States to make a living, often sponsored by a family member. It can take years to complete a process to enter the country, and they do so knowing that they’ll leave family and their home behind. But, the reward is making a living so they can send money back to support their loved ones. This is exactly the path Abrigado traveled when he arrived in Hawaii in 1995.
He spoke no English. He did not have a driver’s license. And, his technical skills were mainly in agriculture, since his home village was a farming community. “I come from a poor family,” Abrigado says simply.
But Abrigado was rich in his love for his wife and four children. He wanted a better life for them – and to be sure they had food and education. “Benny had more motivation than most,” Lyum says.
Abrigado’s brother-in-law got him started in the landscape business, and he was a quick study. He adapted his agricultural background to the green industry, and he focused on training and learning the language. Lyum shares how they met while working at a local landscape company. Lyum eventually left that business and went on to work in a composting and renewable energy operation.
During that time, Abrigado reached out to Lyum, suggesting that the two start a landscape firm together. Lyum wasn’t so sure. He didn’t necessarily have an entrepreneurial itch he needed to scratch and had always been comfortable working in management roles. Owning it was a whole different thing.
But Abrigado encouraged Lyum. He was willing to take the risk of leaving his job to find greater opportunity – courage. Lyum says, “He convinced me that with my business skillset and his technical skillset, we’d be a good fit. I couldn’t do it without him, and he couldn’t do it without me.”
So, they teamed up and started Performance Landscapes, earning one account at a time, building a solid reputation in the Honolulu community. Lyum explains how they walked into the bank to get a loan. “You don’t usually see a two-man landscaping company start with a business plan and a two-year cash flow projection, but we did,” he says.
Failure was not an option.
“We built it up little by little,” Abrigado says. Growth accelerated as they recruited more team members and earned more accounts, creating more opportunity for people. This is another point of pride for Abrigado. “We get more jobs and I tell the guys, ‘We need more people,’ and they can bring their friends and family to work here,” he relates.
As the team grew, so did the need to train new crew members, which is an aspect of the job Abrigado especially enjoys. “I try to teach them the right way,” he says.
Lyum adds, “Benny has always been interested in learning and getting better. He actually helps train and judge other industry members who are sitting for the LICT exam.”
As a LICT volunteer judge, Abrigado is a mentor and example of how education creates career pathways.
“He commands the respect of our staff, managers and temps because he gives off that aura,” Lyum says. “He is very humble, but everyone knows how competent and capable he is.” Lyum says that the professors at University of Hawaii that teach landscaping classes appreciate Abrigado and his contributions. “They know he is an exceptional person.”
Dedicated to Success
Aside from training and developing employees, pleasing customers is what Abrigado loves best about his work in the landscape field. “I love to make our customers happy,” he says, adding that whenever a client compliments the work, he is sure to share the positive feedback with his guys. “I keep on training them and help them do more,” he adds.
He’s always training. Always working to satisfy customers. Always motivating others to do their best.
His family at home could feel this dedication, even though he was 5,500 miles away. Every two years, he returned to the Philippines for a month to spend time with family. Those visits were few and far between, yet his family recognized their father’s love and support. “They are totally dedicated to him, and they knew what their dad was doing for them,” Lyum says. “They appreciated him.”
Hard work paid off in the ways Abrigado was hoping. His four children continued their educations, and they pursued fulfilling careers: doctor, pilot, nurse and certified diesel mechanic.
In the last five years, two of his children – his daughter, a nurse, and his son the pilot, moved to Hawaii. Now, he can enjoy spending time with them, and his grandchildren.
Lyum says, “Benny has been an inspiration and hero to myself, our staff and his family.”