Judy Guido reflects on the quickest, highest-stake strategy session she ever engaged in – a life-or-death situation that allowed just one fleeting second to act.
“The whole world stopped, and everything went silent,” she says of the scene in her sun-drenched kitchen the morning of July 5, 2017. “I knew the next move I made would determine whether I lived or died that day.”
Guido, founder of Guido & Associates a business consulting firm in California, can handle major pressure and command a room.
At the same time, she has a bubbly personality and infectious way that begs a listen. Longtime friend and industry colleague Connie Hom, CEO of Buckingham Greenery, Buckingham, Va., says, “With those big eyes, she just sparkles.”
Hom considers Guido a free spirit.
“When I say that, it’s because she is unconventional in her thinking and pushes companies to think about the future and what trends might impact the industry so they can get ahead of that,” Hom says.
In fact, Guido has grown a career out of positioning brands to compete. Back in 1998, she was one of four executives at LandCare USA that took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange.
After that, she was recruited by green industry legend and Valley Crest chairman Burt Sperber to be the marketing right-hand. She’s an industry advocate, a champion for women, a self-described learnaholic and askaholic.
But she didn’t expect to strategize a way to safely exit her home to save herself from an attacker with a pickax.
Reflecting on the near fatal injury, resulting in three violent digs to her head and brain surgery, she says:
“I made a very conscious decision that I was not going to die that day. And while healing, I realized I had two choices: I could look at this awful thing that happened and say, ‘Why me?’ Or, I could rise above it and say, ‘I’m not going to let a psychopath take me and my family down. He is not going to take my life.’ So that’s what I decided and what I did.”
A mind for strategy
Now, Guido is writing a book to document the horrific experience, and she’s tentatively calling it, “Can I Pick Your Brain?”
One of her superpowers, she says, is a fast sense of humor. “In another life, I would have loved to be a stand-up comic,” she says, explaining that the working book title is the first question people ask her as a strategic marketer and businesswoman.
And a “picking of the brain” literally happened in her own yard. Some would grimace, but Judy is not in the least bit bothered by her pun.
In fact, it marks the day of her recovery when she laughed for the first time – a gift. “That is my job,” she says. “People always say to me, ‘Hey, Jude, can I pick your brain?’”
Hom’s not surprised at her friend’s comedic, bright-side approach.
“You might be in a very serious conversation and she’ll say something funny that takes you back a bit and puts you at ease,” Hom says.
That’s what Guido had to do to pacify a landscape worker who had a psychotic break on the job at her home. The morning of July 5, Guido took her daughter to summer day camp. She drove the half-hour commute back home and sat down at her kitchen island with some coffee to catch up on email. The neighborhood was relatively quiet, though her own property was all action with a landscape crew on site.
“Next thing, I heard what I thought was an explosion,” Guido says. Workers were in the back yard using pickaxes to remove sod so it could be replaced. “I thought they hit one of our gas lines, and it was so loud it blew the French doors open.”
Guido ran to the window and saw one of the crew members dashing across the yard – he leaped over the fence. Another man on the team was chasing him with the pickax in hand.
She immediately called the owner of the company to let him know there was a fight on her property. As soon as she hung up the phone, the guy – who was the size of a football player – charged toward Guido’s house and began bashing windows with the ax. Guido wondered if, because of the supposed gas line break, he was doing this to prevent her house from blowing up.
Then he entered her home.
“What is going on?” Guido asked, still considering that he was going to tell her about a gas line break. He looked her in the eye and said, evenly, “I tried to kill my coworker. He is the devil.”
This is when the world stopped for a nanosecond. This was the pivotal moment when Guido’s natural instinct to think strategically changed the trajectory.
Guido says, “I could not run to the front door and unlock it in time because he was two feet away from me. But I needed to for someone to hear me scream for my life.”
She developed a strategy and acted.
“You look hurt,” she told him. “Did you get harmed? You have blood on you. I have to help you. I need to get you to the doctor.” She spoke this script like a mantra while slowly walking toward the killer, in hopes that her subtle advancing would prompt him to back up toward the door.
Once they made it to the path outside her home, his face took on an appearance that Guido describes as catatonic.
“Then, he scrunched up his face and got this, like, killer-like face and he looked at the dog. ‘I have to kill him because he is the devil, too!’”
The family’s 8-pound lapdog became a casualty, and Guido fled to the street – though he caught up, slit her throat and punctured her head three times with an ax.
“I grow people. I grow companies... and if people aren’t serious about doing that, then in the time I have left, it’s just not a fit.” Judy Guido, founder of Guido & Associates
The attacker is in prison. Guido spent several days in the intensive care unit, followed by months of therapy. Her survival was a miracle, and trauma doctors remarked to her, “You are so normal! You don’t need us anymore.”
Guido’s grit helped her push through recovery, and she was reconnecting with clients after about six weeks.
“Cognitively and strategically, this made me stronger,” she says, adding that she experiences some issues with balance and headaches, but suffered no memory loss. “I would tell you I’m back 90% physically and I’m stronger mentally.”
Guido is also back to what she does best.
“I love the ability to create something from scratch,” she says, rehashing the experience of going public with LandCare USA. At the time, there wasn’t available industry data to prove market opportunity, which is what Wall Street cares about. Guido started digging. She called every state and national association, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the list goes on.
“We worked with brilliant people to literally create a business model for LandCare that did not exist,” she says. “We had to create a purpose and values that did not exist because we were blending different companies, and we had to create one brand, one culture, one voice, one team, one business model.”
Guido had stayed in touch with some MBA colleagues, and they used to jab her about her choice to work in the green industry. They didn’t understand the complexity due to variables like weather. On one call with the group, she asked, “How many people here have IPOed on Wall Street?”
“I was the one person who did, and what took me there? The green industry,” says Guido, an advocate since she was first exposed to it. More than 20 years ago, Ed Laflamme, now of the Harvest Group, invited her to attend an Associated Landscape Contractors of America conference.
“If someone had told me, ‘Judy, you are going to be in this industry and go to Wall Street. You are going to work with some of the most intelligence private equity groups and incredible engineers who are creating new products. You are going to do top-notch work with thought leaders.’ I never would have thought this about the green industry – ever.”
That said, landscaping and gardening were somewhat ingrained in her since she was a child. Guido grew up in a middle-class family in a seaside town in Connecticut called Milford.
One of five siblings, her father, Raymond, often worked two jobs while her mother, Marie, managed the household.
Guido says her parents are personal heroes, and they were always interested in giving back to the community. She continues this in her own life. Over the years, Guido has spoken at countless conferences, and she guesses she’s mentored about 120 green industry professionals.
This is a natural instinct for Guido, and a focus of her career today is on educating others about the STEAM aspect of landscaping and how it involves science, technology, engineering, art and math. She wants more women to know this, too.
“From individual companies to national associations, I continue to work with women to attract them and get them into the market to see the opportunity,” says a woman who was often the only female in the room when she entered the industry.
“The industry has been very good to me,” Guido says.
And today, she is very intentional about selecting projects, initiatives and partnerships. Life is never guaranteed, as she learned. She is not wasting a moment.
“I grow people. I grow companies. I make people better and smarter, and I make their bottom lines better and the operations more efficient. That is what I focus on, and if people aren’t serious about doing that, then in the time I have left, it’s just not a fit.”
She also surrounds herself with friends and family.
“That’s who it’s really about,” she says, expressing gratitude for an industry that has enriched her career and the people she has met along the way. “The people I surround myself in business are the same way – just wonderful human beings.”