The ASCA and Snow Magazine were proud to honor three snow and ice professionals with Leadership Awards. This year’s honorees included David Langton, Einstein’s Solutions, Fitchburg, Mass.; Bob St. Jacques, Four Seasons Landscaping, Windsor, Conn.; and Jim Biebrach, Snow Systems, Wheeling, Ill.
This year’s class truly embodies the concept and principles behind selfless servant leadership, says ASCA Executive Director Kevin Gilbride.
“This is evident not only when you learn about each’s backstories, but when you spend some time and talk to them one-on-one,” Gilbride says. “These gentlemen lead by example, and in doing so establish a company culture that reflects not only business excellence, but excellence as industry stewards, and excellence as members of their respective communities.”
Choosing a class of industry leaders to honor is no small task, says Snow Magazine Editor Mike Zawacki.
“Each year, the nomination-and-selection committee begins the process of examining potential candidates for this Leadership Award and nearly every year, there’s some trepidation at first about selecting the right candidates,” Zawacki says. “The concern is, will these candidates do justice to the more than two dozen recipients who received the honor before them? This year, it didn’t take long to realize our concerns were unfounded and these three individuals could very well hold their own.”
This year’s class of Leadership Award recipients were honored during a special event that took place as part of the 2019 Executive Summit, which took place in Pittsburgh, July 31-Aug. 2.
The helping hand
By Holly Hammersmith
Bob St. Jacques is the personification of the helping hand. In fact, ask anyone in this industry who knows him, and they describe a guy who helps out without giving it a second thought. St. Jacques is a professional who is always there to lend a hand, generous with insight and constructive feedback, and who is in attendance when the bell is rung.
As president of Four Seasons Landscaping in Windsor, Conn., this industry always seems to have been in his blood. He got his start as a teen and became a business owner at the age of 18.
So, what’s kept St. Jacques engaged in such a challenging industry for so many years? Without hesitation, he says it’s the people.
“People fuel my passion for this work. We have a lot of good clients. We have a lot of good people working for us,” he says. “With snow, the adrenaline flows, and you’re under constant pressure. But there’s nothing quite like seeing a job well done, it’s cool to be able to drive around and see all the stuff.
“The coolest feeling is when you’re out all night and the sun starts coming up in the morning,” he adds. “You drive around and all these properties that we take care of are all clean and black and everybody’s happy. We’re going home and everybody’s coming in to work; that’s kind of a cool feeling.”
Over the decades, snow work has always been a large part of his company’s focus. The company has grown, and so has its name recognition. St. Jacques has been mindful to not grow so large as to lose the touch points he has with clients.
He says: “We’ve always been known to have capacity. We’ve got some good staff. We’re big into equipment. We’ve got a lot of resources. But we tend to stay local, so it’s more of a personal touch. The way I set my business up, I’m very touchable. All of our clients have my cell phone number. I’m out in the snow. Every snow event, I’m out there.”
Along with lending a helping hand, St. Jacques values community involvement. He is involved in the Windsor Chamber of Commerce, and the company is constantly volunteering on their projects. Likewise, he is actively involved in the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association, of which he is also past president. He is also a past president of the Snow & Ice Management Association. He played a pivotal role in the recent adoption of the ASCA’s model legislation in his home state this summer.
An industry insider who knows St. Jacques closely says this about his leadership style: “Bob does everything with professionalism. He’s respectful, he does things with a smile on his face, he treats people the right way, and he is dedicated to everything he puts his mind to. He’s just a very fair man that possesses those wonderful qualities. He leads with respect and not with an iron fist.”
The quiet leader
By Holly Hammersmith
Some businessmen, like David Langton, lead by example. And, his coworkers describe the CEO of Einstein's Solutions, based in Fitchburg, Mass., as just that – a quiet leader who chooses to lead by example.
David seemed destined for this industry. It started with horticulture in high school. He studied landscape contracting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and eventually started Einstein’s in 1995. Today, about 60 percent of his businesses focuses on snow and ice management.
Langton finds snow’s unpredictability as the most enjoyable aspect of the job. “I love the challenge that comes when everything falls apart,” he says. “It’s a weird thing. On the snow side, everything falls apart every time because things break or the weather wasn’t what was predicted. It’s controlled chaos.”
Langton acknowledges he wouldn’t be where he is today without his employees, who he sites as big part of Einstein’s success.
His wife, Jennifer, has also been a part of that success, working for Einstein's Solutions since 1997 and serving today as the company’s president. “She’s been a big mentor for me to make sure I take time off and don’t stress myself out too much,” he says.
When it comes to work ethic, people say he’s the first man in and the last man out during a snow event. He chooses to lead by example.
“I’m out there with them when it’s snowing out, I don’t just sit in an office and look at radar and ask questions,” he says. “I physically go out and work with the guys. I find that it’s best to have firsthand to know what the conditions are.”
As a leader, he prefers big-picture thinking and not focusing on little mistakes.
“My leadership is not to sit there and micromanage every little detail. They’re going to make mistakes and when they do make the mistake, try to give them the path of, you maybe should do it this way, instead of hammering on them. Even myself, I’m going to forget things too and just trying to be honest about the mistake.”
Trial by winter
By Holly Hammersmith
Jim Biebrach was tested by some of the worst weather winter has had to offer. Growing up, Biebrach shoveled driveways for $3 to $5 a property. “And then when I got older, I said, ‘You know, it was good money shoveling driveways. Why not buy a pickup truck and plow?’”
Biebrach’s timing was impeccable, as he started working during the winter of the Blizzard of 1978.
“I bought a brand-new pickup truck, put a plow on it, went to work, made a ton of money that year,” he says. “I thought it was the most money I was ever going to make in my life. And the next year we bought another truck. And every year after that you just kept buying equipment, kept putting money back into a business.”
And for the last four decades, snow and ice has been Biebrach’s world. Founded in 1978, Wheeling, Ill.-based Snow Systems has always been 100 percent focused on the business of snow and ice management.
Outside the business, Jim has been very active in getting the ASCA’s model legislation, the Snow Removal Limited Liabilities Act, adopted in Illinois.
He attributes much of his business success – the company now manages properties in 22 states – to slow, controlled growth.
“What sets us apart from most of our snow only competitors is we will make the capital investment in equipment specifically for snow removal,” he says. “We’ll come in with specialty pieces of equipment for a job site. We’ll make that investment, and the customer will see that and see that competitors will not do that.”
And in people, he wants to work with those who share his same passion for the industry.
“It goes back to the people, the people that live and die for the next snowfall, who enjoy getting out there and moving large piles of snow in a short period of time and do that year after year. It takes a special person and once it’s in your blood, you’ll never be able to enjoy a snowfall sitting in front of a fireplace because you’re always going to want to be out there and have that camaraderie with your fellow workers.”