Family Businesses: Working Better Together

By Jill Odom M

ANY LANDSCAPING COMPANIES SAY THEY ARE FAMILY focused or treat their employees like family, but what is it like to work with actual family members? These five companies share their experience of working with relatives and the lessons they’ve learned over the years keeping the business running with their kin.

Stephen Hillenmeyer, CEO of Hil- lenmeyer Landscape Services based in Lexington, Kentucky, works with his two sons Chase and Seth, which he says has been a pleasure. “We all like to be around people, no one has a problem being in crowd or speaking their mind,” Hillenmeyer says. “I focus more on strategic planning and long-term outlook; Chase also looks at the long term and strategic moves from an operational standpoint. Seth’s strengths are more around development of our sales and growth of the organi- zation.” Rick Lemcke, founder and president of R.M. Landscape based in Hilton, New York, started his business with his brother Mike. Mike left the business 20 years ago as they did not share the same work philosophy. Rick now works alongside his son, Brett Lemcke (former President of NALP).

“I’m old enough to learn the hard way but young enough to learn the new way,” Rick Lemcke says. “We work together very well. He has us on an accelerated growth program. I was content to just go along with what we had.” Lemcke says at times he and Brett will have differing opinions and they simply have to hash the matter out, since there is no tiebreaker. He says their person- alities are similar as they are both very positive. At Dowco Enterprises Inc. based in Chesterfield, Missouri, president Maurice Dowell, LIC, has worked with his brother, son, daughter, and former wife. His daughter, Kelly Dowell, has worked for her father’s company since she was a child, but now works with them in a different capacity. She has her own company Keldo Digital where she helps small businesses in the green industry grow their sales, marketing and recruiting efforts.

16 The Landscape Professional //September/October 2020

Dowell says working with his daugh- ter isn’t any different than working with other people on staff as he sees them as family as well. At Grasshopper Lawns Inc., based in Larksville, Pennsylvania, Michael Kravitsky IV, LIC, owner/president says his dad, mom, grandfather, sister, younger brother, brother-in-law and his two chil- dren have all worked for the company at one time or another. Right now, it is just Kravitsky and his son Michael Kravitsky V who work together in the business. Kravitsky says his son has become one of the backbones of the company. He says he and his son work together well and he appreciates hearing what his son sees from a younger perspective. Pete Schepis Jr., director of operations and co-owner of The Greenwood Group, based in Wentzville, Missouri, works along with his father Pete Schepis Sr., stepmother Joan Schepis and stepbroth- er Nick Sarandos.

“Since we are a combined family, my father and I have similarities and Joan and Nick have similarities,” Schepis says. “I think our differences come more in the way of ‘old’ school vs. ‘new’ school.”


Hillenmeyer says he and his sons don’t treat each other any different than other employees and are all business at work. “If we do have personal things to discuss we still do that, but we respect each other and try not to mix business when we’re not working,” Hillenmeyer says. “Lemcke philosophy is we work really hard, we play harder,” Lemcke says. “When it comes to play time or family time there isn’t anything from work that gets in the way of that.” Kravitsky says he and his son enjoy snowmobiling in the winter and

four-wheeling in the summer so they don’t talk a lot of business in their free time.

“My grandfather taught me that business is business, family is family,” Kravitsky says. “So, I’ve awoken to that fact that you don’t want to mix the two. Now don’t get me wrong, when he’s over at the house, we’ll talk business a little bit, but it’s nothing in-depth. We try to do it all at work.”

Dowell says he’s never made a conscious effort to separate work from his home life as they’d often chat about work in the evening. Talking about work in his free time has never been an issue with his family. Likewise, Schepis says they don’t separate their work from their family life. “When we’re together, whether it be a day at the pool or a family birthday, we always have some sort of ‘work talk,’” Schepis says. “I think, individually, we all separate in our own way.”


Over the years working with Brett, Lemcke says he’s learned it’s more than just physical hard work when it comes to running a landscape business. Kravitsky says that he has discovered his son is a true MacGyver and can adapt and find a solution to anything. Hillen- meyer says he’s found his sons are both entrepreneurial with a good work ethic. “Watching them grow and succeed is as good as it gets,” Hillenmeyer says. “They bring so much more to the orga- nization with their ideas and passion to grow and scale our business. They also care about our employees; they want to help them succeed and growth as people.” Schepis says he’s learned trust is

extremely important and being able to speak openly and honestly around your family allows the same comfortability when dealing with others. “Though it can be challenging at times, there is a sense of security and trust that everyone is working toward the same goals,” Schepis says. “Everyone is invest- ed in the future for different reasons.”

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