Article published in 2019 October Turf magazine
By Lee Edwards, CEO The Greenery, Inc.
An article recently appeared in Turf magazine highlighting the ideals of The Greenery and the success we have had establishing a fully employee-owned company. For the last 40 years, we have strived to build a company made up of passionate and motivated employees and I believe we have some of the best in the business.
In 1973, my parents, Berry and Ruthie Edwards, founded The Greenery on Hilton Head Island with a desire to do landscaping a little differently. They focused on hiring the most experienced and knowledgeable staff knowing that the professionalism and quality these employees brought to the table would play a huge role in the company’s ultimate success.
When my father began considering retirement, he knew he wanted to do something that would help ensure The Greenery’s continuing focus on professionalism and customer satisfaction while rewarding the long term employees. Of course, he could have just sold the company, in hopes that the new ownership would maintain The Greenery’s culture. Instead, he chose to do things a little differently – just like he had in the beginning. He chose to set up The Greenery as a wholly employee-owned enterprise - utilizing a structure called an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). His decision has made all the difference in our company’s growth as a result of our employee owner’s commitment.
Essentially, the formation of the ESOP allowed us to create a trust which distributes shares in the company to employees based on factors such as wages and length of employment. Only .5% of all businesses nationwide adhere to the ESOP model including Publix, New Belgium Brewing and Cliff Bar. But the numbers are growing each year.
The Greenery’s ESOP journey began in 2001 and by 2007 we were 100% employee-owned. This vested ownership begins for the employee after a one-year waiting period and continues until they retire or leave the company. Along the way, they enjoy multiple opportunities to increase their shares in the company, either by enrolling on our 401 (k) program or reaching certain milestones in length of service. The longer they work for The Greenery, the more shares they receive.
And that relationship becomes reciprocal. The harder our employees work and the more pride they have in their work - the better they treat their customers, the better the company does. And the better the company does = higher employee stock prices.
There are some challenges that come with being employee owned. The Greenery must meet strict compliance standards from the Department of Labor that ensures the best interest of the employee/owners is being met. Our employee-owners enjoy full transparency. In order to communicate with our employees what exactly an ESOP is and what it can do for them – we utilize regular newsletters, meetings and updates from our ESOP committee.
It’s a challenge that has proven well worth it. Since establishing the ESOP, we’ve grown from about 200 employees to around 650. Our territory now reaches from Hilton Head Island to Charleston to Savannah and lots of places in between.
The Greenery’s growth has largely been driven by our employees (the owners) who each put in that little extra effort to help THEIR company grow.