Lessons in Leadership: Managing People 101 with Michael Bosco

Home / Episode / Lessons in Leadership: Managing People 101 with Michael Bosco

Running a successful landscape company goes beyond simply creating beautiful outdoor spaces. In this episode of Roots of Success, I sit down with Michael Bosco, executive coach and industry expert, as he shares his unique journey from founding Soils Alive to taking over the family pest control business, SafeHaven. Join us as we explore all aspects of being a landscape business owner; from customer service and team management, to mergers and acquisitions. Discover the key lessons Michael learned along the way, including the importance of client expectations, embracing failure, and the challenges of managing people.


Celebrate Failure to Find Success

Key Moments:

[00:00] Michael's Background in the Landscape Industry

[03:16] What they Don't Teach You in College

[05:28] Pest Control as a Parallel Industry

[09:46] The Logistics of a Merger

[13:57] It All Comes Down to People

[15:03] Onboarding New Team Members Is a Key Process

[18:14] Creating Culture

[21:22] How to Help Your Team Become Leaders

[22:54] Leading ACE Peer Groups


    1. How to start a successful landscaping business?
    2. What is plant healthcare and why is it important?
    3. How to manage client expectations in the service industry?
    4. What are the challenges of managing people in a landscape business?
    5. How to merge and integrate small businesses effectively?
    6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of running a family business?
    7. How to navigate the process of buying and selling a landscape business?
Episode Transcript
Tommy Cole: welcome to Roots of Success Podcast. Tommy Cole here. I've got a special guest. His name is Michael Bosco. He's one of our executive coaches at McFarlin Stanford. He brings a wealth of knowledge and a tiny bit of sarcasm along the way which makes everyone laugh. Hey, hey, Michael. How are you? Michael Bosco: I'm doing great. Hey, Tom, it's great to be on with you. Tommy Cole: So Michael Bosco,he's part of the McFarlin Stanford team, but he's also got a very, very unique background, which is awesome. Michael's Background in the Landscape Industry [00:01:00] Tommy Cole: We've known Michael, you know, back in the landscaping days for a number of years, really, really became good friends with Chris Psenchik working together. But you had a company called, Soils Alive. And that's where we met you and used a lot of your services and, and became, a pretty good trade partner, while we did the landscape. What was that all about? Michael Bosco: I got my degree in soil science and I, I just really wanted to get into growing plants. I had always been in the pest control world. And so the thought of. Making things green and, and gorgeous and beautiful just was exciting to me and doing it from a soil science perspective. I got that thing rolling, Within months of us graduating from college and, you know, 15 years later, I sold it, but, it was one hell of a run and loved working with you guys. And I had a lot of great clients, high end, you know, all the clients that you guys took care of, that, that sort of high end residential client. Plus we did some. Big [00:02:00] commercial projects. Right? Tommy Cole: What did you guys predominantly do? Michael Bosco: We were an application company, right? So we did, plant health care is what it was. So we, we would go in and sell a fertility program. Usually start off with some good soil testing, looking at, what's needed nutrient balance issues. we really, Okay. Got after from a, from a soil science and a plant to a real horticultural background perspective and, built fertility program, very specific to properties and we had a lot of success. I think at the time when I sold, I had some around 1800, location accounts in Dallas and, I think we're running, seven trucks, full time doing lawn apps. but we did, you know, insect weed disease. but 90 percent of what we did was come at it from a, from a soil science, plant healthcare perspective. Tommy Cole: well, I like about that is still the service industry, right? Whether [00:03:00] it's landscape and irrigation and drainage and maintenance, it's the service industry, which is, I believe one of the fascinating. industries out there, but, taking all those years right after college, I think you kind of knew it all and then sort of didn't know it all right. What they Don't Teach You in College Tommy Cole: Kind of like the things that didn't teach you in college. What, what's one thing that stood out in all those years? You're like, man, that's one thing I really learned about that. That type of business or that service line that you had to maintain. Michael Bosco: you know, if it, if it just came down to taking care and getting the plants and the, and the landscaping and getting results. Boy, life would have been just awesome. right? But you throw in clients, client expectations, challenging people to work with, and especially when you're talking about people that decide to call us instead of calling, you know, Scotts or TruGreen. A lot of times they've had, they've tried that, they've done that, and now their expectation, [00:04:00] they're going to pay twice as much for my service, they expect. Twice the results. A lot of times. and so the people side of it and not only for the people side from the client perspective, but the employees side of it, the team side of it. That was something that just took years of experience for me to understand that not everybody is wired the way I'm wired. That, that took a Tommy Cole: like you. Yeah. Michael Bosco: Yeah, Tommy Cole: Managing people was something that you didn't. Learn in school or learn from home or I'll take a night course or anything that it's probably just raw experience of screwing up a lot of things, right? Michael Bosco: a lot of screw up. In fact, one of our core values at Safehaven is, celebrate failure. And it really goes to that point, right? Like, you've got to, you've got to fail. You have to make mistakes to learn. I'm, I'm the kind of guy [00:05:00] that, you know, you tell me that stove is hot. I've got to go over there and touch it myself to prove it. You know, but once I, once I realized it was hot, like, okay, you're right. I won't do that again. So, that whole idea of celebrating failure and learning from your mistakes and teaching your teammates,along with that, so that that learning curve gets moved along a lot faster is huge. so that was, that was, a big one for, for me. Pest Control Michael Bosco: So moving out of soils alive, you took over the, the Safe Haven Pest control company that you had mentioned just a few minutes ago. Safe Haven's been around a long time, right? And, I believe you took the reins over that. Tommy Cole: And now you're going from, you know, plant healthcare to killing bugs, like kind of two opposite Michael Bosco: Well, Yeah, it's more like I got back to my roots, Tommy, really, because it was the family business. So my great uncle started it actually back in [00:06:00] 1955. And so my, my dad took over in the 70s. And so I grew up. In a family business, right? my parents ran it out of the house. Mom was answering the phone, dad would run routes and in the summertime I would jump in the truck from the time I was like, I don't know, 12, 13, 14, 15 years old. I was running, a route with dad. And so I got to see customer service from a very, very early age and Addressing customers, taking care of them, following through, you know, the billing side of it. I used to do the paperwork side of it. So I really did, you know, literally grew up in the business. so small businesses really just in my blood. Tommy Cole: Yeah. Michael Bosco: So my parents were still pretty young when I graduated from college. And so I knew I needed to go do my own thing for a while cause they weren't ready to hand over the reins. And so that was also my, with my passion, I was able to go and start souls alive and then, I decided to sell it and when I did, then I [00:07:00] jumped. Back into the family business, which was rid all pest control and I rebranded it to safe haven So yes, it's been around forever But I did go through a rebranding just because rid all pest control is kind of a 1950s, you know Everything must die, you know Tommy Cole: Yeah. We're going to blow it all up with gasoline. Michael Bosco: That's right we went from Rid All to Safe Haven so that was a that was a branding need right there, right Tommy Cole: Yes. Michael Bosco: I love the business because it's, it's very much what I'd done with Soils Alive, which was, it's customer service, it's applications, it's a guy in a truck, it's running routes, it's, it's a very, very, very similar business model, the pest control world is to kind of the lawn application, fertility, fertilization type world too, right? You've got one guy, one truck, they need to go out and produce so much money in a day. And I think that that whole concept that I learned at an early age, that Time is money and you have to account for it. And there's only so [00:08:00] many hours in a day. And if you don't produce X, you can't go back and get it tomorrow that you know yesterday's gone right you you had to make it yesterday you you need to get what you can every single day and I I think that helped me with my pricing model as I went into the world of Lawn fertility and fertilization because I kind of had all had all of that base, to start with starting a business, I sold the business and then bought the parents business, family businesses and dynamics is so challenging. And we see this quite a bit in our world. and I had a brother that came along in the business and then that was stressful and then he, you know, needed to leave. And then, and then I actually went through a merger, four years ago, we brought a couple of companies together, so if it can be done, I've done it. I think just in the whole world of buy, sell, merge, I've bought three small companies, in the last three years. So I think that gives me a lot of, [00:09:00] perspective when we're working with our business owners in the peer group too, because of all of that. Tommy Cole: Paint us a picture of what safe haven looks like. You know, technicians, crews, you, I'm sure you have a leadership team, but give us the background of that and then we'll, we'll dive into a little bit of that. Michael Bosco: safe haven today is, there's 25 ish team members. we run. 15 technicians we have four, customer service representatives and then we have, an inside salesperson and outside salesperson, and then we have, our, operations, our COO more or less that reports to me. And then we have, a director of admin, that she runs the customer service team. And then, and then I'm considered president and actually my partner, Robert is considered a CEO. The Loogisitics of a Merger Tommy Cole: So tell me about this merger thing. What were some of the challenges in the merger? I think, I think this is an interesting topic in the fact that. Landscape companies, pest control companies, plant health companies, sort of buy up, [00:10:00] someone smaller, right, or someone in their niche market that's ready to sort of give it up or transition out, retire, whatever, but there's like some unique challenges a little bit, like culture challenge, let's just say business practice challenge, like standard financial reporting challenges, right? If you look back and go, yeah, man, we learned a few keynotes here that like, if I move forward to the next transaction of purchasing something, I've got to do X. What is that? Michael Bosco: There's so, so many things there that this is a five hour podcast right here, right? just in the whole world of partners and mergers and,that world, or even just buying a company. but I would say for, for me, Robert and I were aligned, we, we were really kind of sister companies in the sense that we ran the same software, like, all right, check box number one, right? We, every, there's not a peer group meeting that we go to that, [00:11:00] that software isn't discussed, right? Because it becomes your end all be all. Amazing how much it dictates your world. So software was the same. Okay. Check box. Number one, we use the same termite baiting system check box number two, cause that's a big thing. we were literally just a couple of miles from each other. So location, geographical location, we just merged and brought it under our roof into one house. Box number three, Robert and I both had very similar where the direction we were headed, where we wanted to go, didn't weren't looking to sell, looking to build something, you know, another box checked. so, and our, and our values are very, very similar. The companies were amazing. Similar in so many ways, had pretty similar cultures. we, we got to know each team and he, he came, came over and got to spend time with my team. I would go spend time with his team and just see the, the similarities there. And I'll tell you, I, I don't know how often it kind of works out, but literally like we just like went Tommy Cole: [00:12:00] Yeah. And that sort of made, made sense. Michael Bosco: Yeah, it did. and it, it, it's been great. so. I think it was kind of unique, but every situation, every potential merger is just so different in so many ways that, I think the experience of it and it's helpful, but, you know, there's just, there's just so many things that need to be discussed along the way. If you're looking at merging or even buying another company, we bought a. I got 400, 000 company down in southwest of Fort Worth. last year, And it was a fantastic, very similar deal. bought it. The owners needed to get out, but their team was great so there's a lot of opportunities out there, but. Making sure you say no to the wrong deals and say yes to the right deals because You can't take a bad deal and make it good. You know, it's just you're probably not gonna pull that one out of the ditch Tommy Cole: Yeah. I think you said it best as everything sort of lined up to it just completely made sense. I had a conversation with someone not [00:13:00] too long ago about their landscape business and they rolled. pool install business into their landscape business. but, but they work together on dozens and dozens of projects consistently with their team where the owners knew each other. their, their systems were similar. They were on opposite sides of the town, so they kind of controlled the market. He said they had to sort of change a few things here and there where you can and can't do on the job site like certain tactical things, but in general, you know, 70 percent just sort of made sense. And that's kind of what you're saying too. Don't, don't force it because someone has come to you or you're like, I got it. I got to make this move and make it fit. because now I want plant healthcare in my business. I think you got to stop and sort of evaluate how that is good for your business. And that's also just like culture and people and ops and software and those types of things. So that makes it a smooth transition. It All Comes Down to People Michael Bosco: Yep. Yep. Yep. Yep. I, I think so much of [00:14:00] it comes back to the people, right? I mean all, all of those other things can be worked through. They create more challenges if they're not aligned very well, And if you aren't, If you wouldn't go out and hire that person, you probably don't want to be merging with that person or partnering that person. Right. Tommy Cole: Right. Makes sense. Makes sense. We work together on a peer group, which is great. I've gotten to know you over the past few years, a lot more depth, but I believe you guys have a really good culture of reading books, and, learning what accountability is in each role and, how disciplined each of the roles are in their company. What matters, you guys are very keen on KPIs that you measure things, so that, you know, if that person or that role is winning, how we always say. you do things like scavenger hunts on the first week that we've talked about. There's a lot of good things like, give me a couple of those really cool things that say, [00:15:00] that sets us apart than any other pest control. Onboarding New Team Members Is a Key Process Michael Bosco: we run around, meet and visit with, you know, any business owner we can and have in the past. And, you know, so all of these ideas that we do. This is just a matter of gathering the good stuff and bringing it into your organization. So all of it is so doable. I do love our hiring process and making sure that we were hiring the right person. and that, that, that interviewing process and onboarding process. And, when we do get them to the point where we're making them an offer. We're going to bring them in on a, on a Tuesday when we've already dealt with our Monday and we're going to bring them in at nine o'clock in the morning. They walk into the building and we're all waiting for them. we're, we got the noisemakers and, you know, our pom poms and all that stuff, and we're just like. Clapping and celebrating when they walk into the building, right? This is the greatest decision you've ever made in your life. And, if it's a technician [00:16:00] hire than Sean's running off with him and sitting down with him for a little bit. if it's,a, customer service, then Crystal's going to grab them. But, what we're ultimately going to do that morning is we're going to, they're going to do a scavenger hunt and that's how they're going to learn about safe haven. They're going to run around and they're going to go from one end of the building to the other end of the building to figure out how to their code to get into the building, how to get in the gate, they sit down with every customer service rep and talk to them and what are their likes. And in that process, the kind of the small interview, they find out like what their likes is, where did they like to eat, you know, what are their favorite drinks? What are the candy that do they like? Like we're starting to figure out, build that profile of them so that we know how to love on them along the way. and then as the scavenger hunt Gets to the end, they'll go out to the warehouse and, they'll be looking for something and, then they have to pick out a Nerf gun and they're like, what the heck is this? And they walked back into the office and then we blast them with, with Tommy Cole: yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Michael Bosco: and then from there we, we sit them down and I [00:17:00] talked to them about the history of the company, where it all got started and the why behind it all. where we came from and how we got here and. Then we take them to lunch, which is one of the places that they told us that they like to go to, and then we, we go and do something fun. Topgolf, K1 go karts, we've gone to the Presidential Library, we've gone to the Art Museum. We'll just go do something, that's fun and, and spend the day with them. Getting to know them, because, once... Me and Sean and Crystal get to know them a little bit as far as our leadership team. Then tomorrow they're going to be working, right? And we won't have an opportunity to really get to know them, but we've had that chance. They know us, we know a little bit about their family. You know, there's a bit, a little bit of rapport that's been built in it. We want them to have the best first day of their life, Tommy Cole: yeah. That's great. So you don't just, you don't put them in the truck and say, go get them, buddy. Michael Bosco: right? I think it is one of the little things that separates us. One of the things that we do and they walk in the building, we celebrate them. We hand them a [00:18:00] kind of a gift pack. And one of those things is we have two books that they read, who moved my cheese and, and then fish. and, both of those are just real easy reads. They're fine. And everybody does a does book reports. Creating Culture Michael Bosco: And so that's another thing that Safe Haven does. It's very unique. they'll read the book. And then they get up in front of the team. We have Wednesday morning. All hands on deck meetings and they have an opportunity. In fact, tomorrow morning, I think we got three book reports. They're going to be given by team members. And, you know, the idea like who moved my cheese, hopefully many of the listeners have read who moved my cheese. It's just such a simple book it was written many years ago. and it's the concept is that, you know, what. At some point, all the great things or some of the things that are working in your life are going to change and you need to adjust and shift and be able to go find your new cheese, right? And, and we tell them, listen, everybody knows what this book is. Tell us what it [00:19:00] meant to you in your life. And it's amazing what happens as they start telling us about personal situations. I want to share one interesting story. We had a gentleman that worked for us. He was from Guatemala and, you know, obviously English was not his first language, but he he was a technician of ours and just a great dude. And he got up and he read, he gave the book report and when he was lived in Guatemala, he was in the tire business. And, he sold used tires and at some point, The Chinese tires started coming in and where new tires were being sold for less than his Used tires, right? So he he said They moved my cheese, you know, it was just so funny because he's like, you know, his whole market fell apart you know as soon as the Those shipment of new tires came in and undercut his used tires. He's like, they moved my [00:20:00] cheese. And it was just like, he got it right. It's just like, Tommy Cole: clicked. Michael Bosco: it just did. It just clicked and everybody seeing him and what he went through and him sharing that real raw story about him, it's just like. Man, it just makes a connection. It's that connected tissue that an organization really just makes a good organization. Tommy Cole: Yeah. I completely agree. And, you know, People have heard me say this, and I will say it again until I'm blue in the face, but People are your number one asset. You know how scary it is to come into that? It's like, you know, your son walking into a brand new school for the first day. Wow, it's like if you put yourself in those shoes, it's intimidating, it's hard, like something as simple as the gate codes to get into the property, to get into the stores, to get in the office, to get to the front gate, like the alarm on and off, like just the bare [00:21:00] basics of knowing what to do. In those situation. And I love it that you said the first day is just a fun day. Get to know them, understand where they come from family, all those things so that you can take those small nuggets and learn about that person on day one, instead of figuring it out six months down the road. and it gives a whole different perspective on team members, right? Love it. Purpose Michael Bosco: Our purpose at Safehaven is to make a positive impact on the team member and their families by serving and supporting our clients where they work, learn, and live. we're going to make a positive impact in your life. And we, we want to do that by developing you, right? I think some of the best education comes from just the books and the discussions that we have around those books. I mean, the, the investment in a book is so low. I cannot encourage people enough to do that. you don't have to roll off this whole company wide, that might be a little challenging for some operations, but just sitting down with your leadership team and reading winning with accountability [00:22:00] or crucial conversations or multipliers, or one of the many books that we read in peer groups and just read it, you know, three, four, five chapters at a time and sit down and discuss those chapters. it's amazing the growth that comes from that. Tommy Cole: I'm a fan of slowing down, Everyone gets in such a rush of putting out fires. And seriously, if you can slow down for whatever, you know, one hour a week or a couple hours a month and sit down and discuss a book. Now that means Michael Bosco, the president has to read it, right? Not just assign it to your team to go read. You have to take the time to understand it, but break it up in small bite sized chunks. Let's talk about how that applies to our business, our service industry and, and go from there and learn those experiences. At the end of the day, they're going to learn a ton of knowledge and they'll develop better as a, as a core team. Leading ACE Peer Groups Tommy Cole: Love it. Let's, shift gears because I want to talk about something. You've been involved in ACE peer [00:23:00] groups, for a couple of years now, at least, and you've seen a lot, you and I are a facilitator for one group and have been for a while, I, I love our peer group program, but I want to get your perspective a little bit. on, what it means when, you know, someone's sort of thinking about the peer group, right? They're not sure they've heard other groups or they've heard, stories What's your take on that? Michael Bosco: I would go back to when I went with you and Chris to Muncie, Indiana, Tommy Cole: Mr. Josh Perkins, we got to give him a shout out He was a great host yes, take us back to Muncie. Michael Bosco: So, that, second day, Where we do the site visit, and we interview their team, and we come back, and we, we do that critique, and that breakdown, and the start, stop, keep. I, I left that day just thinking, holy crap. That was the most powerful eight hours of business I have ever experienced. And I still to this day, every time we do a site visit and every time we do a critique, it just gives me goosebumps [00:24:00] because the amount of knowledge that's going to be shared in that day is astonishing. the knowledge sharing that came from it was just so amazing, to watch. having that real tight peer group experience like that and that critique and having basically a board of directors that comes in and just shares with you all the things that maybe you need to adjust and the things that you probably need to stop doing is You just got to experience it. I love doing it every single time. it drives me, keeps me passionate about it. Tommy Cole: one of the things that I like about the, the peer group program, is accountability. There's no one above an owner going, this is what needs to be done. And, and that's one of the hardest things you're trying to hold your team accountable, but then there's no one at the top above you doing that. That's where the power of the ACE groups comes in is because it's not just. It's us. It's the power of that room to hold each other accountable. You're like, [00:25:00] Michael, you said this was going to happen. We're now four months down the road and it's not happening. Like what, what is holding you back? That's one of my, you know, favorite things about it because there's no one else above you. What's, what's one for you? Michael Bosco: That's such a good one, because you're right. It doesn't matter what level you are, if you're an Olympic level athlete, you have a coach, You have people that are helping you and holding you accountable. And I love that too. I think that ability to go and share, You cannot vent to your team. It really brings the team down but be able to go to a peer group and get re energized and vent and talk about those struggles so, by being part of a group that understands your challenges. They can hold you accountable when need to, but they can just listen to you and let you vent is huge. you got to draw that energy from somewhere because you can't be in business without dealing with the [00:26:00] issues, people are always going to be your greatest asset. They're your greatest opportunities and the greatest source of frustration. Tommy Cole: we didn't think we signed up for, managing people, but we ultimately did at the end of the day. unless you're that one sole person to do all the work by yourself, which there's not many out there. You have to learn the ability to manage a team, And all owners are going through that. I think at the end of the day, being real and raw and honest and transparent and consistent, You know, humble in your way that you work with people is the most important. The whole soft skills, right? Of just giving people grace and room to grow, coming alongside them, listening to them. Michael Bosco: Celebrating their failures with them. Those are all the components of becoming that leader. somebody early in my career, telling me about one of the struggles, why a lot of small [00:27:00] business owners never grow and his illustrations still sticks with me today. he's like, it's like climbing a ladder. you have to let go of one, rung of the ladder and grab the next one to climb. And if you don't let go of that thing. You're never going to grow and that's one of the biggest struggles with Owners and managers and leaders is they tend to be very competitive, right? to be controlling a lot of times or they want to have excellence at all times And so handing that responsibility off to others and having faith that it's going to get done is tough. if you can do that gracefully in a loving way, supportive way, then you're like 75 percent of the way there, you know, and then if you work in some Ways to make accountability positive. Just like you were talking about earlier. If you can figure out how to make accountability, not a negative word, but a positive [00:28:00] word, then that changes the dynamic. I'll tell you that at the end of the day, it's always people, people, people. Tommy Cole: it's been a pleasure having you I do want to say though, we have the ACE discovery that's coming up in that first full week of November. It's on the front end of the week. Followed by a summit. If you're still thinking about joining, ace peer groups, this is the place to be. We'll be in Banff, Canada. It's going to be gorgeous. It's probably like one of the best places to be seats are filling up. It's getting, getting close. Michael will be there. I will be there. Be sure to, sign up for that. You can sign up on the McFarland Stanford website and click register, and go from there. It's been a pleasure, Michael. Michael Bosco: And, absolute blast, Tommy. I always enjoy working with you. Can't wait to, get up to Canada. We got a lot of great programming and, golly, it's just gonna be gorgeous up there Tommy Cole: It's going to be awesome. Well, it's been a pleasure and we'll see you soon, buddy.