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My landscape company paid for my MBA. Want to know why?

Like many landscape companies, my company was always striving to improve. Our business was well-run and every single person in our company was a true professional. The work we did was meaningful and extremely satisfying.  

My landscape company was part of a larger organization that provided many different services for commercial property management firms in our area. We worked with outside consultants, attended a myriad of educational events, and invested heavily in professional development. However, as our business grew it became apparent that we needed to bring in higher level talent.

During one of our conversations on the topic of talent, I made a bold statement that we either needed to hire people that were smarter than we were, or we needed to become smarter ourselves. This statement was motivated by a realization that getting to the next level in our business would require knowledge and experience that we may not already have had. We wanted to be successful and we were willing to do whatever it took, but as we grew, the stakes were getting larger and we were very aware of our limitations. 

Education has always been important to my family. When I was a youngster, my mom was working her way through college and would often bring me and my siblings to class with her. She eventually completed her undergraduate degree and went on to earn a master’s degree as well. All of my siblings have graduated from college and most of them have earned master’s degrees in their chosen fields – business, education, physics, and electrical engineering. I have always loved education and will never stop learning.

At my company, I told my business partners that I would be willing to go back to school on behalf of the company. They looked at me like I was crazy, but said that if I was willing to go back to school, the company would pay for it.

I did some research and found the perfect program – an accelerated Executive MBA program through my alma mater, Michigan State University. The program was 19 months long with classes on most Fridays and Saturdays. My two children were in high school during this time and were very busy with their own things. Even so, I made sure to protect some quality family time.

Going through the MBA program was a great experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. The value that I brought to the company was well beyond the cost of the program. Throughout the program, I started implementing changes in our business based on practical concepts that I was learning in the classroom. Because the program was designed for working professionals, application of course material was expected.

Our company grew dramatically while I was in the MBA program and afterward. Even after graduating, we were still experiencing benefits. At one point, we were evaluating our strategic options and had the opportunity for one of my business professors to spend the day with us as part of a research project he was working on. His insights were amazing.

The cost of the Executive MBA program was paid for completely by my company. Following best practices, I agreed to pay back a prorated portion if I left the company within three years from graduation. There was absolutely no hesitation for me to sign this agreement since I had no plans to ever leave the company.

All in all, it was a huge win. My career benefited greatly and so did my company. We are both much better off because of the huge return on investment.

More and more, landscape companies are making significant investments in education and professional development. Forward-thinking landscape companies are willing to invest in talent and understand that there is a significant return in these investments. Will your landscape company pay for your education? Ask them! They just may do so.

Phil Harwood is a managing partner at GrowTheBench, an online resource for high-quality, affordable, and industry-focused workforce development solutions for contractors, suppliers, and those affiliated with the professional landscape and snow management industry.

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By Phil Harwood, managing partner at GrowTheBench

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