Steve Pearce knew Amy Bateman was going to be a success at Sebert over a decade ago.
Pearce, the company’s chief operating officer, met Bateman when she was pretty fresh out of college. For her part, Bateman grew up on a farm constantly surrounded by horticulture, so her passion for the industry came naturally.
“She's passionate about the industry. She's passionate about the people that work in it,” Pearce says. “That’s probably what has struck me so much with her from the very beginning. She's very committed to her clients. She's committed to the employees around her.”
That passion for the industry works in Sebert’s benefit: The company ranked No. 50 on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list with an annual revenue of $57,458,000. Ironically though, Bateman almost never found her way back into the green industry at all.
“I fought it for a very long time,” Bateman says, adding that while growing up on the family farm, her father really pushed agriculture.
Bateman resisted: Where she grew a fondness for a field like architecture, she also grew to dislike corn and soybeans. But after starting out in an architecture program in school, Bateman changed her mind entirely — maybe she didn’t hate the outdoors as much as she thought she did.
Almost 15 years later, and things are changing at Sebert, which has developed a seasonal color program, a new account manager onboarding process, and an irrigation division. What has remained a constant is Bateman’s ability to collaborate, particularly on the seasonal program that she developed.
“That’s probably one of the best things about Sebert,” Bateman says. “We’re all here to make everything that we do better, easier. Sometimes situations are not easy, and they're complicated, but everyone is here to help.”
Dealing with difficultiesOf course, that’s not to suggest that Bateman and the Sebert team relish adversity. Pearce says Bateman initially struggled with managing tough, complicated matters at the company, but as she has grown into new roles, she has also developed a stronger sense of leadership amidst adversity.
“She's not afraid of it,” he says. “(I’ve enjoyed) watching her really take on the challenges of adversity, problem-solving, getting into the get into the hard things that, you know, you don't want to deal with. She doesn't like it (adversity), but she’s not afraid of it.”
Bateman says one obstacle is dealing with a challenging labor market. She says it’s not always about finding the most experienced candidates; sometimes, it’s a matter of lining up their company’s goals with the passions of each prospect.
For Sebert, Bateman says it’s been about finding the people who are most engaged in sustainability and passionate about the environment. This includes finding candidates who are interested in trying different types of mowers or fuels that are more eco-friendly.
“One of the big things is being sustainable and being as disruptive as we are, as an industry, how we can take the initiatives as simple as, you know, recycling or using safer chemicals,” Bateman says. “So it's finding individuals that are excited about those opportunities, and really honing in on their skill set and developing them from there.”
She adds that a lot of their employees tend to stick around for a while, which means their roles are shifting constantly. Bateman develops that feeling of consistent teamwork despite evolving responsibilities by hosting open table discussions during her weekly branch meetings, asking questions like “how can we be better?” and “what can we do differently?”
“How can we challenge ourselves in maybe think outside of the box and ways that we might not be doing things?” Bateman says.
Blossoming flower programOne of those big areas for thinking outside the box has been Sebert’s revised flower program. Pearce says Bateman cultivated Sebert’s flower program and, through her ability to bring together a team, has helped get employee buy-in across the board.
“Sometimes they need a little nudging,” Pearce says.
That nudging started when Bateman saw a need for a focused flower program several years ago, when she was just an account manager.
“We were using a lot of material that wasn’t appropriate for the right conditions, or larger plants in front of smaller ones,” she says. “Because annuals are one of the most expensive things a client can spend their money on, I really wanted to focus on how we could showcase these colorful plants that would make us shine.”
Bateman says she worked with managers to teach them about different habits that helped them adopt the program. This training ranged anywhere from having them focus on seasonal trends to watching the pantone colors for inspiration.
“In years prior, we would bulk order the material and then sell it based on our orders,” Bateman says. “Now, we work closely with our growers and are preparing for the upcoming season a year in advance — working on availabilities, plant palettes and securing our material ahead of time.”
Sebert now builds an order form based on the product they want to sell, which helps them avoid leftover product after purchasing. Bateman says their team also custom grows their container plants in what they call smart pots, which helps them avoid re-handling the plants multiple times. The crews can load straight from the carts from their growers, which helps clients get their plants sooner.
“Since Sebert as a company has a focus on sustainability, I do try to encourage using perennials mixed in with annual plantings for cost savings, environmental factors and different textures,” Bateman says.
Becoming the boss
Through her successful implementation of the flower program, Bateman started rising through the ranks at Sebert. She says that transitioning from an account manager level to a supervisor meant that she had to understand what her employees were dealing with on a day-in, day-out basis.
“I really had to get my hands dirty to find out what they needed, what their daily focus was,” Bateman says. “I had to get my hands dirty to earn their trust and respect, let them know that I’m here to do whatever we can to have our team as a whole be successful.”
It would’ve been really easy to be intimidated. Bateman took over the Bartlett branch while the incumbent was still there, and the company’s corporate office is located at this branch. But Pearce says she was able to turn a challenging situation into buy-in from her employees.
“Being with a whole new set of people and gaining the respect of that group of people was a huge challenge for her at the beginning, but she showed her ways and put the teamwork side in front of what was going to happen,” he says. “The organization that she’s built is a strong team through that process of her jumping in.”
Pearce says that Bateman is suited to continue to handle all the various evolutions at the business because of these relationships. “Relationships are key, and I think that’s always a challenge as we grow and get new employees and have them understand what the standards are of how we built this company," he says.
“Ultimately, this is about Amy’s passion. There's just a lot of passion about what she does, and it shows every day.”
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