What does it take to be a leader? Well … we asked some snow pros that very question during SIMA’s “Snow Talk with Mr. Freeze” podcast. We found that this age-old question had many answers and discovered the road to leadership is a destination traveled from different routes. However, the common thread was rooted in education.
Pet care to snow care
SIMA founding member Jeff Tovar’s route to leadership started as a student at Colorado State University while moonlighting as a landscaper.
“Thirty years ago, I was mowing lawns in the summertime and going to college to become a veterinarian,” said Tovar, CSP, who is a former SIMA board chair.
During one of his semesters, a professor that knew about his 300-lawn workload took Tovar aside and suggested a path in business. “He said, ‘You talk more about owning a bunch of veterinarian clinics than you do about being a veterinarian,’ ” Tovar recalls.
With the advice and guidance from his professors, Tovar created a business plan for a landscape company that paved the way for Tovar to become an influential player in the snow and ice industry. He recently sold Tover Snow Professionals — the company he founded with that business plan — to Aero Snow, where he and the management team will continue to play a leading role.
Psychology is good business
Jonathan Crandall, CSP, owner of JC Grounds in Danvers, MA, attended college as a promise to his mother who was a public school teacher. As he pursued an education in business, Crandall found other topics that enhanced his entrepreneurial drive.
“I did sign up for business (in college), but I wasn’t very good at the math required for the business track. At the time, they didn’t have an entrepreneurial track,” he says, noting that his interests led him to study political science and criminal justice before settling on psychology.
“I decided to get a minor in psych, which was really helpful in business. That is what you’re really dealing with: building teams, building relationships with clients and vendors, dealing with the different personalities and being self aware of how I show up to all those different personalities,” he says. “At the end of the day, you are trying to get the most out of everybody … how do we win all together.”
A winding road
Growing up in rural Waterville, NY, Phill Sexton, CSP, founder and CEO of WIT Advisers, started plowing snow in 1988 but didn’t initially see himself as a future snow and ice professional.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a contractor,” he says. “I studied criminal justice in school and I was about to join the police academy.” Much to the dismay of his parents, Sexton dashed a career as a policeman to study as much as he could about horticulture. To support himself through a semester, he worked at a dairy farm.
“I’d never stop going to school for some reason,” he says. “I was the only student milking cows during a semester. I just love the outdoors and rural area, and working with your hands. I always wanted to be a farmer. I guess I’m still trying to be one.”
In the area, milking was the big business. Unfortunately, dairy farmers were struggling to make a living, which helped Sexton choose the path of landscaping and snow and ice removal.
“It was something in my roots that told me that I wanted to do something close to that as possible,” he says. “That’s where I kept falling into this landscaping career. I love my friend (and fellow SIMA member) Mike Mason’s terming … He describes us as ‘urban farmers.’ ”
Listen to stories from these leaders and others in the “Snow Talk with Mr. Freeze” podcast at https://www.sima.org/snow-business/podcast.