Maria Candler, president of James River Grounds Management, one of the largest landscape operations in the South, says she never actually set out to be part of the green industry. Candler had earned a degree in recreation, parks and tourism with an emphasis in destination marketing, and while she was still trying to figure out exactly what her life plan would entail, took a job with (what was then) a small, 12-employee landscape firm in Glen Allen, Virginia. Twenty-three years later, Candler is still with that same (though not-so-small) firm — now serving as president and overseeing approximately 400 employees.
One of the things Candler has enjoyed most over the years, as she helped grow the company, was “setting things in order.” She says she has learned that she’s a “fixer” and the company’s lack of processes in the early days gave her an opportunity to build something great. Now that she’s in her 40s, Candler says she’s learned a lot about what makes her tick as both a person and a business owner.
I love this industry. My peers all seem to have a genuine love of the earth, a solid work ethic and gratitude as their driving principle. Every day we get the chance to leave things better than we found them, and that’s something that keeps me going.
I’m a recovering workaholic. My focus on continuous improvement has helped my business stay on a growth model, but it’s also been exhausting to myself and to those around me. I’ve really been focused on trying to rein that in and have more time for fun.
What feeds my soul more than anything is getting “lost” in a foreign city. I have always loved to travel but rarely made it a priority. I’m changing that. I just got back from two weeks of being lost in Italy with my husband and kids and it was exactly what we all needed.
Kayaking is the best practice for calming my overactive brain. The act of just floating on the water and relinquishing control has been transformative for me. I try to get in the water every chance I get, and I’m amazed at the beauty you find all around when you stop paddling like a maniac and just float. That’s been a huge analogy for my life.
I have two main driving principles in life and in work — “Be grateful” and “Be authentic.” I realized many years ago that our best, most successful employees had those attributes in common and that these are the folks I really want to have on our team. A real turning point came when an industry friend, Scott Jamieson, vice president of Bartlett Tree Experts in Chicago, shared a personal growth tool he had been using in his business called the Enneagram (a model of the human personality that assumes there are nine interconnected “personality types”). Understanding personality has been a game changer.
I love that our company doesn’t just mow the lawn. We have the capacity to positively impact peoples’ lives and their relationships with others. That’s become our real mission — not just getting the grass cut.