Leading the Chicago lawn care industry, Bill Leuenberger is determined to continue building industry professionalism.

Photo: Bill Leuenberger

To Bill Leuenberger, soil and turf manager at Chalet Landscape Nursery and Garden Center in Wilmette, Illinois, staying informed is crucial for lawn care businesses today.

“What affects our industry with all the threats to our businesses can be overwhelming,” he explains “It is magnified for those companies that are caught off guard due to a lack of knowledge of the industry.”

And stay informed he does. Leuenberger helped form the Illinois Professional Lawn Care Association (IPLCA) and was the charter president for the 2007-2008 term. He is presently chair of the governmental affairs committee for the IPLCA, and also serves on both the PLANET education committee and the governmental affairs committee, as well as on the Illinois Landscape Contractors education committee.

Here, he talks about his role in forming the IPLCA, his quiet leadership style and his belief that everyone has leadership qualities, but they just need to let them emerge.

Q. How would you describe your style of leadership and why does this work for you?

A. Quiet at times, but effective in getting my point across. I am determined to create an atmosphere of professionalism in our industry. This determination is the reason for the creation of the IPLCA. I also realize the need for many other people to buy-in to what you believe in. With that being said, my style of leadership has worked well to this point.

Q. How do you work at becoming better at leadership?

A. Chalet has a program called “supportive leadership,” and there are seven tenets within this program. The one I have always been strong on is “learn and teach.” Every winter we go through extensive training for our soil and turf department staff, as well as anyone else who might want to sit in on these training aspects.

This winter, I will be presenting a “Training the Trainer” presentation to include everyone in our company. Also being part of the various associations gives you the opportunity to observe many leaders and their styles. This is why I say if you belong to an association and you are not involved, you are missing some of the most important parts of your membership. There are a lot of people willing to help you grow – take advantage of that.

Q. Who are your leadership role models and why?

A. First and foremost is Kevin Marko, our division manager here at Chalet. Over the years I have watched, learned and certainly tried to emulate him in areas that have made me a better leader and person. Also, Larry Thalmann III, Chalet’s owner. He has a very calm demeanor, but at the same time he gets his point across. He believes in us, and that trust I believe has been rewarded. We have been in business since 1917, and we are stronger today than ever.

Q. What leadership book(s) inspire you and why?

A. “Think Big, Act Small” by Jason Jennings, which teaches you the qualities of thinking outside of the box, and separating yourself (or your company) from your competition.

Q. What have you done in a leadership capacity that you are most proud of and why?

A. Forming the IPLCA. It took many years starting as the chapter of the old PLCAA. Working with Harold Enger (of Spring-Green Lawn Care), we eventually got some much needed help from several other owners and managers of lawn care companies in the Chicago area.

Q. If you were to give young leaders one piece of advice, what would that be?

A. Go to all of the industry meetings you can fit into your schedule. Talk to any and all industry professors. Get involved in as many associations that pertain to your profession. Listen and learn as much as you can.

Q. What leadership words or quote inspire you most and why?

A. “What happens if you teach them and they leave; what happens if you don’t teach them and they stay.” That quote has stuck with me for years. As a leader, you have an obligation to not only your employees, but also your industry and your customers. I believe everyone has leadership qualities in some shape or form and all that is needed is a little nudge to bring it out. Trust in yourself and trust in others.

Q. In a leadership capacity, where do you see yourself in five years?

A. Still learning and teaching and giving back to our industry.

Amy K. Hill has been an editor with Turf magazine for the last 10 years. Reach Amy or comment on this article at ahill@mooserivermedia.com.