Corporate campus benefits from contractor

Photos Courtesy of Waddell and Reed.

The addition of a pond on the property was one of the major changes made to the landscape at the office park. Trees and plants have alsobeen added over the years to add privacy and enhance the landscaping.

Waddell & Reed (, one of the nation’s first mutual fund companies, moved to its current headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., in 1989, and has been working toward landscaping excellence ever since.

When Waddell & Reed first arrived at the site, formerly the flight attendant training center for now defunct TWA Airlines, it hadn’t been occupied for nearly a decade. The lawns had been mowed with some regularity, but that’s about the extent of the landscape maintenance that had taken place.

From that barren beginning, the company quickly devoted the resources necessary to make its corporate headquarters grounds a source of pride. In fact, Waddell & Reed was recognized in 1991 by the Overland Park Legacy of Greenery Committee with an award for landscaping excellence. Perhaps even more telling, some 17 years later, in 2008, the same group awarded Waddell & Reed Office Park the second Award of Continued Landscape Excellence, an honor “intended to recognize previous award winners that exhibit continued efforts of maintenance, revitalization and enhancement of their landscape.”

Bill Corbett, facilities director for Waddell & Reed, says that the recognition the company received for its grounds can be attributed to years of hard work and, most recently, the contributions of Signature Landscaping (, based in Olathe, Kan., which now contracts the maintenance on the 35-acre corporate office park.

Corbett has been at Waddell & Reed since the time the company came to its current headquarters site, so he’s been involved first-hand in its transformation. “It needed a lot of work when we got here in 1989,” he says of the largely abandoned property. “There was irrigation, but it was from 1968 when the complex had originally been built.”

The 35-acre Waddell & Reed Office Park has been honored twice by the Overland Park Legacy of Greenery Committee for landscape excellence.

In 1990, the largest building of the four on the site was renovated to serve as Waddell & Reed’s main headquarters building. The three other buildings, which served as dormitories for the flight attendants-in-training, were converted to office space, some of which was leased to other companies. New irrigation was added over the years, and a large number of trees were planted to aid in screening the office park from the adjacent neighborhood.

In 1998, a three-story office building was built on the property, and in 2000, a four-story building was added, as well. New landscaping was added to frame these buildings, walking paths were built and an on-site pond was dug out to make it deeper, with stonework added to the bank edges. “We even added a fountain. Kansas City is known as the city of fountains, and we wanted to be sure we contributed at least one,” jokes Corbett. The goal of all the landscaping improvements was both to create a professional image for visiting clients, as well as a peaceful work environment for employees.

Around this time, Waddell & Reed sold the office park and began leasing its space, with the agreement that it would control the landscaping. “We wanted to make sure it was up to our standards, and looked good for our corporate headquarters,” Corbett explained. An owners association was formed within the park and this group, led by Waddell & Reed, takes care of all maintenance outside of the office buildings.

At the start of this arrangement, the maintenance work was outsourced to several different contractors. “We had one landscaping company and a separate mowing company, and that was very problematic because people were constantly pointing fingers at each other about who was responsible for what, or who had done what,” Corbett recalls. “Then we had a third vendor that was taking care of the irrigation. And all this was really causing a bottleneck.”

Today, the grounds at the Waddell & Reed Office Park are maintainedsummer andwinterby Signature Landscaping, based in Olathe, Kan. éIt makes things very easy.I only have one person to go to for anything to do with the grounds,_ explains FacilitiesManager Bill Corbett. éIt’s been a great relationship._
The goal of the many landscapingimprovements made at Waddell & Reedwas to create a professional image forvisiting clients, as well as a peaceful workenvironment for employees.
The office park occupies a high-visibilitylocation on a major roadway, so theappearance of the grounds takes onadded importance.

The challenges of managing these various contractors proved to be a learning experience, says Corbett, who eventually got the landscaping and mowing combined into a single contract, though irrigation was still a separate item. “We would bid it out occasionally and had different companies handle things over the years,” he explains.

The process worked more smoothly than it had in the past, but there were still challenges. For starters, there were performance problems with some of the contractors. “In one case, one of the companies wasn’t doing what the account manager told me they were going to do. In the facilities business, it’s all about consistency. If you tell me you’re going to do something, then do it,” says Corbett. Another landscape company was replaced after it was determined they were charging for more landscaping materials than were actually being delivered. “In an office park like this, we have camera systems, so we can monitor what’s happening,” he says.

There were also frequent problems with the irrigation system. Finally, Corbett brought in a technician from Signature Landscaping to take over maintenance of the irrigation system. “They really helped us out, and said they would like to bid on the entire contract. They did, and we awarded them the contract in 2004,” he says.

Since that time, Corbett has seen tremendous benefits as a facilities director in working with a single lawn/landscape/irrigation contractor, and has high praise for the performance of Signature Landscaping and his account representative, Brian Cox. “I think the most important thing is consistency, and that’s something that we’ve gotten from Signature Landscaping. We work to keep the lines of communication open. If we see a problem, we bring it to them; if they see a problem they bring it to us, and we get the issue resolved,” he says.

Signature doesn’t have a crew on-site every day of the week, but in addition to normal mowing on Monday, it might also send a different crew out on Tuesday to plant flowers or mulch around trees. “They work with us when they put together their schedule. For example, they’re the ones who do the flower planting in the spring, so they know when we need to have the irrigation system up and running,” says Corbett. “They mow on Mondays, so I know when they’ll be here. It’s very hands-off for me. I don’t have to make a lot of phone calls or worry about things. They know what needs to be done, and they do it.”

All of the owners of the buildings in the ownership association pay in to the maintenance on a square-foot basis. “We really have to watch our budget,” says Corbett. “We work with Signature to prioritize different areas of the landscape based on the budget. For example, last year we renovated our main building and completely rebuilt the landscaping out front. So this year, all we need to do in that area is plant flowers. And, we had a wind storm last fall that damaged some trees, so this year we’ll have to replace them. We work with Signature to decide where to concentrate the funds we have available.”

The Waddell & Reed campus occupies a prominent location on Shawnee Mission Parkway, which runs into the main Plaza in Kansas City, adding further to the importance of presenting a polished landscape. “There are many people who see it driving by every day. I hear many comments, especially from some of my peers in facilities business, about how we do a great job with the landscaping here,” says Corbett. “Signature Landscaping works hard to keep things looking good all the time. In fact, I’ve never had one of our executives come to me and say, ‘I have a big event coming up, I want to make sure the grounds really look great.’ They look great all the time.”

Corbett says the 2008 Overland Park landscaping award was particularly gratifying because it was unsolicited. “They had tracked all of the work that we had done and surprised us when they told us we had won,” he says. “When we went to receive the award I asked Brian Cox from Signature to come with me, because they really deserve a lot of the credit for the award.”

Beginning in 2008, Waddell & Reed also awarded Signature Landscaping the snow removal contract at the office park. “So now they really do everything here,” says Corbett. And, again, he has seen benefits from using a single, proven contractor. “For example, when they first started doing the snow removal, they were literally using a squeegee and applying ice melting product out of a 5-gallon bucket strapped over their shoulder rather than using a rotary spreader. We laughed at first, but they explained to us, ‘This lets us know exactly how much we’re putting down, and we don’t want to damage the grass, because we’re the ones who have to take care of it in the summer.’ And, that impressed me a lot,” he says.

There are many lessons for other landscape contractors in the relationship that has developed between Corbett, as facilities director at the office park, and Signature Landscaping, as the maintenance contractor. Most notably, Corbett says that Signature Landscaping’s consistency and attention to detail has made it possible for him to concentrate on the rest of the facilities maintenance.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.