The Brickman Group is the largest company in the landscape services industry. Its $2 billion annual revenues double the size of the next largest landscape or lawn care company. Even with sales of $2 billion it hardly compares to the $28-plus billion that McDonald’s will rake in this year. While the two leaders of their respective industries might seem wildly dissimilar at first glance, they’re really two sides of the same coin.

Both companies started approximately the same time: McDonald’s in 1940 in San Bernadino, California, and Brickman in 1939 in Chicago. Both brands are immediately recognizable, the Golden Arches and, at least in the landscape trade, Brickman’s distinctive brown trucks.

But the similarity goes deeper than longevity or brand identity. The similarity is rooted in their DNA,specifically their systems. You can’t produce and sell billions of Big Macs or, in Brickman’s case, maintain thousands of commercial properties efficiently without precisely defined and carefully monitored systems.

I got a reminder of how important systems are during a recent visit to my local McDonald’s.

While munching on a Quarter Pounder (Yes, I know I shouldn’t) I listened as a McDonald’s manager in the adjoining booth shared the company’s rules and regulations with an attractive blonde lady of perhaps 20. The manager carefully explained each point in the company’s employment manual. After reviewing each of the manual’s sections, the manager sought and received feedback from the new employee. Although somewhat guilty for eavesdropping, I was impressed with how thoroughly the manager shared the important information with the young new hire.

The company’s indoctrination process is just one of many systems that McDonald’s relies upon to remain efficient and relevent in the crowded fast food universe.

Winging it or with systems?

There are two ways to run a business – with systems and without systems. I’m convinced  the only way to grow a business and maximize its value  (growth, sales, profits and, ultimately, to sell to someone else) is by adopting and following systems.

Owners systemize their businesses one of three ways. Some do it by trial and error. Oher owners systemize by "borrowing" other companies’ systems. The third way to acquire systems is to hook up with a franchise group.

The positive power of systems is all around us to see – The Grounds Guys, Weed Man, Spring Green and, of course, The Brickman Group, which brings us back to its connection with McDonalds.

Brickman got into the maintenance business more than 30 years ago when it designed and developed the McDonald’s Corporate Campus in Oak Brook, Illinois. McDonald’s management insisted that Brickman also maintain the 80-acre property "forever". That demand led Brickman, previously mostly offering design/build/install services, to begin recognizing the opportunity that commercial maintenance afforded it.  

However, it wasn’t until Brickman adopted a systems approach similar to McDonald’s did it grow into the biggest provider of those services in the United States.