The Women in Tree Care pre-conference workshop at TCI EXPO ’22 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November offered a full day of education, breakout sessions and networking. The annual symposium is an important event for many in the tree care industry, as it works to provide targeted and relevant information to attendees who are interested in improving personally and professionally.
Through the generosity of the event sponsors – Bartlett Tree Experts, The Davey Tree Expert Company and Rainbow Ecoscience – two attendees received merit scholarships to be used toward attendance and travel expenses for the event. The 2022 Women in Tree Care Scholarship recipients were Chandra Brown of CM Tree Service in Billings, Montana, and Mandy Hall of Top Tier Trees in Marietta, Georgia.
In their scholarship applications, both Brown and Hall spoke of their interest in gaining more insight from the workshop and their desire to stay connected with the Women in Tree Care network after the event in an effort to share knowledge, experiences and everyday challenges, as well as to offer solutions.
Here is a look at the two winners and their pathways thus far in tree care.
As president at Top Tier Trees, a five-year TCIA member company, Hall is responsible for managing the managers at the company. She does so through weekly meetings to discuss all aspects of the business, inclusive of general operations, financials, sales, business development and marketing.
“Setting the cultural tone, big-picture direction and achievable yet measurable goals is something I’m doing in every meeting and conversation throughout my work week,” Hall says. One reason she was interested in attending the workshop was that “getting a glimpse into how others are leading their businesses, in any aspect of the business, might lend some perspective on how we might achieve our goals.” Collaborating with others and gaining new perspectives are central to the Women in Tree Care initiative.
Hall shared that the workshop was, “one of the most fulfilling days of EXPO for me. Not only did I connect with other influential women in the industry who will likely be lifelong friends, I also gained so much perspective on the global issues we all face and champion in our respective markets. This group will be a tight-knit group of women who lean on one another and cheer for one another for years to come, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Making lasting connections is an aspect of the Women in Tree Care pre-conference workshop that contributes to the personal and professional development of attendees.
How or why did you get into tree care?
“Before we founded Top Tier Trees, my husband, David, had a background in arboriculture, and I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit since business school,” says Hall. “We saw an opportunity in the Atlanta market to ‘do it better’ in regard to compliance, safety, customer service and company culture.
“Once Top Tier Trees was off the ground, we added Top Tier Green Waste and Top Tier Stump Grinding, all under the parent company, T2 Group. Our vision is for T2 Group to be a leader in Atlanta’s arboricultural industry by setting ourselves apart as employee-centric, safe, compliant and vertically integrated.”
What did you do before working at your current company/job?
“Leading up to forming our business, I worked in restaurant event sales, business administration, management and advertising. A bit of a variety, but really, it all prepared me for the many hats I’d wear when we started Top Tier Trees.”
I see on your website that you met David, your husband, in business school. Where was that?
“Georgia State University.”
How did the company get started, i.e., right out of school, or did you each have other jobs first?
“David started in the industry for another company right out of business school, while I diversified my experience in business. We spent about five years after business school preparing for the launch of Top Tier Trees.”
Do you get out in the field at all?
“I spent quite a bit of time out in the field for the first two to three years of the business,” Hall says. “I’ve learned a great deal about arboriculture from David and seeing hundreds of trees and their needs – not to mention actually being an extra set of hands on a crew. As a woman in the industry, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty every now and then. My time on site now is more to meet with customers and show our crews appreciation for their hard work. But never without my PPE, of course!”
Any plans for a next step, or do you have an eye on any goal for yourself or your company?
“As our company has grown, it has given me an unmatched opportunity to grow as a leader. I’ve been focused on effective communication, leadership, mentorship and growing the capabilities of our team. That is the real opportunity owning a business has given me – pouring into a team of people to build us up together.
“As for T2 Group, our parent organization, we have short-term plans for launching another vertically integrated business under the T2 Group umbrella that will help us gain efficiencies and grow us closer to our ultimate goals.”
You mentioned that the workshop helped you gain “perspective on the global issues we all face and champion in our respective markets.” Any part of those issues specific to your market that you are hoping to take on?
“We often refer to the tree care market in Atlanta as the ‘wild west.’ Regulation is limited, and therefore, business competition is at an all-time high,” notes Hall. “As a leader in our market and a partner to many others in the industry, we take every opportunity to guide and coach on ethical and best business practices. We get calls on a weekly basis from other business owners, operators, etc., with questions on the best way to handle a personnel issue, safety concern or operational question. I was fortunate enough to form a couple of relationships at TCI EXPO this past November that have allowed me to do the same. Sharing our experiences and insights with others only helps elevate the industry, which is the ultimate goal.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“I had one more thought in the vein of women in tree care,” Hall concludes. “One of our long-time employees, Erin McAfee, started with Top Tier as our administrative assistant and eventually progressed through the company, got her ISA arborist certification and TRAQ credential and is one of our most successful sales arborists for our extremely high-production company. I’m extremely proud of her and her ambition. Might be a nice shout-out to include!”
Chandra Brown is office manager at CM Tree Service & Removal LLC, a first-year TCIA member company based in Billings, Montana.
Born and raised in Montana, she served four years in the Air Force after high school as a hydraulics mechanic. She eventually moved back to Billings, where she met her husband, Braxton, and had their two children, Dani and JJ.
The Women in Tree Care workshop attracts a variety of attendees for different reasons, whether they work in the field or in the office. One reason the symposium is beneficial for attendees is professional development.
“The Women in Tree Care pre-conference experience came at the perfect time for me in my career,” says Brown. “It is easy to feel like an outsider in this industry, and impostor syndrome is a real thing we have to work through. Hearing from so many women who have been a part of the industry for years helps give me confidence to learn more and continue to pursue advancement. The breakout sessions were gold. To talk about issues and hear from others on how they overcome and work through them was extremely valuable.”
As office manager, Brown works to help bring efficiency and organization to the business. Since joining the CM Tree Service team in June 2021, Brown has accomplished much in her role. She has implemented accounting policies and systems and scheduling procedures, established an estimating schedule and implemented a Human Resources department.
Brown says she attended the Women in Tree Care workshop so she could contribute back to the company and demonstrate that she is in a unique position on the team as she strives to help make their work as successful as possible.
What did you do before working at your current company/job, i.e., anything between the Air Force and CM Tree Service?
“My primary career for 15 years was finance, in all areas including insurance, banking, lending, mortgage processing and retirement planning,” says Brown. “I enjoyed all aspects of that world and learned a ton. After my husband and I had our daughter, we started our own custom automotive painting business. I left the 9 to 5 and primarily freelanced from home for a large national insurance company and helped my husband with his books for the shop. I did that for about five years, until our second child was old enough for preschool.”
How or why did you get into tree care?
“When I was ready to get back into the workforce, I went through a hiring agency and gave her my education and abilities. She asked me what my ‘dream job’ was. I told her I wanted a boss who told me what they needed me to do and then trusted me to get it done. I wanted to work from home and have the ability to help at my kids’ school from time to time. She laughed at me and said, ‘You know that doesn’t exist, right?’ To which I responded, ‘You did say dream job.’
“A week later she called me with an administrative-assistant position for CM,” Brown continues. “She knew the owner needed far more than an administrative assistant and thought I would be a perfect fit. I interviewed and was hired, and I have loved every single day since. Funny story, Mike (Nezworski, company owner) and his team actually had pruned the trees at our house the year before.”
When you started at CM Tree, did you come in as office manager?
“I started June of 2021, right at the beginning of season, so it was baptism by fire, which was a perfect fit for my personality! When I was hired, it was as an administrative assistant, and my (current) position within the company didn’t really exist. We created it as we went,” notes Brown. “My first responsibility was to create a process for invoicing. At that time, it was through Word docs. Then we moved on to
estimating- and production-schedule efficiency. From there, it just grew and grew and grew. And hasn’t stopped.
“I now have the opportunity to be second in the company as business-operations manager and oversee all administrative, customer-service, marketing, social-media, HR and community-giving activities.
“I have put into place our current estimating and production software and rebuilt our website, and this month I am getting ready to launch our state-sponsored apprenticeship program. It is the first of its kind in Montana, and we are very excited to get that rolling!” (CM Tree is utilizing TCIA’s Arborist Apprenticeship training curriculum for its apprenticeship program.)
Do you get out in the field at all?
“Occasionally I will help drag brush, but mostly when I am in the field, I am taking pictures and video for social media and the website or bringing lunch to the crew.”
You mentioned that, at the workshop, you got to talk “about issues, and hearing from others on how they overcome and work through them was extremely valuable.” Were there any of those issues that particularly hit home for you?
“I really enjoyed the roundtable discussions we had in the afternoon of the symposium,” says Brown. “There were several young women there who were getting ready to start families and were concerned with time management and business responsibilities, along with the new job of parenting. It was very fulfilling to pour into those situations and pass on some of the great advice I was given in that season of life that helped our family. The expectation of being all the things in the company as well as all the things at home is heavy, so it was great to discuss some of those pressures and give some relief to the worry.
“I also really enjoyed hearing from women who were further along in their careers and business growth than I am. Learning what has worked for them has been beneficial even after the EXPO. Mandy (Hall), the other scholarship winner, and I have stayed in touch, and she has shared advice with me on other issues that have come up regarding software and employee management.”
Any plans for a next step? Do you have an eye on any goal for yourself or your company?
“The apprenticeship launch is huge,” Brown notes. “That will completely change the face of our company and the lasting impacts we will have on the community as a whole. Along with that, the focus will be putting into place a written safety and training program for our employees. CM has been blessed with experienced people joining the team, but we realize we need systems that create consistency throughout the organization.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“I am super grateful for TCIA and all the work it puts into growing our industry. We knew we needed training, safety, apprenticeship – but it was daunting, and each area would have been a huge project for one person to take on. TCI EXPO was in November, and we are already well on our way to having all these things implemented before the end of 2023, with TCIA’s help.
“Being a smaller company, and with me being the only one in the office, it has been a blessing to have these kinds of resources available. Thank you for all you do for us to support us in the field. It really makes a difference.”
As we look forward to continuing the success and momentum of the Women in Tree Care initiative, please contact Erin Demers, TCIA’s manager of workforce recruitment & retention, via email@example.com, for more information on upcoming events and how to get or stay involved.