The tree care industry, as with most industries, encompasses two basic types of participants with diverging mindsets. There are the production workers – those who get the jobs done – and the management workers, who line up the job and run the business. Diametrically opposed personalities perhaps, though engaged in a symbiotic relationship. In the tree care industry, we have the tree people and the businesspeople.
For some of us, from the outset of our careers, it’s rather apparent which area of activity we will gravitate to. For some it is not. Such was the case with one tree worker, Matt Ruckley.
My brother and I learned the trade from our father. We weren’t the only ones. Back in the day, Matt Ruckley was a young, parochial-middle-school Spanish teacher. He did tree work to supplement his income. During summer break, he would come to our father to rent chain saws, and would be full of questions about the ins and outs of tree work.
Our father decided to mentor Matt and would go out to jobs with him to teach him the ropes. My father would chuckle when he reminisced about those days.
“When Matt was up in a tree, you didn’t want to be standing under it,” our father would say. “You didn’t know what would be dropped on you. Sometimes it was part of the tree. Sometimes it was a tool. And sometimes it was Matt. We all let out a sigh of relief when Matt figured out that his skills were best suited to the office.”
Finding his place in the office, Matt eventually left teaching behind and built one of the most respected tree care outfits in our neck of the woods.
My father was a tree person, and so am I. He, being an independent-minded freelancer, of necessity dealt with the business side of things. That is, until one night when he decided he’d had enough of that and tossed it into my lap.
Though as a climber it was not my first love, I dealt with all the phone calls and the estimates. Most, if not all of us, start our tree careers in the field, or at least we should. How else can those destined for the office gain an understanding and appreciation of what goes on up there and what it takes to get the job done? That experience is essential when it comes to estimating jobs.
Some search their souls to find their career path – field or office. For others, it becomes a transition from field to office or office to field. For some, it’s a conscious transition. And for others, it’s such a natural progression that they hardly know what’s happening. Take my nephews, for example, starting out as tree people and taking on employees as their business grew. Then one day, they realized they’d become businesspeople. They could have gone either way, but their path ultimately led them to the office.
Others starting out in the field think they would prefer life in the office, only to find that’s not really their cup of tea. I had a call a number of years ago from an arborist looking for work. Having started in the field, he said he’d then tried the office route, only to realize that for him, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence. He found he didn’t care for all the office hassles he hadn’t been aware of. The tree hassles were more to his liking. He was going back to the field.
The talents and skills required for production versus logistics operate in two distinct complementary arenas. We need and value both types of mutually respecting participants in the tree care industry. For some, the path is obvious from the outset; for others, it may take some time to decide which hat to wear, or to realize which hat they’re wearing. Sooner or later, most find the niche they’re destined for.
Michael Hoppe is owner/operator of Michael Hoppe Arborist, a two-person operation based in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.