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Sage Advice: Laying the Foundation for Tree Care’s Bright Future

After a 49-year career with Bartlett Tree Experts, Greg Daniels isn’t slowing down

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Bartlett Tree Experts workers volunteer their time and equipment during Saluting Branches 2023. Photo by Richard May

Greg Daniels may’ve retired as Bartlett Tree Experts’ president and chief operating officer in early 2013, but the venerable company wasn’t quite ready to completely let him go.

Greg Daniels. Source: Bartlett Tree Experts

Today, Greg continues to serve as the organization’s head of acquisitions and has shepherded more than 100 purchases. With a 49-year career at Bartlett, Greg is woven into the tapestry of much of the company’s 117-year history. And when he reflects on his experiences, it’s the people he’s worked with who have left the biggest impression.

“Bringing along individuals and seeing their careers grow — people I’ve recruited. To see them grow and prosper in the company is my number one personal feeling,” says Greg. “I can remember when they started as a ground person on a crew and worked their way up.”

Deep roots

Greg started his career in tree care shortly after college. Unhappy with the direction his career was heading, he accepted a job at his father-in-law’s tree care company in 1967. He worked there for eight years before he was recruited by Bartlett in 1975 as a local manager in the company’s Chicago office.

He was soon promoted to division manager and relocated to Connecticut in 1980 to oversee the Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey region. He went on to develop the West Coast market and oversee utility operations in the New England region before that division was sold in 2001. In 1994, Greg was tasked with overseeing the company’s expansion into England and Ireland.

Greg says that managing these acquisitions provided many owner-operators with the relief of a clear exit strategy, especially if they were not passing the business on to family or employees.

“It opens up more of an opportunity to set up a retirement strategy,” he says. “Many have worked 40, 50 years in the business, and they have something of value that can be passed on.”

Bartlett managers and representatives gather for an event in Horse Valley, PA, circa 1981. Source: Bartlett Tree Experts

He also points to growing competition in the acquisitions market.

“There’s been an awful lot of private equity money flowing into tree care companies, and Bartlett has had to compete with that,” says Greg.

Greg became chairman of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) in 2005 and was awarded the Award of Merit in 2011, the organization’s highest honor to recognize those who have had a positive influence on the practice of arboriculture.

“At that point, it was time to let the next generation take over the operational side of the business,” Greg says of his decision to retire. “I’ve just been blessed to see the company grow during that time.”

Safety first

Referring to Bartlett’s motto “Safety Above All Else,” Greg is especially proud of the company’s efforts to prioritize safety and education.

“This is a dangerous business. It only takes a momentary lapse of concentration to get into trouble,” Greg says. “Safety has to be a company’s number one focus. If it isn’t, it never will be addressed properly. It has to be at the forefront of your training, your recruiting, and every day when the teams have their morning meetings.”

Each of Bartlett’s 160 offices staff local safety coordinators, along with regional safety representatives.

“It is one of our biggest departments at Bartlett,” says Greg, adding that the company has developed a “tremendous amount” of training over the past 30 to 40 years. “You have a responsibility to keep your workers safe.”

Greg continues to sit on Bartlett’s board of directors and is a trustee of the Bartlett Tree Foundation, Inc., which has provided financial assistance for select students studying arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, and related disciplines at two- and four-year colleges since 1985.

Greg Daniels, left, with CEO Robert Bartlett Jr., and board member John Signorini. Source: Bartlett Tree Experts

He encourages tree care professionals of any age to get industry credentials and keep them current.

“You have to keep learning,” Greg says. “Arboriculture is always changing. We have new techniques for tree work, new discoveries, changing regulations, equipment.”

This commitment to learning extends to employers as well.

“Being a competent arborist doesn’t mean you’ll have a successful business,” Greg says. “You really have to learn the business of tree care. You have to put as much focus on that as anything.”

Growing with the times

Greg encourages tree care operators to take advantage of the technological tools available to them. This includes using software to keep historical records of tree work, map tree placements, conduct inventories, and manage accounting, sales, and assets.

It also means being able to electronically deliver professional proposals on site that include all the required legal language, so customers know it’s in compliance with state regulations.

“You have to embrace technology,” Greg says. “As much as some people resist, it helps make the business more efficient.”

Part of this move toward technology is driven by a need to meet the expectations of customers who have taken a greater interest in the trees that surround them.

“The consumer is more educated about tree care,” he says. “There’s been a big green movement that has helped people appreciate trees.”

To stay abreast of industry changes and customer demands, Greg urges business owners to get involved with industry associations to ensure their voices can be heard. This participation is also a valuable way to assist those who are just getting started and to learn what other companies are doing.

“Get to know your competitors,” Greg says. “Competition is good, and there’s plenty of room for all of us to exist in this business.”

Above all, he encourages employers to understand their employees, treat them fairly, and conduct regular assessments to ensure consistency across work teams.

“You can’t assume that every experienced person possesses the skills to do the work safely and meet industry standards,” he says, adding, “Recruit good employees — or at least employees with good attitudes.”

Greg acknowledges that the job market has only gotten more competitive over the years, something that can be traced back to the company’s founding in 1907 by Francis A. Bartlett.

“Even then, Dr. Bartlett was talking about the difficulty of getting good help. That is the one constant that has not changed,” he says. “It’s very competitive among tree care companies to vie for the best employees.”

Greg credits improvements in training and education as a big reason for this.

“A number of the colleges and universities are focusing on arboriculture as a curriculum, which brings about some highly qualified entry-level people,” he says. “I do think the tree worker today is a much more qualified person than when I got into the business. I only wish more young people saw this as a career path, as it is very rewarding.”

Greg encourages all business owners to embrace technology in order make their operations more efficient. Source: Bartlett Tree Experts

Final thoughts

As Greg reflects on his long career, he remains optimistic about the future of tree care.

“I’ve seen so much. It’s just mind-boggling how far we’ve come,” he says. “I think the industry is going in a terrific direction, and the future is very bright.”