At a Glance
Integrated landscaping services, including landscape architecture, design-build solutions, water-management issues, and sustainability
The Getty Center and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. A string of Four Seasons hotels from Hawaii to Scottsdale to the Caribbean. The Garden of Flowing Fragrance Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. ValleyCrest Landscape Companies is known for its work on these and other elite, challenging, and luxurious environments.
The integrated landscape-services company has about 150 locations nationwide and 9,000 employees, including horticulturalists, gardeners, arborists, landscape architects, landscapers, and environmentalists. And after the recent, unexpected passing of ValleyCrest founder and chairman Burton S. Sperber, who founded the company in 1949 at the age of 19, the company leadership took a moment to articulate the values that power the company.
The Calabasas, California-based firm, comprising seven business units for commercial and residential customers across the globe, is on Forbes Magazine’s list of America’s 500 Largest Private Companies, and it’s ranked as the 54th largest general-contracting firm on Engineering News-Record’s 2011 list of Top 400 Contractors. “Architects, developers, commercial real estate owners, public agencies, property managers, and luxury-home builders commission ValleyCrest to help create, build, or maintain some of the world’s most extraordinary natural environments,” ValleyCrest corporate counsel Tomas A. Kuehn says.
Earlier in the company’s history, Burton continued to prefer the unpretentious title “head gardener,” even as ValleyCrest grew into an international firm serving museums, concert halls, world-famous botanical centers, and luxury hotels in diverse climates. Annual revenues grew to $835 million. Unchanged by age or success, Sperber continued to head to the office every day at the age of 82. “He was counted on by titans in business and real estate to bring their projects to life,” Kuehn says.
Richard A. Sperber, Burton’s son, who joined his father as co-CEO in 2008, has now taken the helm as president and CEO. “Nothing made [my father] happier than watching everyone at ValleyCrest grow,” he says. “He always encouraged us to do the right thing and was an amazing family man. I’m taking on the personal responsibility to carry on his legacy and the values he instilled in me as I lead the company forward.”
Key to the firm’s continued success is its legal department, which is “small and lean,” according to Kuehn, who teams with John Tuell to form the core of ValleyCrest’s in-house counsel. “Our goal in the legal department at ValleyCrest is to protect the 62-plus-year legacy and reputation of the company,” Kuehn says. “We are focused on the next 60 years to ensure ValleyCrest remains one of the most respected landscape contractors in the world.”
The international sweep of company operations calls for precise and constant legal acumen. “The legal department at ValleyCrest is also involved in multijurisdictional and global matters that require vast expertise and legal knowledge beyond what a typical attorney may encounter,” Kuehn says.
And in those global operating sectors, ValleyCrest sees tight-margin markets. “ValleyCrest is staying focused on the business imperatives: operate as lean as we can; maintain a challenging, forward-looking environment for our people; continue to implement industry-leading productivity tools; and sustain high levels of customer satisfaction,” Kuehn says.
Projects designed for flexibility and sustainability are in demand, according to Kuehn. “Clients today are focused on how to get the most landscape for their dollars,” he says. “They’re using design-build to deliver a smarter development that considers the entire project lifecycle, starting from the design phase. They are looking at design-build as a solution to improve the development quality and process, not just for faster start-to-finish times.”
Serving the client’s needs means taking a long view that satisfies not just the immediate client or owner but also the end-user or -occupant. “Obviously, customer service remains a top priority today, though we believe that exceeding customers’ expectations is a given no matter the state of the economy,” Kuehn says. “But these days it goes beyond that basic foundation of listening to the client. We are closely tracking and listening to what end-users—or the occupiers of our clients’ properties—demand. It puts us in a position to offer owners and investors ideas that ultimately put their properties [at] a competitive advantage.” ABQ