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Mini-cast 132: Jennifer Lennox of Davey Tree Experts

Bret Keisling is joined by twenty year employee owner Jennifer Lennox, who shares her EO A-ha Moment and why The Davey Tree Expert Company is a tree-mendous company to work for.


Mini-cast 132 Transcript

Bret Keisling: 00:06 Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling, and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Today, I'm joined by Jennifer Lennox, who is a great employee owner at Davey Tree Experts Company. On Episode 147 of our primary EO/ESOP Podcast, we featured a conversation with Sandra Reid of Davey Tree and she, in that episode, talked about Davey's origin story, told us a lot about the company.

Bret Keisling: 00:37 Today, we're going to focus on Jennifer's experiences as an employee owner and I'll give you a heads up something she shared caused me to have my most emotional reaction during any podcast in the [280] episodes I've recorded.

Bret Keisling: 00:51 But first, just want to tell you really quick, an ever-growing number of us are growing an EO ecosystem on the new app Clubhouse. It's an audio drop-in chat app. You can go into any number of rooms on any number of topics talk, listen, interact. It's absolutely a wonderful, great experience. I've met some really great new people. I hope you'll consider downloading the Clubhouse app. It's currently iPhone only, although it will switch to Android in May of 2021. And I really think we're going to do a great job of growing the EO ecosystem over on Clubhouse. I hope you'll join us.

Bret Keisling: 01:31 With that, we'll begin our conversation.


Bret Keisling: 01:34 As regular listeners know, nothing makes me happier on the podcast than talking to actual employee owners. And I have a wonderful one with me here today, Jennifer Lennox of Davey Tree Service. How are you?

Jennifer Lennox: 01:48 I'm well, Bret, thank you so much for the invitation.

Bret Keisling: 01:51 Thank you for coming on the podcast. And first and foremost, Jennifer, in the last month or two, you celebrated 20 years with Davey Tree Service. Congratulations! That's really cool.

Jennifer Lennox: 02:01 Thank you. It's been a fun ride and I've enjoyed every second of it.

Bret Keisling: 02:06 So I'm assuming you're through the probationary period, it looks like things are going to work out?

Jennifer Lennox: 02:12 [Laughter.] Yeah, I think, I think they're keeping me for a little bit. [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 02:15 Excellent. And you want to stay?

Jennifer Lennox: 02:17 Yes, I do. I do, very much.

Bret Keisling: 02:19 And, Jennifer, that's actually why you're here because, because you want to stay. As you know, everybody who comes on the podcast is sharing their EO A-ha Moment, that moment where they learned that employee ownership wasn't just a thing, but it was a truly special thing. And I'm curious as a 20 year veteran of employee ownership, have you had an A-ha Moment?

Jennifer Lennox: 02:39 I sure have.

Bret Keisling: 02:40 Please tell us about it.

Jennifer Lennox: 02:41 All right. So this was a long time ago, so this was probably when I was in my twenties, and I was in the CEO's office to drop off the quarterly report with him. And I put it on his desk and started to walk away and he said, so what'd you think? And I said, you know, what typographically it looks fine. I didn't see any grammatical errors. Looks good. And he said, no, what did you think?

Jennifer Lennox: 03:05 And it was a moment where I thought for a second, I had to take a beat and think about, he's really asking me -- me -- my opinion. And you know, I'm a 20 something person. He's got a lot of experience on me, but he wanted to know what I thought of this company and what I was thinking of his description on the quarterly report to the shareholders.

Jennifer Lennox: 03:30 So that was, it was a watershed moment for me because it was the first time I realized the respect at Davey that goes both ways and that people really wanted to know kind of what I thought. And I could see kind of the path for myself at Davey. And I ended up leaving the company a few years later. I moved my family overseas. So I couldn't commute at that time. [Laughter] We didn't have Zoom.

Bret Keisling: 03:53 [Laughter.]

Jennifer Lennox: 03:53 And that same CEO called me on my last day of work and wished me well and congratulated me on my time at Davey. And it was just such a nice connection through all my time at Davey that these incredibly, these people that I held an incredible respect also showed me some respect and valued my opinion. And that I think is what employee ownership is. This sense that we're all in this together. We're all working towards the same goals.

Bret Keisling: 04:23 Jennifer, let me ask you a couple of follow-up questions and this is so cool. And this is for the employee owners who are listening to this podcast. We get a lot of advocates and practitioners, but I really want to talk, or I really want the employee owners to hear me. You're the marketing director at Davey, as we said and you indicated that when the president handed you the quarterly report, you were dropping it off, your feedback was as the marketing director, the and you did say this, but you were talking about fonts and typos and you were just doing your job, but that was the moment you found out. He was asking you as an owner. I mean, it was the value of your employee, but that was the first moment where you realized the CEO cares about me as an owner. Is that a fair way to state it?

Jennifer Lennox: 05:09 Absolutely. And I'm sorry, I'm the Director of Public Relations, the Director of Marketing is someone else. I don't want people to get confused. I have a lot of respect for him too.

Bret Keisling: 05:17 I apologize. And just so anyone listening first of all, what is his name?

Jennifer Lennox: 05:23 Scott Hyland.

Bret Keisling: 05:24 I just want to give Scott a shout out and make clear. I have not it is not my goal to switch any job descriptions or titles here on the podcast.

Jennifer Lennox: 05:31 [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 05:31 So I apologize to Scott and thank you for correcting me, but...

Jennifer Lennox: 05:35 I appreciate it.

Bret Keisling: 05:35 Well, but your involved -- typos are still your thing and the message and the communication is still your thing. And that's how you answered the question. He wasn't asking how the message was communicated. He wanted you to talk about the message.

Jennifer Lennox: 05:49 Right? Exactly. That was exactly it. And he wanted me to look at it as an owner. Was he giving a good response as to the company's health? And was he answering the questions that people were asking? And that was what he wanted me to answer. Not just did I use the right "it's" did it do it apostrophe "s" or "its," you know, it was a much bigger, much bigger question than I was prepared for at that moment. So, yeah...

Bret Keisling: 06:16 And we would both say the apostrophes are important...

Jennifer Lennox: 06:18 They absolutely are!

Bret Keisling: 06:21 But that's with that different hat. So the next quarter and all the quarters since then, have you looked at the report a little bit differently when you got it?

Jennifer Lennox: 06:29 I do. I read it and I've I've actually, because we live in a, we have a company that's that has this kind of accessibility, I at one point took our corporate controller out to lunch and had her talk me through the annual report because I said, I don't understand a lot of this. And I'm an employee owner and I don't know the finance part of things. Can you explain this to me? And she did. She spent a whole lunchtime talking me through about, you know, the difference between amortization and all the different things in the annual report. And I was better at the end of it!

Bret Keisling: 07:02 Jennifer, now I would like to speak to anybody in management at other companies, corporate controllers and CEOs. It is so important. This is so complicated and it truly is. It's not that people can't get it. You just have to hear it time and time again. That's why we have annual meetings and that sort of thing. And if -- and just for perspective, although Davey, if I'm not mistaken, you've got over 10,000 employee owners. Let's talk about your corporate headquarters. I mean, it's not 10,000, but...

Jennifer Lennox: 07:35 No.

Bret Keisling: 07:35 But you do have quite a bit.

Jennifer Lennox: 07:35 Yeah, we have around 200 employees at our corporate headquarters in Kent, Ohio. So we have a corporate structure there that has, some of them. We're spread out a little bit throughout Kent, but most of them are in that 200 person location, though, of course, not right now.

Bret Keisling: 07:52 And .. no, that's absolutely a good point. Although, as we're recording this in mid April, we're getting close. I mean...

Jennifer Lennox: 08:00 That's right.

Bret Keisling: 08:00 You know yeah, so that's really cool. And by the way, and forgive me, Jennifer, for using your time to be preachy. Not every CFO necessarily needs to go one-on-one with an employee, but certainly you can take five or six employees out for lunch or meet at the company, but it's spreading that word. And once you understood it better, because it is a work in progress, did that change, like, did it engage you more?

Jennifer Lennox: 08:26 Absolutely. I mean, I've been an employee owner for a number of years. I tend to be a rule follower and people told me to buy stock. So I bought stock. You know [laughter], that's what they said to do, so I did it. But yeah, being able to look at the annual report and really kind of know where we're winning and understand kind of the financial end of things. That's, that's a game changer for me and I'm not a math person. Let me be very, very clear about that. [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 08:52 So Jennifer, let me, if you don't mind and as personal as you'd like, but no more personally than you like take off your job hat, even take off your Davey's hat, maybe we're at Thanksgiving dinner, if you will, what does being an employee owner mean to you on the inside? You know what I mean? Like, like you are different from a lot of, from almost every other person in your position at other companies. Can you just talk about personally what that means to you?

#TeamJen - More than a hashtag!

Jennifer Lennox: 09:24 Sure. I -- and we talk about this actually, when we hire people -- I describe it and it's a little cheesy, but it's that we're very family oriented. You know, that this is, you're not just joining a job, you're getting a career. You've got a whole team of people with you and I will share something. So over the course of the last year, I've had some difficult medical issues and my team was behind me all the way. They did a great job and everything, and they surprised me at one point and had a team meeting for me. And I was the last one on and when I got there, all of them were wearing this hat that says "#TeamJen" on it.

Bret Keisling: 10:06 Folks, just to let you know, and we're doing this on a Zoom call, but it is... it is a ball cap, hashtag TeamJen and honest to goodness, Jen, you held it up and I got goosebumps. Wow. What a, what a... can I be on Team Jen?

Jennifer Lennox: 10:21 Yeah, absolutely Bret. [Laughter.] Yes.

Bret Keisling: 10:24 Well, first of all, boy, that, and I don't want to go into the medical stuff, but that had to be so powerful for you to have that from your team members.

Jennifer Lennox: 10:34 For sure. And, and a little bit of backstory, I'm kind of known in my team for using hashtags and through a lot of kind of funny hashtag talking. So the fact that they incorporated that in it. Yeah, I cried. It was, it was a funny, funny moment too, because it was just so kind of classic, classic Davey. So we at Davey are talking about doing a what's that called a time capsule. And so my, I told them I wanted to send a Team Jen cap ball cap in there into the, into the time capsule for Davey. Because this is this, isn't just what happens to me. It's also about how I feel about my company. So yeah, it's personal. Absolutely.

Bret Keisling: 11:18 And, forgive me, and that's as much for the listeners. I often talk on the podcast. This to me is very, very powerful and I mean, this very sincerely, I talk to a lot of selling shareholders. I talk to people who are considering selling their company. And I talk about founders who have sold to employee owners and are still there. And a running theme of the important conversation is the legacy of the selling shareholders and the time capsule and honest to goodness -- and Jen can see this -- I'm truly getting emotional. I'm not sure why I'm getting quite as emotional, but the time capsule is all of your legacies. It's thinking what normally is, how does the founder protect his or her legacy? And that's fine, I dig that. I -- if they founded the company and sold it to employee ownership -- I will celebrate them. But not just having the memento but of your journey and the fact that hat -- what that hat represents is the love of your team.

Jennifer Lennox: 12:19 Exactly!

Bret Keisling: 12:19 What a powerful thing. And what a powerful legacy, not just for you, but for Davey in this moment.

Jennifer Lennox: 12:26 Absolutely. And that's the thing, I mean, there have been people throughout the company who reached out when they heard about my medical condition and everything. People sent notes and meals and they're very supportive For sure.

Bret Keisling: 12:41 Okay. I'm going to switch gears for just a moment because I truly think, and Jen, we're at Episode 270 on the podcast, and I think this is the first one I've teared up mid-episode. So I don't know what more, like I was going to say, how would you say employee ownership affects the culture, but how do you beat that anecdote? You know what I mean?

Jennifer Lennox: 13:07 [Laughter.] I actually do have another one.

Bret Keisling: 13:09 Please!

Jennifer Lennox: 13:09 If you have time.

Bret Keisling: 13:10 Will it make me cry?

Jennifer Lennox: 13:10 No [laughter] ... no, it won't Bret.

Jennifer Lennox: 13:10 So one of the things that we did, and we've done at Davey for a long time as part of our culture, is have sent like birthday letters to employees. And when our current CEO took over a couple of years ago, one of the things we switched is instead of doing a birthday card, we decided to do an anniversary card. So it would go out to all of our employees on their anniversary at Davey. So this is one of ours here and you can see, it says happy anniversary and has pretty tree on it and everything like that. So my team actually produces these. And on the other side it says, you know, like thank you for your years of dedication and all that sort of stuff. But our CEO actually handwrites a little note on some of these, to the people so that you get like a note from the CEO on your anniversary with the company.

Jennifer Lennox: 14:04 And so I just got mine the other day, of course, because as we just said, I celebrated my anniversary and he said, "Hey Jen, congrats on year number twenty -- woot, woot! Thank you for all you do for Davey and for me. Really appreciate you, Pat. [Patrick M. Covey]" Like, who does that? No one does that! You know that the CEO knows my name is one thing, you know, but that he takes the time to say thank you and congratulations. And we're glad you're with us. I feel like that really says a lot about the employee ownership culture here at Davey, too.

Bret Keisling: 14:41 That is cool. And I kind of feel like, I should say, hey, there are companies that try to treat their people well or do treat their people well. I have a brother-in-law who just celebrated his 25th anniversary at a large pharmaceutical. And I saw on social media that he received a cake and he's working remote because of COVID and he received a cake for his 25th anniversary. And that was really, really cool. I love the personalized notes from the CEO and there are similar things. And again, this isn't a one-up because I haven't done any of them, but again, for our listeners, the kind of things, Cindy Turcot hasn't been on the podcast in a while, but she's been on, she is the president, I believe is her current title, of Gardener's Supply in Vermont, which is just an amazing mail-order and retail garden supply company, nicely named. For years, and she may still be doing it, every week or every two weeks on payday she hand delivers all of the paychecks to all of the employee owners and what a great way to give somebody the opportunity to say whatever they'd like to the boss. I mean, that is so cool.

Jennifer Lennox: 15:53 Yeah. That's that's really cool.

Bret Keisling: 15:56 Jennifer. We never know where life takes us and sometimes, you know, business there are opportunities and that sort of thing. I imagine the first time a headhunter comes, you're going to be anxious to leave Davey. Am I right?

Jennifer Lennox: 16:10 [Laughter.] No. No, for sure.

Bret Keisling: 16:12 Can see yourself. And I'm assuming at 20 years you are roughly mid midway through your career. Very roughly. Can you picture yourself, right now, retiring with Davey at the right time?

Jennifer Lennox: 16:26 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we talk about that as a team, like the phrase is that they bleed Davey green. That's something that people talk about in the field all the time, about how long we've been at Davey and how long, how deep, that loyalty goes, that it's in your blood. And yeah, I don't see why I would leave this company. It's -- one of our vice-president's calls it the greatest company in the world. And he's, he's pretty enthusiastic as you can imagine. But I mean, where else can you have a company like this, where you have these kinds of experiences? You get to do so much fun stuff. I do so much great stuff, Bret. I love my job. It's so much fun. There are days that, you know, aren't, you know, all fun, but in general, I get to work with some amazing people and do really, really cool stuff. So I can't imagine why I'd go anywhere else. And my kids know that. My kids all say the same thing about Davey. I've told them that they're going to have a hard time at their first job, because they're going to expect to have the same experience that I did. And it may not... unless they come to Davey. So... [laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 17:34 Sorry, I pictured -- and my sons are in their twenties now, so they're past this -- but I pictured one of your kids on their first job going into the CEO and saying, I want to talk about the quarterly report, and the CEO... being surprised. Let's put it that way.

Jennifer Lennox: 17:50 [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 17:50 Jennifer, first of all. Wow, this has been so cool for me because of what employee ownership has meant to you and your time at Davey. We've got your A-ha Moment. Just know boy, me and I'm sure for my listeners, you were in my heart just as a twenty year -- for having that twenty year anniversary. By the way, side note, I really want to start calling those "EO-versaries", but it feels awkward.

Jennifer Lennox: 18:15 Uh, yeah.

Bret Keisling: 18:15 Well, what's your, you know -- and you know this, your the hashtags. What do you think of #EOversary?

Jennifer Lennox: 18:23 I think that could work. I think, yeah. Start it up! I like, I like "A-ha." Was it EO A-ha?

Bret Keisling: 18:30 "A-ha Moment."

Jennifer Lennox: 18:32 Yeah. I think that's a hashtag!

Bret Keisling: 18:34 Thanks for mentioning the A-ha Moment. I'll be honest with you. I'm not proprietary about what I do or think of, but I actually thought of that one and I'm just so proud because it really is resonating and we've done about two dozen. I mean this very sincerely and on the day we're recording this, I just got vaccinated and for the first time I'm looking at, oh, I can travel. And I used to travel three weeks out of every month. I would love some time to show up at Davey and bring along the podcast, microphones, bring along pie for the employee owners because we all share in the pie. And frankly, if there were a little room, I would love to record as many Davey A-ha Moments from all of your colleagues because they're different for everybody.

Jennifer Lennox: 19:14 Yes.

Bret Keisling: 19:14 That's, what's so cool to me. We all have that -- wow! -- and they're all different.

Jennifer Lennox: 19:20 Yeah. And in fact, last year we did our, we celebrated our -- not last year, in 2019. 2020 does doesn't count.

Bret Keisling: 19:27 It does not count.

Jennifer Lennox: 19:27 Can we just all agree on that? It's out! So in 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary. And one of the things we did is we put a big whiteboard in the atrium at our corporate office and wrote, "what does employee ownership mean to you?" And employees all day long just kind of wrote a couple of words on that. I have couple of pictures of that. I should send that to you. Our CEO was out there writing a couple things. But yeah, Davey people, they, I think they understand what employee ownership is. Because we try to talk about that a lot with them and let them understand that, you know, this is special. This isn't, you know, what every company has. So yeah, I think that'd be great. Come on Pi Day, 3.14, you know, March 14th, we could celebrate pies. [Laughter.]

Davey Tree employee owners celebrating their anniversary!

Bret Keisling: 20:14 And I love that. One of two things will happen. Either I will reach out to you and I mean this seriously...

Jennifer Lennox: 20:19 Great!

Bret Keisling: 20:19 And you can shame me on social media if I don't! Either I will be in Ohio during October for Employee Ownership Month. And by the way, only because again, the work that you do -- and we were talking about words -- and I've talked about this on the podcast. I want to do a series of podcasts where I show up at a company, serve pie to whoever we can get around eight, ten people. And just talk about employee ownership while we record. And honestly, Jennifer, I mean this seriously, I want to call them the "ESOP piecasts" and just provide them. So either next October or next March 14, I'm going to show up and I hope it's by invitation and not that I get escorted away!

Jennifer Lennox: 21:04 [Laughter.] We're from -- we're Midwesterners. We'll welcome you no matter what. Especially if you bring pie, absolutely!

Bret Keisling: 21:11 First of all, you are right. You are Midwesterners and it is in your nature. But let me give a plug for all of us. You'd welcome me because you're employee owners and that's what we do.

Jennifer Lennox: 21:21 Oh, okay. You're right. You've got the, you've got the right quote there. I'll say what you said.

Bret Keisling: 21:26 Thank you so much for joining me today. This has been absolutely wonderful and meaningful. Very, very, very sincerely. So I wish you all the best.

Jennifer Lennox: 21:35 Thank you. I really appreciate this. Love what you're doing. I think this is a great podcast and appreciate the opportunity to talk about Davey.

Bret Keisling: 21:42 Hey, thank you very much. We will talk soon.

Jennifer Lennox: 21:45 Okay. Bye.


Bret Keisling: 21:47 My thanks to Jen for coming on the podcast. All of us who work to promote employee ownership in the end are doing it for the employee owners, like Jen. I appreciate her sharing her story. If you're an employee owner and you'd like to share your story, please reach out. We'd like to share it too.

Bret Keisling: 22:06 Our country's going through a whole lot together right now. And that's how we'll get through it, together. And that's in the best spirit of employee ownership. Thank you so much for listening. I'm Bret. Keisling; be well.

Bitsy McCann: 22:23 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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