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GreenScapes Landscape Company Inc. is the latest in a line of Columbus companies to transition to employee ownership.

The landscaping company has transitioned to an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, placing control in the hands of its 90 employees, a succession plan initiated by founder Bill Gerhardt. Since opening in 1977, the company has expanded to a full-service landscape and design company for both commercial and residential real estate, as well as snow and ice management in the wintertime.

"I've been looking for a way to pass the company along to the people here," Gerhardt said. "I've been approached by buyers over the years, but it didn't seem like a good fit for the employees, or I was worried they'd want to change the culture here. This way the employees will be able to take the ball, and they can run with it."

With this new plan, Gerhardt said he's still planning to remain with the business as president for at least five years, eventually handing over the reins but in a way that lets the company maintain its current client base and culture and allows it to continue to pursue the kinds of clients it wants.

GreenScapes is a seasonal business that modulates between landscape design in the warm months and snow removal in the winters. But those roles are expanding. Commercial installations in particular are becoming more complex as the company keeps up with modern trends, like building irrigation systems for large fixtures and green roofs. Big recent projects include the Dublin branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the rooftop patio at the new RH Gallery that just opened at Easton Town Center.

"Much more of the design process has become ours, and so the jobs are just that much more complicated these days," Gerhardt said. "There's so much work out there we're giving up other work to do it. We've jumped into the maintenance game in the past few years too, which gives us more sustainable income.

Employee ownership through an ESOP is a retirement plan that allows employees to have an ownership stake in the firm through a qualified trust. In practice, they encourage companies to stay rooted in a single place and generally keep employee turnover low because they reward tenure with greater financial stakes.


As seen in BizJournal.