Emerging Leader Award Recipient
Paulita LaPlante brings a precise, business-oriented approach to her role as CSO and managing partner of Prescription Landscape based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
After a 38-year career in medical device sales and executive management, LaPlante joined the executive leadership team at Prescription Landscape in 2016. This followed the death of her husband, Colin O’Neill, who had founded the company in 1980.
Since coming on board, LaPlante has encouraged the development of a dedicated human resources office at the company. Plus, it has adopted standard operating procedures to more accurately and rigorously document business operations.
“It’s been helpful to bring that rigor and discipline from the medical device industry into the landscape industry,” she says. “That is probably at the core of what my main contribution to Prescription Landscape is.”
Focus on Professionalism
LaPlante works in tandem with her partner, CEO and president Ryan Foudray — who joined the company in 2003 and became its CEO in 2012 — to carry on Prescription Landscape’s reputation in the region for excellence in commercial lawn care, snow and ice removal and landscape construction.
In her role as CSO, LaPlante has primary oversight of the firm’s legal, finance and human resource departments.
“She brings true professionalism to the industry,” Foudray says. “Paulita is big on documentation. Before she joined, I might say, ‘Here’s an outline of our marketing plan, let’s go execute it.’ But she documents everything — every little detail is written out. And that’s been helpful because it means our whole team can read it and use it.”
“I’m an over-communicator,” LaPlante admits. “Sometimes Ryan says to me, ‘Your emails are like a book.’”
But LaPlante’s focus on documentation has led to improvements within the company. They created defined job categories and identifiable roles within the organization, which assists employees in understanding available paths for career development.
“It was very basic stuff. We worked to get everybody's job details, then evaluated how do we make sure that they have the skills to perform that job effectively,” she explains.
By codifying and standardizing job duties and prerequisites, LaPlante and her HR team have established clearer methods for job evaluation and employee promotion within the company.
Furthermore, Prescription Landscape was able to ensure its employees were being compensated more highly than workers at comparable landscape companies in their region in terms of salary and benefits.
As a result, Prescription Landscape has been able to retain an employee base strong enough to avoid turning away clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Prescription Landscape averages around 200 employees annually, its teams can swell to around 500 during the busy snow and ice removal season, which is a core service area for the company.
“Our retention of our core staff is phenomenal. It’s well above 92%,” LaPlante says. “My goal is to promote the landscape industry as a means not just to make a salary, but as a way to have a profession and career.
“Our focus has always been, and will continue to be, on education and improving the professionalism of our industry,” she adds.
To celebrate her late husband’s commitment to education, LaPlante has founded an annual scholarship in support of horticulture students at the University of Minnesota — Colin O’Neill’s alma mater — in his name.
“We thought, ‘What better way to honor him than to support the department that gave him his undergraduate degree?’” LaPlante says.
Willingness to Take Chances
Prescription Landscape’s reputation for excellence has led to commercial landscape maintenance and snow and ice removal contracts with an array of top companies in the Twin Cities region, including Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and Fairview Health Systems.
When a landscape construction firm in the area unexpectedly declared bankruptcy — not long after she joined Prescription — LaPlante saw an opportunity to proactively grow her own company’s platform of services.
Prescription Landscape had previously bought the other firm’s ground maintenance and snow divisions, but landscape construction was not something LaPlante and Foudray had considered tackling originally.
Eventually, they felt the construction niche opening was too good to pass up.
“When their construction arm folded, we decided, ‘let's try it,’” she says. “Because, as you can imagine, when a company unexpectedly declares bankruptcy, there were a lot of projects sitting out there, and there were good people that were going to be out of a job. And so, we just we took a leap off the cliff and extended offers to as many members of their team that wanted to come work for us.”
Since then, Prescription Landscape’s construction division has thrived to become a “hidden gem” in the company’s portfolio, LaPlante says.
“Paulita has incredible integrity,” says Laura Braley, Prescription Landscape’s project manager for commercial landscape construction. “When she added the construction division three years ago, she was not familiar with construction.
“But she just put on her big girl pants and said, ‘Alright, I'm gonna learn about construction.’ And she has been with me side by side every step of the way as we’ve built this division,” Braley adds. “She is the best boss I’ve ever had — and she’s a boatload of fun.”
For her part, LaPlante is proud to have the division thriving under Braley’s leadership.
“One of my goals is getting more women in green — more women in the landscape industry,” LaPlante says. “I’m very proud that our project manager is a woman as well as our construction estimator. They are both doing a great job. I credit our success to the winning personalities we have on our team.”
Work That’s Worthwhile
LaPlante describes herself as an “amateur ornithologist” — a lover of birds and gardening who finds her own relaxation by getting her hands dirty among the plants on her large, organically maintained acreage, where she’s installed native plants and avoids pesticides.
“The majority of my career (in medical device sales) was spent on a plane,” LaPlante says. “That was a very hard life. I could never wait to get home and get my hands in my garden as a way to unwind.”
Joining Prescription Landscape has allowed LaPlante to put aside her previous hectic travel schedule to focus on home and family and opportunities to support and nurture the environment.
She’s proud of the ways that the landscape industry is embracing its frontline role in promoting environmental sustainability.
“So much of the country dealt with drought this year, for example, and you’re seeing things like irrigation bans,” she says. “The landscape industry has a key role to play in being cognizant of these issues and how we can better plan for — and mitigate — them.”
LaPlante says projects like pollinator gardens or rain gardens rank among her favorite work that Prescription Landscape does each year.
“The market is coming to the realization that it’s perhaps not the best thing to plant Kentucky bluegrass all over everything,” LaPlante says. “Our clients are becoming more open to doing interesting things, like perennial beds that promote pollinators and that keep water in place.
“It takes a lot of effort to create the native pollinator gardens, rain gardens and all the rest of it. But they’re lovely when they’re finished,” she adds. “I’m just thrilled when we can do them.”