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On the Job with David Blackwell

David Blackwell is founder and CEO of With Perfection Inc., one of South Georgia's largest landscape maintenance contracting firms

David Blackwell is founder and CEO of With Perfection Inc., one of South Georgia’s largest landscaping and lawncare companies. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

David Blackwell is founder and CEO of With Perfection Inc., one of South Georgia’s largest landscaping and lawncare companies. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — David Blackwell says he is blessed with the best staff he’s had in 17 years of business.

That a good thing, he says, because it allows him time to serve the community.

THE DAVID BLACKWELL FILE

NAME: David Blackwell

AGE: 50

POSITION: Founder and CEO of With Perfection Inc., one of South Georgia’s largest landscape maintenance contracting firms covering an area from Albany to Macon, Columbus and Valdosta.

FAMILY: Married to Kayanne King, who is controller for MetroPower. They have two children, Hannah Grace, a student at the University of Alabama, and John David, a student at Darton State College. They are members of Providence Church, where David serves as missions and outreach pastor.

BACKGROUND: Blackwell was born in Thomasville and educated in public schools in Albany. He is a graduate of Gupton-Jones college in Atlanta. INVOLVEMENT: Blackwell is past chairman of the Keep Albany Dougherty Beautiful Commission and member of the board of American Heart Association. He is chairman of Albany-Dougherty Coalition to End Homelessness and serves on the task force that created A Place 4 Hope, a day center for the homeless. Blackwell is co-chair of the task force charged to provide a count of the homeless in Albany, is co-chair of the task force writing Albany’s 10-year plan to address the needs of the homeless. He is chairman of the advisory board of the Salvation Army and A Place 4 Hope. He is a member of the executive board of Taking Authority/Stop the Violence and a member of the Basic Needs Team with the United Way of Southwest Georgia.

PASSION: Blackwell’s passion is being an advocate for “the least of us.” He is a former member of the board of Mission: Change, where he developed and oversaw projects that included serving the homeless on Christmas Eve, building projects with Habitat for Humanity and sponsoring food distribution with the Food Bank of Southwest Georgia. He has coordinated the collection of food and medical supplies for volunteer flights from Albany to Haiti.

Check the list of community involvement and you’ll understand why Blackwell is fortunate to have a staff that does not need constant oversight.

Blackwell says his passion in life is serving “the least of us.” He especially has been involved in a number of efforts to help the area’s homeless population.

To share his story, Blackwell recently shared a question-and-answer session with Danny Carter of The Herald.

Q. What was your first job?

A. My first job was at Suwanee Swift, a former convenience store at the corner of Mock and Johnson roads. I worked two days after school stocking the shelves.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?

A. I remember using money from my first paycheck to buy a Pioneer 8Track for my 1969 Ford Truck.

Q. What is the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated:

A. We operate on the concept that we are a team at With Perfection and sharing what it takes for the team to operate (Payroll Cost, Fuel, Insurance, Utilities) so that they understand how important it is that we are operating efficiently has done more than anything to motivate and drive us all to perform exceptional work.

Q. What led you to your current position and why did you want to operate your own business?

A. My career for most of my life was on staff of a local funeral home. I even went to college and held state licenses. Like most in that business, I didn’t see a long term chance for advancement. My wife and I spent many days and nights making the decision to leave. I had always found my escape or therapy at the time doing yard work, and like most kids, I mowed yards in my neighborhood. So I decided to build a professional landscape maintenance contracting firm. I had many say it would never work. I knew that I could create a professional atmosphere with our trucks and equipment. Each team member would be uniformed.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. Marty Grunder is a peer, who today is a widely sought after speaker, mentor. He is located in Dayton, Ohio. His book “The 9 Super Simple Steps to Entrepreneurial Success” was, and is, a great read. He owns a landscape firm and had done what we are doing here.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the recent tough economic times?

A. My biggest lesson I have learned from our recent recession, is to propose work to make a living for my family and the 13 other families that our business supports. This is no hobby and many in our industry, I have learned, have bid work for cash flow and that concept in the long run has closed many a business and others who today struggle to survive. We transitioned in 2007 to focus our business to build relationships with commercial and industrial clients. That has paid off many times over.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology, what would you most like to see go away?

A. The tech question is interesting to me. When we installed a dedicated fax line, I thought we had arrived. Today that machine is rarely used. I guess the automated phone would be what I would like to see go. We continue to progress away from personal conversations these days. I still believe that there is value in person to person contact. I say this as my son is texting me on my iPhone.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. My favorite work gadget is my set of hand held pruners. I am always walking a client’s property and that tool, as I share with our teams, can do so many of the little things that make a visible improvement.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. Christmas Eve is by far my favorite tradition. My side of the family gathers in our home, including the tradition of bringing his or her dates. We have a huge meal, and after dishes are done we all gather in the family room. The little ones can’t wait to open a gift, but we always read The Christmas Story from a book my Mom has had for years. Everyone signs and dates the book. We then open gifts from each other. We have recently starting providing Christmas to one of our community’s families in need. That has made the meaning of giving “real” and has shown us all that we live a life that should give back.

Q. What was the last book you read, and do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. The last book read was “The Catalyst Leader” by Brad Lomenick. I always lean toward reading leadership materials in his book. One of the many things that stuck was: “Hopeful leaders create hopeful cultures that create hopeful organizations.” I always want our organization to create a culture that we all can create a hope and that we all can make a difference in this community. I do read several different devotionals each day, and leadership thoughts, all Internet or email.

Q. I’m up and going by?

A. At 50, I am up and going by 7 a.m. There are days that doesn’t always happen. My morning is getting to the office, checking the morning’s emails, returning calls. Then I begin the day with our teams, always looking for ways to improve our processes.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?

A. I have never wanted to be “that person” that wants to meet famous people. Our daughter dates Phillip Phillips so I understand that now more than ever. If given the chance to sit down for a few moments with Dr. Billy Graham would be amazing. To hear this man of God, who has never been in any questionable situation share his heart, would be huge for me.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I have always sought to do things our children enjoy. Our daughter has shown her Arabian horses all over this country and even in Canada. I have loved those times with her. Our son loves hunting. He and I have made life long memories sitting together many, many cold mornings in a deer stand and today he, now 19, sits in his stand and I in mine. I love my family and enjoy being together with them wherever or whatever they want to do.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I would take back being in business with a friend. That, if not handled with extreme caution, will cause the loss of a friend and no business no matter how large is worth it.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. The people I work with are the best in 17 years; this team is the very best. They afford me the time to serve in our community in other areas.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. Managing cash flow, and managing cash flow.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I would love to be a conference speaker on Servant Leadership. Serving people is my passion and I meet many people who have the title of or call themselves leaders. but the vast majority of them miss the purpose of being a Servant.

Q. Finish this thought: On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…

A. I see myself sitting at Fenway Park watching the Boston Red Sox, beating the New York Yankees, with a lobster roll and my wife, Kayanne, at my side.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. I go back to this. We all, if we ever want to see the culture of this community change, have got to pick up the mantle of being or becoming a servant leader. This community has got to have its leaders serve others. If we do so, this town will change and perhaps really live up to being the Good Life City.

Q. When do you think the local economy will be back in full swing?

A. I have seen over the past year an upswing of spending in my industry. We have had most of our commercial clients asking for additional services. This had not been the case for three or more years. I think we have rounded the corner, not quite completely turned the corner. I don’t think the dark or difficult days are over, but we are on our way.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. Everybody who gets in my truck always laughs and comments on the diversity of music. I love the 70’s music, but also a heavy dose of Hillsong United, some country and old school funk music. I’d say my playlist has a bit of it all.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. The days of landing large industry type jobs are gone and won’t return. Placing value on the small business community will be vital. It is my desire that we once and for all come together and address the issue of race here. It has an effect on all aspects of community life. Educationally, economically, and on. We may never agree, but if we can get the issues out and perhaps understand the hurt and pain this issue has caused we can move forward.

Q. What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?

A. This summer, my mother-in-law took my wife and I and sister and brother-in-law on an eight-day trip out West. It was amazing. First, no kids, and secondly to see parts of this country I only saw in photos or on TV was breathtaking. I will never forget it.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your line of business over the past few years?

A. We have seen that in our industry that most firms have to understand what their “overhead” is and what that cost is to the firms is vital for survival. Also trends in equipment are becoming “green” and the use of propane continues to grow as well as being positioned to be prepared for clients to continue to centralize their services.