CEO Spotlight: How Justin White of K&D Landscaping is leading his family’s business forward
As the second-generation CEO of a local family-owned business, Justin White is making waves in his community and disrupting the landscaping industry.
Justin White, the eldest of founders Kendel and Dawn White’s three children, took over as Chief Executive Officer of K&D Landscaping in 2015 and continues to lead the company toward expansion and profitability. Starting from the ground up, White quickly grew into the strong leadership role he now excels intoday.
The transition from first to second generation of K&D was an extremely pivotal point in the company’s path. Still playing catch-up from the crashed economy of 2008, the business was struggling to turn a profit and provide their employees with full time work. Bringing a millennial mindset to his leadership seat, White steered the company toward contemporary ideas, state-of-the-art technology, and an audacious ambition of 300 employees by the year 2030. White calls this the “300 by 30” goal.
In just six years, K&D has grown its employee count from 20 to over 100. Born and raised in Corralitos, White places vast importance on creating as many jobs as possible for his local community here on the Central Coast. He acknowledged,
I really have to give gratitude to my parents, not only for building a foundation, but for creating a reputation that is so well-respected. Now my siblings, our cousin and I get to carry on the family legacy by continuing to make an impact in the community.
— Justin White, CEO and part Owner of K&D Landscaping, Inc.
White has found a unique, successful business niche by continuing his family’s landscaping legacy. But it wasn’t without help. One of his first chess moves after taking over was hiring a business coach, whom the company still maintains a close working relationship with today. Jonathan Goldhill is an experienced mentor, specializing in strategic family business growth and transformation. His support and direction has been crucial to helping K&D navigate growing pains and generational succession over the past several years.
Goldhill was so inspired by the company’s commitment to progression that he based his recently debuted book, Disruptive Successor, largely on K&D’s journey. In the dedication Goldhill writes,
Justin, you were my muse, my source of inspiration, as I wrote this book for leaders just like you.
— Jonathon Goldhill, Business Coach & author of Disruptive Successor
His testimony is one of many that are proud to see this family business prevailing. Goldhill also admitted, “I’ve had few business clients with a team as dedicated, hard-working, professional, responsive, caring and thoughtful. As a family business, they have built a company and culture that makes employees, managers, customers, vendors, the owners and the community proud to call their own.”
In addition to Goldhill’s expertise, White found immense support from joining the group Vistage Worldwide Inc., the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. The ROI on this investment has been substantial, as White’s local group has given him invaluable advice and guidance from similar, first-hand experiences.
Vistage’s Chair, Derek Derdivanis, was so impressed by White’s engagement that he nominated him for the Vistage Impact Award, which spans the entire San Francisco Bay Area. This honor recognizes members who have shown a significant progression within the organization as well as contributed value back to its group. White won by landslide. Derdivanis boasted,
In my five years as a member and twelve years as chair, Justin White has had the most significant personal and professional growth plus impact on his group that I have ever experienced. For me, he is the Vistage’s poster boy…totally engaged, committed and supportive; he bleeds Vistage blue. He has maximized his membership, his members, his chair and the chair community through the Vistage Networks
— Derek Derdivanis, Vistage Worldwide Inc. group Chair
White was then featured on the August 2019 cover of another national magazine, Lawn & Landscape, for the success K&D has experienced by reinvesting in its employees. Through White’s vision, K&D has hit the landscaping industry like a freight train and with no plans of slowing down. In just the last few years, the company has received multiple accolades and achievements for the work it has done both on and off the field. The recognition isn’t just local; K&D has proven itself statewide and nationally as well.
K&D also accepted Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz’s 2019 “Be the Difference” award for its initiative in aiding those in need with their Community Beautification projects.
This was followed by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 “Business of the Year” honor, which showcased the company’s efforts in bridging the landscaping industry and the community.
Out of hundreds of submissions, K&D won multiple CLCA (California Landscape Contractors Association) State Trophy Awards in 2020 for exceptional work on both residential and commercial projects, including “Best in Show.”
The kicker? All while simultaneously adapting through a global pandemic and keeping on all 100 employees.
White is just as active outside of K&D as he is within his company. He is involved with several non-profits, sits on the board of the Monterey Peninsula College Horticulture Committee, is President of the CLCA’s Central Coast Chapter, is an advisor to County Park Friends Santa Cruz, and is a member of Cabrillo College’s President’s Advisory Committee. He donates his time and knowledge through guest appearances on informational webinars and business podcasts, speaking at local schools and national conferences, and mentoring other hopeful second-generation CEOs.
K&D’s mission to “raise the bar” is supported by the company’s continuous dedication to evolve. It is not in business to be just another landscaping company, but to have a positive impact on the lives in its community. With White’s leadership, K&D is planting more than flowers and trees, they are seeding inspiration to everyone around them.