Most Influential People in the Green Industry

Green Media, a division of M2MEDIA360 — publisher of Outdoor Power Equipment, Landscape and Irrigation, Arbor Age and SportsTurf — is proud to present the 2012 selections for “Most Influential People in the Green Industry.”

Green Media’s “Most Influential People in the Green Industry” were nominated by their peers for their ongoing contributions to the Green Industry. The professionals selected for this honor were chosen from throughout the Green Industry, and exemplify a commitment to the industry and a widespread influence on their peers.

Green Media congratulates all of those selected as “Most Influential People in the Green Industry.”



Jim Roche
Executive Director
Equipment & Engine Training Council, Inc.

As executive director of the Equipment & Engine Training Council, Inc. (EETC) since 2000, Jim Roche has been responsible for handing out dozens of awards to his peers for their outstanding contributions to the EETC, a non-profit association whose mission is to address the shortage of qualified service technicians in the outdoor power equipment industry through education, certification and training.

So, after all that Roche has accomplished with the EETC — as well as at the dealer, distributor and manufacturer levels during his nearly 35-year career in the OPE industry — it is rather fitting that he was selected as one of the “Most Influential People in the Green Industry,” shortly before he retired on Dec. 17.

“Jim Roche brought professionalism to the EETC in his role as Executive Director,” said Jim Starmer, senior advisor, Servantage Dixie Sales. “He helped make the EETC an organization highly respected throughout the OPE industry, focused on the education and training of skilled technicians, for the benefit of all industry participants. It was a huge task, but Jim, with his wife Rachel at his side, succeeded in providing professional leadership to the EETC, strengthening an organization that will benefit our industry for years to come. As a former board member of the EETC, I am honored and proud to have known and worked with Jim and Rachel, to be able to call them friends, and to thank them for what they have accomplished for our industry.”

And Roche is quick to acknowledge that his wife, Rachel, had a tremendous amount to do with his success. “Let me just say that when I married her, I married up,” he said. “She is extremely intelligent. On top of that, she’s extremely supportive. I could have never done it without her.”

The EETC was founded in 1996 and incorporated in 1997, with Virgil Russell serving as its first executive director until he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and stepped down in 2000. Roche stepped in and worked tirelessly to take the association to new heights. For starters, he developed a strategic plan for the EETC’s mission, led the development and implementation of the EETC’s school accreditation program, managed the EETC’s national technician certification program, and launched the EETC’s website, among many other things.

Establishing the school accreditation program was not only one of Roche’s proudest accomplishments with the EETC, but it also set the tone for how he ultimately ran the association, which is a diverse group currently made up of approximately 450 industry professionals — including manufacturers, distributors, dealers, associations and educators.

“It was a long, hard struggle because we had to have meetings with everybody, committee meetings, to kind of lay out what should be in that manual; and it took a lot of hard work and there was some ‘taking off of the hat,’ so to speak, and I’ll use that terminology loosely,” he said. “Each manufacturer or distributor walked in with his corporate hat on, and basically what we had to do was say, ‘OK, well, take off your corporate hat. We’re all working together for a common goal here. This common goal is going to help all of us, whether there’s people that are not here from certain manufacturers or all of the people that are here. We’re sharing information for a positive purpose, and that is to promote our industry and to supply the industry that is constantly growing and developing new products to having technicians that can repair them.’ And so that was a big factor too is that everybody comes in, and you’re no longer ‘Bob from Husqvarna.’ You’re just ‘Bob,’ and everybody knows you, and it’s like, ‘Well, where does he work?’ Well, it doesn’t matter where he works. He’s here to support the organization.”

Recognizing those who support the EETC and its mission has always been of the utmost importance to Roche, who established a formal awards reception/dinner, followed by live entertainment, on the final evening of the annual conference. Roche often became so overcome with emotion before or during the awards presentations that he would call on others to handle the honors on his behalf.

When asked what makes the awards presentations such an emotional experience for him, Roche replied, “I’ve worked with these people for years. They’ve become family to me. And it gets me to the point, when I think about it, I get very emotional because I love these guys and because they deserve the award that they’re going to get. So, what ends up happening for me is that it all comes to the surface at that point. I’m very excited that they’ve been chosen to get the award, number one. But to deliver the award, it’s like I’m delivering the award to either one of my kids or my best friend in the whole world. We work with people in our entire business lives. We find some that we really can connect with. We find others that we don’t connect with very well. However, in the service industry, it seems to be a little bit different. It seems to be less dog-eat-dog, or I’m going towards the top — I’m going to be the best of this and the best of that. That never seems to play into the side of service. The service guy’s attitude seems to be, ‘I’m going to do the best job I can for this manufacturer or this distributorship, and represent the product as best I can.’”

Pre-EETC days

Given Roche’s lifelong journey to become executive director of the EETC, it is easy to see why his emotions would get the best of him when presenting the awards. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wis., he graduated from Washington High School. He attended a local tech college, the Milwaukee Institute of Technology, where he pursued Commercial Art as a career path, but found it really wasn’t enough for him. He then attended a four-year college, Stout State University (now known as the University of Wisconsin-Stout) in Menomonie, Wis., where he majored in Fine Arts.

While attending college, Roche became a professional musician, singing and playing guitar among other instruments, and then traveled around the country, performing mostly folk music at different college campuses. Although he couldn’t make a living playing music, he said it helped him become comfortable standing up in front of people.

When his first wife became pregnant, Roche needed to figure out a way to make a living, which prompted him to pursue a career as a service technician. He enrolled in the power equipment program at what is now known as Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wis., and earned a two-year associate’s degree in Small Engine & Chassis Repair. Despite graduating in a first-place tie in his class, Roche had no luck finding a job in the power equipment industry, so he decided to open his own dealership, H&R Small Engine Repair, in Osseo, Wis. Roche ran the dealership for about three years before he and his first wife split up, and she and their two children moved to Chicago.

“Ironically, she was looking for an apartment,” Roche said, “and the prospective landlord said, ‘Well, what does your husband do (for a living)?’ And she said, ‘Well, he’s in the small-engine business and has his own shop.’ And the guy said, ‘Wow. That’s very interesting because my company is looking for a guy just like that. Why don’t you have him call Ken Anderson (director of technical services) at Echo Incorporated?’And so, I did that, because I was planning to move to the Chicago area anyway, and ended up getting a job at Echo Incorporated.”

Roche worked as the Eastern Regional Service Manager at Echo from 1981 to 1984, but found that he was missing a connection between the dealership and manufacturer levels, so he went to work for a distributor, Virginia Outdoor Equipment in Charlottesville, Va., as service manager from 1984 to 1985. He then decided to return to the Midwest and work for a manufacturer, landing a job as the North American Service Manager at Husqvarna, which was then based in Itasca, Ill., from 1985 to 1990. When Husqvarna announced that it was moving to Charlotte, N.C., Roche decided not to return to the South, opting to stay closer to his son and daughter. He became president of Service Center/USA Inc. in Glenview, Ill., from 1990 to 1992. Roche returned to his home state to serve as Technical Service Manager at Scag Power Equipment in Mayville, Wis., from 1992 to 2000 before he became the executive director of the EETC and influenced the lives of so many people.

“Jim was always looking to promote an industry that he truly believes in,” said Dave Worden, SkillsUSA program director, EETC board member and long-time friend. “It allowed people like me to present and deliver information with a passion that is becoming rare. He gives, and will continue to give, you his best and support the cause and also look at how he can help out others. He is a mentor, a passionate leader, an honest man doing what he could to try and ‘pay it forward’ in an industry that was at times harsh and cold. He has a sense of humor and was always available. He looks out for others and is always ready to help advise and promote the association and the industry and its partners without the political stress showing.”

Influential people

When asked who have been the most influential people in his life, both personally and professionally, Roche was quick to name the man who gave him his first big break. “There’s been a lot of different teachers that I’ve had through my life that have influenced me a lot, but in business, it was Ken Anderson,” Roche said. “Ken Anderson taught me how to handle myself in front of groups. Ken Anderson taught me how to dress correctly for the job. He was truly, in my life, a mentor in this industry. There have been other people in the industry as well, but Ken Anderson really stands out as the first person that I met who wasn’t critical of who you were. He looked for your potential.”

Roche said the second-most influential person in his professional career has been Andy Kuczmar, who currently works at Husqvarna but was the service manager at Echo when Roche worked there. “Andy Kuczmar was a tyrant when it came to doing things correctly and would let you know if you did it wrong,” Roche said. “And in no few words, he would tell you that ‘You’re an idiot.’ And it took many, many years for me not to be an idiot in Andy’s eyes, but he was, and is still, probably one of the most influential people that I’ve ever come in contact with. He’s a genius. He knows his stuff. He knows everything about engines that could possibly be needed and constantly would test me on what I knew and what I didn’t know.”

Future plans

As for the future, the 66-year-old Roche said that one of his first plans is to get a dog in the spring. He also wants to get back to doing the things that he pushed aside for years because of his devotion to the EETC. He plans to spend more time playing music, which he currently does on Wednesday nights at a “local watering hole” in Oconomowoc, Wis., as well as devote more time to his artwork and other projects.

When asked how he would like to be remembered by his peers, Roche responded, “as a good guy who was helpful to people.” He added, “I just hope people feel that I did a good job at the EETC and that they remember me for that. Like anything, we all move on. We let the younger people who have the energy to come in and take over, and I think that’s an important thing for our industry.”

Final thoughts

For those interested in pursuing a career in the OPE industry, Roche offered the following words of wisdom: “I think this is a great industry to be in. I think it’s extremely rewarding. I think it’s not too big where you get lost. And I think it is not pretentious in how it runs its business. It’s very down to earth. If you’re in this industry to make a living, you can make a good living and also be very satisfied. What I have found is that it’s all about the inner relationships. The power equipment industry is small enough that you know an awful lot of people that are in the industry, and if you burn your bridges as you go, you’re not going to be in the industry for very long. But if you become part of it, if it becomes part of your soul, you’re going to be extremely successful and you’re going to be rewarded financially as well. But if you don’t put your soul into it, if you don’t put your heart into it, you’re just spinning your wheels and kind of wasting your time. That’s always been my philosophy of the power equipment industry.”

— Steve Noe

Following is a brief overview of the other honorees selected as Green Media’s “Most Influential People in the Green Industry” for 2012:

 Rich Arlington
Founder and CEO
Rich Arlington & Associates

“Why Not You?” is the title of Rich Arlington’s book, and those three words could not be more appropriate.

Arlington came from humble beginnings, which at one point in his life included homelessness, and went on to build successful, multi-million-dollar companies in lawn care, landscaping, irrigation, snow removal and more.

“The simple fact of being homeless early in my life was a very eye-opening experience,” said Arlington. “And the attitude that I adopted from that experience is that there is nowhere to go from here but up. I still look at every day with that attitude. Today is the worst it can get; tomorrow it can only go up.”

Arlington took that attitude, and, following service in the Marine Corps, started his landscaping business with just a truck and a lawn mower.

He openly shares his story and his keys to success with others as a public speaker. He averages nearly 40 speaking engagements nationwide per year on topics such as finance, sales, operational efficiency, safety and team building. He has founded mentoring programs to help others in the industry, and also helped found the Snow and Ice Management Association’s “Build a Bid” and “Beyond a Bid” programs to help others in the industry understand their costs and bid properly for business success.

“When I look at a room at a seminar with 150 people in it, I’m only looking for one person to change something that makes them better,” said Arlington. “I’m not so vain that I think all 150 people will walk out and change their business. But if I can get one that takes some piece of that message and changes something, then I feel that I’ve done what I set out to do.”

According to Arlington, knowledge is only valuable when it’s taught to others. “There are thousands of us in the industry who are willing to share — you just have to ask,” he said. “Seek out the knowledge, and you will find it.”

For more information about Arlington’s book, “Why Not You?” visit


Gerald “Jerry” Grossi
Owner and COO

Jerry Grossi is unique. He is the only person to have served as president of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) and the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).* This distinction is just one example among many of Grossi’s dedication to the Green Industry and the leadership role he has embraced throughout his career.

“I’m hoping that I have been most influential in this industry by sharing whatever knowledge or information that I have with others,” he said. “And whatever leadership abilities I have, I have been able to share them with the industry and promote our industry in a way that will add professionalism.”

Grossi’s leadership was instrumental in the agreement between PLANET and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) to merge PLANET’s Green Industry Conference and Expo (GIC/GIE) with OPEI’s International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo (EXPO) to form GIE+EXPO, which despite several challenges has proven to be a success.

“Even in the toughest times, we are still growing the show,” he said. “This year, attendance was up dramatically. For PLANET, attendance was up 20 to 40 percent. There was a similar number for some of our other partners, such as Hardscape North America, and dealer and distributor attendance was up. So, whichever stakeholder was involved, there has been good growth. I think we have the right combination here. I think it’s a real showcase for the industry.”

* Note: PLCAA merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in 2005 to form PLANET.

 Michael Neal
Manager of forestry and special programs
Arizona Public Service

Michael Neal has been the manager of forestry and special programs at APS since the mid-1990s. Responsible for managing the vegetation along more than 30,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines statewide, he supervises and coordinates the work of in-house foresters and contract line-clearance crews. In addition to vegetation management, he oversees the utility’s landscape maintenance and wildlife protection programs, and implements safety and education programs to internal and external customers.

Neal became the president (now chairman) of the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund in 2011. He is a tireless champion of the TREE Fund, and publicly encourages the support of arboriculture research and education as an alternative to random planting of trees without a plan for their long-term care.

Among his many affiliations and accomplishments, Neal is past president of the International Society of Arboriculture, past president of the Utility Arborist Association, and past president of the Arizona Community Tree Council.

“I have been influenced by all of these organizations,” said Neal. “I have used what I learned from these groups to improve the importance of professionalism in our industry. I have always promoted the need for quality arborists, continuing education and the need for research.”

Neal has also been heavily involved in the area of utility arboriculture and vegetation management. His efforts were essential to the implementation of an ANSI standard for Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM), and led to a Best Management Practice being published for IVM.

 Tom Nielsen
Head groundskeeper
Louisville Bats

Tom Nielsen is head groundskeeper at Louisville Slugger Field for the Louisville Bats Triple-A franchise. Nielsen, recipient of the prestigious Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) George Toma Golden Rake Award for 2011, is known for his mentorship of many in the industry, but in particular students that pass through his outstanding internship program.

He has mentored 30-plus employees who went on to continue working in the Green Industry as either head groundskeepers or assistants in professional baseball, universities, high-school athletics and landscape companies. Some of those who have gone on to notable careers of their own include Jake Tyler, head groundskeeper for the Toledo Mud Hens; Chad Laurie, head groundskeeper for the Buffalo Bisons; Thomas Trotter, head groundskeeper for the Nashville Sounds; Steve Ruckman, director of field operations for the Richmond Flying Squirrels; Dan Blank, head groundskeeper for TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series; and Ray Sayre, head groundskeeper for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

“I am willing to help anyone interested in the Green Industry,” said Nielsen. “I speak with several schools and private groups every year. I plan to continue doing the same work mentoring and promoting the Green Industry in the future.”

Nielsen works tirelessly to convey the importance of sound maintenance practices to the administration, players and fans. Nielsen also won STMA’s Field of the Year in 2002 and 2004, and was named the International League Sports Turf Manager of the Year in 2009.


Dan Sawyer
Brock International

Introducing innovation to an industry takes a lot of perseverance. But that’s never stopped Dan Sawyer. As the founder and chief executive officer of Brock International, a manufacturer of base systems for synthetic turf, he has helped engineer safe playing surfaces while actively promoting sustainability.

Sawyer first started redefining possibilities in the early 1990s while working for Jay Medical, a medical products pioneer that significantly improved wheelchair seating. Sawyer then applied his valuable insight on how forces impact the human body in launching Brock in 1999. The company’s premier product, Brock PowerBase, is a shock pad and drainage layer used beneath synthetic turf fields. It has been proven to reduce G-Max, which may reduce the risk and severity of concussion. Nothing like it existed before Sawyer and his team envisioned the technology. Today, more than 25-million square feet of Brock products is in play underneath athletic fields worldwide.

Sawyer has become a vocal advocate for concussion prevention education. With the perspective of handling hundreds of installations for clients, ranging from NFL teams and major universities to community parks, he feels many brain injuries can be prevented through increased awareness, as well as through better technique, equipment and treatment. That’s why his company became an Official Education Partner of the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a Boston-based non-profit organization founded to advance the study, treatment and prevention of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups. In this capacity, Brock has provided funding that helped SLI deliver its two-hour Advanced Concussion Training (ACT) program to more than 1,000 football coaches in the Los Angeles Unified School District, 2,500 coaches in the Chicagoland Youth Football League, and more than 3,000 Chicago Public Schools coaches and athletic directors, as well as programs for parents and athletes.

“I think Brock must continue to educate people that the process of preventing brain injury starts at the playing surface level, and we have to take an active role in educating others about brain injury prevention programs,” said Sawyer.


If you would like to nominate a Green Industry professional for consideration for the 2013 list of “Most Influential People in the Green Industry,” you may e-mail that person’s name, contact information, and why he or she has been influential to the Green Industry, to


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