Small Business at its Best; a Brief Profile of Hugo Giron of Giron Tree Service
I am lucky to work with great men every day of my life. Their humility and character teach me about myself and the kind of person I want to be. It is easy for me to get lost in every day, and not in a good way. Business is consuming. I think of it constantly and unfortunately I forget sometimes it isn’t always about just collecting money. While it can be hard to see the worst of yourself in business, it is made easier when the people that support you demonstrate a quality of professionalism that you can learn from. Hugo Giron used to be one of Aspect Tree Service’s best tree climbers. Today, he owns a subsidiary of Aspect Tree named, Giron Tree Service. I’ve known Hugo since I was 19 and now, almost 15 years later; I got a chance to sit down with him to hear his thoughts about tree work and business. His honesty and humor never fails to remind me how lucky I am to know him.
NH: “How old were you when you came to the United States?”
HG: “I was about 15 and a half. I didn’t know any English so I went to school for about 6 months. Then I learned on the street. In other words, street English [laughing].”
NH: “What were your hopes for coming here?
HG: “I came here for work and only planned to stay for three years; make some money, then go back home to Guatemala. The problem was, back in the early 90s, there wasn’t enough work. I was only making about $4.50 an hour at Wendy’s serving french fries [still laughing].”
NH: “When did you get into climbing trees?”
HG: “Probably met Steve [owner of Aspect Tree Service, Inc.] when I was 16. At first, I worked for him only on weekends. I had other work Monday through Friday. After six months, I went full time with Steve. I mowed grass and mulching and after about a year, I started trees. I was probably about 19… 20. I tried it and I liked it.”
NH: “Is climbing trees physically demanding?”
HG: “First couple of weeks, it was hard. After months, years, you can climb a tree like nothing. I learned by watching Steve. I learned by myself; probably because of the language barrier. After three years, I probably got good at the tricks. I’m still climbing trees. I never really got hurt over the years; only once when I was on the ground. In the air, you have your safety rope and the only way to fall is if the entire tree goes down. When I climb a tree, I don’t use spikes to climb up it; I use a rope and pull myself up. Remember, you don’t spike live trees. And I don’t like trees next to power lines. I can climb a dead tree any day, buy I don’t care for trees by power lines.”
NH: “Do you ever get afraid?”
HG: “No, I feel safe up there. You have two ropes, you’re not going anywhere. Safety rope first, always. Even if it’s five feet. When I’m climbing a tree, I think of nothing else.”
NH: “What age were you when you started thinking about opening your company? And did you have a business plan in mind?”
HG: “I was about 29 and no, I did not have a business plan. I was going to try for a year or two and see if I liked it. I made a little money the first year, so I kept going. The next year, I made a little more money. So, I said one more year. Then one more year. It’s now six years later. As long as we make the bills and I have a little bit left over, I’m good.”
NH: “Did you find it hard to shift from being an employee to being a business owner?”
HG: “No. I am just like everyone else. Like, for my guys, we both have been in the same places. We are the same in every way. I just happen to be the one that pays them.”
NH: “What are your future plans for your company?”
HG: “I do want to get a small office, possibly get a second truck so the jobs run smoother… but I’m good. If the company gets bigger, there is more paperwork, more headaches. Like I said, I’m just trying this out. If I don’t make it in business, then I will go back to by the hour work. There are people that only know one job their entire life. But, I can do anything. Landscaping. Construction. Painting. I can work anywhere. I’ve never been afraid to work. I’m still not afraid to work.”
NH: “What do you think are the negatives about being a business owner?”
HG: “Paying taxes [laughing]. They’ve increased the last couple of years.”
NH: “What is your advice to other people if they want to start their own company?”
HG: “Just try and see what happens. It’s just a job. And I can explain how tree businesses work; I can definitely point them in the right direction. That is all I can do.
You know, I typically hire people who aren’t skilled. I prefer to train them how I learned. I believe that is why Melfo [his nephew] is a good tree climber. I trained him. I tell all my employees… if you learn to be a climber, if you don’t want to stay with me and my company, then you can go anywhere you want to go and get work. I just tell them to learn as much as they can. It doesn’t bother me if they stay. I still climb, drag limbs, everything. I tell them that I can do everything that needs to be done and I will still work. I won’t sit down, I will still keep going.”
After I got done talking with Hugo, and hearing what he had to say now as an adult and a company owner, I was curious what he was like when he was younger and first working with Aspect. I got with Steve and asked him just that.
SH: “First, understand Hugo was 16 when we started working together and he barely spoke any English. I have a good story in mind that I think will aptly show what kind of young man he was.
We were working at one of our scheduled jobs, mowing lawns for homeowners. I gave him brief instructions about how to use the machines on sidewalks and pointed out the property lines. He was only supposed to edge that one front yard, that one part of the sidewalk on the side of the house. After showing him the work, I went around the rear of the house and came back. Didn’t see him at first, and then spotted him about four or five houses down edging lawns. I ran down and caught him. He had a stunned look and thought he had done something wrong. I told him he was doing a great job, but to work his way back to where the rest of us were. Once he knew I wasn’t angry, he went right back to work. Worked all day and never tired. He still shows the same unassuming willingness to learn, even now, 18 years later.”Last modified: April 2, 2013
Nikki is the co-owner of Aspect Tree Service in Alexandria, VA. Learn about her business at www.aspecttreeservice.com
This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.