Mark Worley was in Speedling’s greenhouses recently needing to convey a point to his Hispanic workforce. He approached a few bilingual employees thinking they could deliver the message in Spanish, but the employees couldn’t find the right word to deliver the precise message.
That’s when Worley, Speedling’s East Coast division manager, reverted to his plan B: Mike Friddle, the head grower at Speedling in Sun City, Fla.
”We brought Mike over and he knew it,” Worley says.
Friddle knew the word because he took it upon himself to learn Spanish so he could better communicate with Speedling’s employees, many of whom know little English. Friddle’s willingness to learn a new language is just one example of how dedicated he is to his craft, though.
Friddle is a teacher, a motivator and an idea man. He’s a customer service leader and capable of getting the most out of crops in low-tech growing environments. For his commitment to excellence, Greenhouse Grower is pleased to recognize Friddle as its 2011 Head Grower of the Year.
”I’m really happy he was chosen,” Worley says. “It couldn’t happen to a better grower all around. He really deserves it. This is the kid who puts his heart and soul in this operation. This is his life, making sure these plants are growing. It’s pure pride and joy with him.”
Friddle has a desk in Speedling’s office but he’s rarely at it. He can be spotted there first thing in the morning or last thing at night, but Friddle continuously walks the greenhouses each day to make sure all crops meet his standards.
”My day is coming in and checking with each grower in their assigned houses, going through various crops and looking at the different stages of each crop’s development,” Friddle says. “I’m going through checking the germ room and stage 2 areas of those growers. I’m going through where we stand on production. If a disease-related issue comes up, we have to take action on each of those issues.”
Five ornamental growers work under Friddle, who brings in temporary help for each of those growers when Speedling gets busy. He’ll train the temporaries working for his five the basics of fertilization, irrigation and other areas of production.
”Mike is often seen in the greenhouse with a group of growers crowded around him as he explains a technique or procedure,” Worley says. “He’s a true coach when it comes to his employees. Mike thrives on the successes of his employees and is always quick to give them credit for their accomplishments.”
One tip Friddle picked up over the years from one of his coaches, Roger Vazquez, was to keep production simple. Heeding those words, Friddle puts like crops in the same greenhouses. If a few different crops take Bonzi, for example, those crops are benched near each other.
“You put your like varieties together and keep it as simple as possible by grouping them in such ways,” Friddle says. “It’s easier for the grower to maintain and easier for us to ensure we don’t have an accident.”
Grouping similar-performing crops is how Friddle manages to handle Speedling’s 5,000-plus SKUs. Developing such systems and keeping simplification in mind helps Friddle make sure his employees follow his lead, too.
“It makes it easier for me if I don’t have to go to every single grower and keep training them on issues,” he says. “Before I started working here, there were facilities where growers would not be able to do anything until the managers came in. My thinking was, ‘No, these people are going to know what they need to do based on the initial instructions.’”
Friddle actually began his career at Speedling in 1992 with a focus on vegetable plug production, but he quickly realized ornamental production was where he could truly excel. He left Speedling for five years in the ‘90s to pursue a job at Suncoast Greenhouses, he returned in ’99 and eventually worked his way into Speedling’s head grower position.
Now, Friddle has input on costing of all new products, and he’s a primary contact for Speedling’s customers when they have production questions.
”Customers can call me but I’m not the actual grower,” Worley says. “A lot of growers go right to him if they have a question about the crop. It makes it seem a little more real to them. This is my personal grower, they think.”