Meet Speedling’s New CEO

Meet Speedling's New CEO

You could say Speedling’s new CEO Greg Davis is like a personal trainer or fitness coach. “Back to basics is what we are focused on at Speedling,” he says. “Flashy and fancy only gets you so far. We have to be athletic enough to change with the times and economic pressures. When you’re a large organization, staying strong and flexible is difficult. Those who succeed don’t lose their athleticism. We need to be able to move as the marketplace moves.”

Davis joined the company in June. He’s not focusing on new initiatives but focusing on core activities. “We need to be the best transplant producer we possibly can be,” Davis says. “We’ve got to be the low-cost producer for the level of quality our customers expect. Until you can do the basics better than your competition, you really don’t have a business.”

Based in Sun City, Fla., Speedling produces ornamental and vegetable plugs. Its ornamentals division ranks at No. 9 on our Top 100 Growers and No. 3 on our Top 25 Young Plant Growers (see page 14). Founded by plug pioneer George Todd, Speedling has been owned by WBL Corp. in Singapore for many years. Farms in the United States are in Florida (Sun City and Bushnell), Texas (Alamo), Georgia (Blairsville) and California (Watsonville, Nipomo, San Juan Bautista and Salinas).

“We’re also still in China, but it’s an evolving situation with the low value of the U.S. dollar and China trying to cool its economy. At the same time it’s encouraging because agriculture figures prominently in the country’s future,” Davis explains. “We are uniquely positioned to expand all over the globe, but first we have to cover the basics and produce the best plug possible in all our facilities.”

Roots In Vegetables

Davis is 40, born the same year as Speedling was founded. He grew up on a farm north of Gainesville, Fla., where his family grew row crops–vegetables and tobacco. “My family is still in vegetables and I still have a small cattle farm in Alachua,” he says. “My dad bought transplants from Speedling. In vegetables, we always considered Speedling the biggest, best and most professional transplant company. If you had to have the right plants on the right date, Speedling was who you talked to.”

He went to college at the University of Florida and majored in journalism and minored in food and resource economics in the college of agriculture. His journalism skills have always been useful in writing business communications and selling himself and the companies he worked for, Davis says.

His first job out of school was selling vegetable seed for Asgrow in Northern Florida. He then moved to California to manage the Northwest business unit, a much bigger and more diverse territory. When Davis returned to Florida, he worked for Labelle Plant World, a producer of vegetable and tobacco transplants that also grew eucalyptus trees for mulch and as an energy source. Just before the company was sold, he returned to selling seed for Harris Moran in Northern Florida and Southern Georgia.

He crossed over to ornamentals when his first boss from Asgrow recruited him to Nurserymen’s Exchange in Delray Beach, Fla. Key product lines were bonsai and bamboo in upgraded ceramic pots and tins. “I worked in the Florida division for a couple of years and we put together a strong team,” Davis says. “Then I took on outside divisions, including bulbs, small fruit trees and shrubs and a large brokerage division in Southern California. We were developing a similar model for Florida. I was there for four years, last as director of new business development.”

Working in Florida 3,000 miles away from the corporate office in California was a challenge, he says. To make matters worse, a few months after he started, the Florida facilities got slammed by hurricanes Francis and Jeanne in a period of three weeks. A year later, a glancing blow was struck by Katrina and then a direct hit by Wilma.

“The place was destroyed after Francis and we really struggled to put everything back together,” he recalls. “But a year later we were prepared and able to ship three semi loads of product only days after Wilma, which was the strongest. You can get through anything if you have the right people, processes and determination to make it happen.”

When he first learned about the CEO opening at Speedling, he wondered if he really wanted to tackle a company so unwieldy and entrenched. “But the more I studied it, I realized it was the perfect storm–an opportunity to take advantage of all my experiences over the years,” he says. “The more businesses I see, the more I recognize they are all the same. There are a handful of basic philosophies, a few short cuts and lots of hard work. Speedling has got an exceptional name, a long history and a strong platform to build from.”

A Fresh Perspective

Being new to the company and in his role as CEO, Davis brings a fresh perspective along with extensive industry knowledge.

“I can walk in and see a multitude of changes that need to be made,” he says. “The longer you are in a job, the more complicated and difficult it becomes. You box yourself in and accept things the way they are. You really can’t have an effect on business then. People need to take off their biases and accept things for what they are and not what they want them to be. Part of the reason I like to move is I don’t want to get static. I don’t simply want a job. I want to affect change and improvement. I like to shake things up.”

Davis and his staff will be looking at efficiencies in every step in the production process. “You can’t do that from the CEO’s office. This is a people business. If you want to succeed, you have to create the environment, provide the right tools and give clear direction. Each person is an owner-operator and needs to own an area of responsibility, treating the company’s money as if it were their own, because ultimately, it is.”

It doesn’t matter how big a company is or who owns it, there is a point of action where value is actually created. Everything else must support that point, Davis says. “Each person must be focused on the finished product–a satisfied customer,” he explains. “There are a few key points where things really happen–seeding, growing and loading the truck. Until you excel at these points of action, it doesn’t matter how many facilities you have. To be the best in business, start with people. If you have the best people, you will develop the best processes, and ultimately, the best product.”

Part of providing the right tools means Speedling also will have to take a hard look at the number of products it produces.”We’ll be rationalizing everything, including products and facilities,” he says. “In ornamentals alone, we grow 16,000 SKUs, perhaps more than we can effectively manage. If it were 1,000 trays of each SKU, we could make it work, but there are many that we only grow a few trays of and each has to be managed separately. Working with our customers, we have to concentrate on the products with a big enough market to efficiently grow.”

As a seed-based plug specialist, Speedling is backing off vegetative annuals to some extent because the market is oversupplied, he says. The company also is looking into more custom orders and is interested in tissue culture and other technological advances.

“We’re going to focus on our customers, growing what will make all of us successful,” Davis says. “Trying to keep a full bucket all the time, just hoping someone buys it, drives everyone’s cost up. We need to know it will be sold before we grow it. There’s too much speculation and too much supply to grow without a market. The industry can’t afford that, and it’s not responsible to the heritage of Speedling to dump crops year after year. It’s an industrywide problem.”

Overall, Davis is confident Speedling can make things better and believes opportunities are even greater when times get tough. “I’ve never been in a situation where I felt there was absolutely nothing that could be done about it. Everybody is so worried about the economy and the cost of fuel, but there were a lot of multi millionaires made during the Great Depression. If you get so bogged down in the way things are today, you lose sight of the way they can be tomorrow.”

One of Speedling’s roles is to help customers solve their problems, he says. “It’s an integrated circle, whether the company owns every step or not. You have to help your customers and your vendors. If you don’t make strong alliances and share philosophies and principles, you die by yourself. In the next year, we’ll be looking at who our partners should be and developing strategic alliances to serve the needs of the marketplace.”

Leave a Reply

6 comments on “Meet Speedling’s New CEO

  1. I am looking for the pyramid Todd planter trays,which I read in a Vegetable garden magazine that I have and they are no longer in business. Maybe you cn help me locate this item,. Thanks -Phil

  2. I would like to buy the pyramid planters to start my garden pl;ant. Could you tell me where I can buy them?
    Thank you,

  3. I am looking for the pyramid Todd planter trays,which I read in a Vegetable garden magazine that I have and they are no longer in business. Maybe you cn help me locate this item,. Thanks -Phil

More From Plant Culture...
Colorado State University 2015 Container Field Trials

November 29, 2015

2015 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Read More
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Latest Stories

September 20, 2015

Technology Improves Orchid Production At Green Circle G…

Green Circle Growers in Oberlin, Ohio, has a commitment to using production practices that are efficient and sustainable. The operation has been growing Orchids for nine years, and is entering its second full year with its current system, which entails three camera grades. “The camera grading — first at production into a 5-inch pot, then 12 weeks later and a final grade after the stem and buds have developed — is raising our overall quality,” says Wesley Van Wingerden, director of growing for Green Circle Growers. Greenhouse Grower visited the operation to take a tour of its facilities and learn more about its Orchid production. Read on for more details about the process. The first of the camera grades is incorporated into the transplant process, which involves placing the Orchids from a community tray into 5-inch pots. The plants are separated into three sizes with the smallest returning to the […]

Read More

September 15, 2015

Young Plant Growers Weigh In On Crop Gains, Sales Trend…

Almost 100 young plant producers participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Young Plant Grower Survey, which asked growers questions abot crop categories, sales, order fulfillment and more.

Read More
Top20YPGrowers feature image

September 15, 2015

The State Of The 2015 Young Plant Market

Young plant growers in North America are changing their strategies to stay competitive in today’s market. Here is how 2015 shapes up in trends and statistics.

Read More
Vivero International_Endisch

September 8, 2015

Vivero Internacional Continues To Expand Unrooted Cutti…

The tenth largest cuttings farm in the world, Vivero Internacional was founded in 1991 and began exporting unrooted cuttings in 1993. Based in Tepoztlan, Morelos, just outside of Mexico City, Mexico, the operation opened with 2 hectares or 5 acres. With time and new customers, the farm has experienced rapid growth, now spanning 40 hectares or 99 acres, says Vivero’s Dennis Hitzigrath. “The first 10 years, production was doubling every season,” Hitzigrath says. “In the last three years, it’s been about 20 percent.”     The independent operation grows 100 million cuttings annually for several breeders, serving the North American market. Hitzigrath says consolidation among breeders has brought more of a focus on Vivero Internacional from third-party breeders in recent years. This growing interest is spurring even more growth. “We are planning for a minimum growth of 20 percent,” Hitzigrath says. “We are adding more production space and hope to be […]

Read More

August 19, 2015

Greenhouse Growing Recommendations For Lobularia

Modern-day Lobularias are garden classics with good vigor and long bloom times. These growing recommendations will help keep your crop in prime condition.

Read More
Mike McGroarty, owner of Mike’s Backyard Nursery

July 29, 2015

Backyard Success: Mike McGroarty Educates Aspiring Grow…

Mike’s Backyard Nursery sits on a long, narrow, 5-acre property located in Perry, Ohio. There, customers can find a variety of flowering shrubs available, all in 2-quart pots, and all for sale for $5.97 each. Owner Mike McGroarty, a lifelong resident of Perry, says the town has a lot of plant nurseries, including 100 wholesale growers within a 10-mile radius of his house. That doesn’t discourage McGroarty, because he knows that while there are a lot of nurseries in his area, no one else is doing what he is doing. McGroarty has learned about plants — and marketing them to his audience — through decades of experience. He has never hesitated to pass along his knowledge to other growers looking to start their own backyard operations, and has created an entire program to educate aspiring growers. McGroarty Likes To Practice What He Preaches McGroarty’s operation serves as the laboratory for […]

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

June 27, 2015

Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabi…

As most growers know well, the federal government regulates all insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other commercial chemicals used on agricultural crops. Therein lies the problem with use of chemicals on cannabis crops – so far, the feds want nothing to do with legalized marijuana. According to “Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabis,” a June 17 article on the National Public Radio (NPR) network by Agribusiness Reporter Luke Runyon, the lack of regulated chemicals for cannabis has left growers to experiment on their own. “In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate,” said Colorado State University Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw in the NPR report. “Sometimes they’ve used some things that are appropriate, sometimes unsafe.” Denver officials held tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year due to safety concerns, but […]

Read More

June 16, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: Insect’s Wings Key To Azalea Poll…

A researcher from North Carolina State University (NC State) has found that in the case of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), all pollinators are not created equal. In fact, due to the flower’s unique reproductive structure, butterflies — and specifically, their wings — are the key to pollination. The flame azalea is commonly found in the Appalachian Mountains, ranging from as far north as New York to Georgia in the south. Like most azaleas, the flowers are large, and have an unusual structure: both the anther (male) and stigma (female) parts are very elongated and separated from one another. NC State biologist Mary Jane Epps was interested in how the azalea’s flower structure affected its pollination. “In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator — usually an insect — has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More

March 11, 2015

Pollinator Initiative Promotes Bee-Friendly Talking Poi…

AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists are working tirelessly with the ornamental industry's Pollinator Stewardship Initiative on a number of new projects.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Infusion Technology Boosts Seed Performance, Study Sugg…

Seven-year-old wheat seed germination can increase by as much as 83 percent, according to a Vital Force Technology Study that looks at the effects of energy infusion technology on plant vitality.

Read More

February 3, 2015

American Floral Endowment Accepting Research Pre-Propos…

If you are pursuing a floriculture research project, now is the time to apply for funding through the American Floral Endowment. Research pre-proposal applications for 2015-2016 funding are due to AFE by June 1, 2015.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Marijuana’s Trajectory And Ascent To Horticultural Cr…

Marijuana growing is poised for change as growers and researchers focus on improving production practices.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Greenhouse Production: Two Years Of Basics & Beyond…

Greenhouse Grower's Basics & Beyond articles cover some of the latest news and research going on in greenhouse production. Here are article links for the last two years.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

November 24, 2014

GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile &…

The social garden app GrowIt! takes the Gold Winner award at the design100 2014 Mobile & App Design Awards.

Read More

November 10, 2014

The Perennial Farm Joins HGTV HOME Plant Collection

The Perennial Farm joins the HGTV HOME Plant Collection growers' network for 2015.

Read More

November 4, 2014

AmericanHort Publishes Revised American Standard For Nu…

AmericanHort announces the revised American Standard for Nursery Stock (ANSI Z60.1) is now available for industry use. The Standard reflects the consensus of the industry regarding how nursery stock — living plants other than annuals — should be specified and sold within the trade.

Read More

September 26, 2014

Master The Art Of Watering

Watering is elemental to healthy plants, but one of the hardest concepts for new employees to master in the greenhouse. Recommend these tips to start them off right.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]