The Chair's Award is presented by the current chairperson of the Board to recognize outstanding contributions to the Association.
Nominations for the Chair’s Award are made by the President and the Board of Directors of the TCIA. The recipient is honored at TCIA’s annual Winter Management Conference.
2013 Chair’s Award goes to Howard Eckel
Ben Tresselt II, outgoing TCIA Board chair, presented Howard Eckel with the 2013 Chairman’s Award during TCIA's Winter Management Conference at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas on February 3,2014. Following here are some of Tresselt's comments made in presenting the award.
"There are few people in on our lives who will have a profound influence on who we are to become. For most of us, it’s our parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, our spouses or our children. And for those who have served, you will never forget your brothers and sister in arms.
There are many more people in our lives who may not have had a profound influence, although they profoundly helped guide us along our way. These could be close friends, teachers, professors, drill sergeants, religious leaders, personal mentors or business associates. We may not appreciate until much later in our lives the effect that these persons had. Unfortunately, by then it may be too late to adequately express our gratitude for what they have done for us.
In 1991, at one of the first TCI EXPOs, a young man in his 20s who had just started a totally boot-strapped tree care business wandered through the tradeshow floor with nothing more in his pockets than raw enthusiasm. As he made his way, he eventually stumbled upon a large, open booth with a lone gentleman sitting at a large table all alone and under a big banner that read, “Ask the Expert.” Not knowing any better, the young man walked up and asked, “Are you the expert?” The gentleman looked up somewhat sheepishly and politely answered, “Well son, that all depends on what you ask me.”
This was the beginning of a five-hour conversation on everything and anything the gentleman knew about operating a successful tree care business. The conversation finally ended when the young man was exhausted of questions. Thanking the gentleman, the young man staggered away with a head full of useful information, the value of which he would only come to appreciate much later in his career. This conversation would also ignite the young man’s zest for knowledge, which would define his business career.
Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, this young man was me … back in 1991. And who was the lone gentleman who was so completely gracious with his time, patience and knowledge? It was none other than Mr. Howard Eckel.
At that time I had no idea who Howard was. It was only much later that I realized how fortunate I was to have not only met him, but to have had the opportunity to glean his years’ of tree care business experience.
Now I know there are some of you here who know Howard – and probably better than I do. But for the majority of you who don’t, let me give you some of his background and accomplishments in the tree care business.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Howard was greatly influenced by two people in his early life, his father and Mr. Phil White.
Howard’s career in the green industry started as a young man while working in his father’s landscape design and construction business. After high school and service in the Korean War, Howard attended Syracuse University and eventually graduated from the State University of New York with a degree in Nursery Management. After returning home from college, Howard got a job working for Mr. Phil White, or as Howard affectionately calls him “Old Man White,” at White Nurseries in Ithaca, New York.
Howard learned a lot from Old Man White. Exceptional customer service was Mr. White’s business mantra. “Keep your face in front of the customer” … “Customers are your best sales people,” and “Go See Them” were some of his favorite sayings. Howard also learned the value of effective cost accounting by service lines. Little did he know at the time, this skill would later help the Davey Tree Company experience unprecedented growth when the Davey family sold the business to its employees in 1979.
After five years and having his fill of “Old Man White,” Howard was able to land a manager’s position with Davey Tree in Boston. Having little-to-no experience in tree care didn’t dissuade Howard. He knew exceptional customer service, and what he lacked in tree care knowledge he made up for by having a solid five-year plan.
Eventually his five-year plan worked out and over the next 15 years he was promoted through the Davey ranks – first to district manager, then to a regional utility sales manager, then to vice president of the mid-Atlantic & Southeast regions, then to vice president of all utility operations, and finally as senior vice president of all operations.
In 1979, after 75 years of family ownership, Davey decided to sell its business to its employees. Howard, along with other of the senior management at the time, pulled together as much money as they could to invest in the newly-owned company. During the next six years, the new Davey experienced unprecedented growth, going from $50 million dollars in sales in 1979 to $129 million dollars in 1985. This tremendous growth was great for the company, although it took a tremendous physical toll on the senior management. Some retired early as the pace was too hectic for them. Howard suffered a heart attack that he thought at the time was only indigestion. He also lost his sight in one eye and was only able to sleep about five hours a night. After much coaxing, his wife, Marge, finally convinced Howard it was time to get out.
So in 1985, at the age of 55, Howard retired from the Davey as executive vice president and general manager.
Howard and Marge spent the next 11 years living on a boat and sailing throughout the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean. It was also during this time that Howard began offering his experiences as a coach and consultant to the green industry. Working with Bob Felix and the NAA (now TCIA) he helped develop and teach workshops throughout the country on effective cost accounting for tree care business owners.
It was also during this time that Howard wrote his first and only book, entitled “Growing and Staffing Your Business,” which to this day is by far my favorite and the most useful book I have ever read on how to own and operate a profitable tree care business. I have read it annually for the last 20-25 years and refer to it often.
In 1996, tragedy struck Howard when Marge, his wife of 44 years, became suddenly ill and passed away. The years following Marge’s death were a struggle for Howard. He did eventually find and regain his happiness, in 2002, when he reconnected and then married one of his high school sweethearts, Beth Furman.
Today Howard and Beth reside in a lovely restored bayside home in St. Michaels, Maryland. They spend most of their time these days operating a community food bank out of a local church. Howard keeps plenty busy stocking shelves and entertaining the customers.
Now 83 years old, Howard is in great physical shape although he does have a severe hearing problem. Doctors say it was most likely caused by the daily air travel and cabin pressure during those hectic and tremendous growth years at Davey Tree. Today he has no hearing in one ear and only about 5 percent hearing in the other. In a quiet setting he can have a great one-on-one conversation and you wouldn’t know he even has a hearing problem. Although in a noisy room he really cannot hear anyone at all. Also the cabin pressure when flying is very painful for him and the reason he is not able to join us here today. All in all though, Howard is now very healthy and happy.
Howard is very proud of his three children and enjoys it when they call him for advice or thank him for something he told them long ago. Recently he had a call from his daughter who was taking some new risks at her job and told him that she remembers him telling her that, “Pioneers take arrows,” which made him chuckle.
When it comes to Howard’s stellar green industry career, he is most proud of being able to infuse people with genuine enthusiasm about business. He also insists that you must have fun doing what you do because if you’re not, then why the hell are you doing it?
Like so many people in this great profession, Howard Eckel is the real deal. A genuine, passionate, no BS, practical person who learned a lot along his way and who has shared just as much as he has learned.
Howard is definitely one of the most influential people in my tree care business career. And I am just one of hundreds of TCIA members who Howard willingly and skillfully helped during his long career. It gives me such great pleasure to be able to finally and properly thank and honor him for all he has done for me and the many other members within the Tree Care Industry Association.
It is my honor to award this year’s Chair’s Award to Mr. Howard Eckel for his unselfish and outstanding contributions to tree care and TCIA."
Review our archive of past Chair's Award winners.