Open since: 2001
Owner: Ed Szczesniak
SUWANEE -- As an employee for IBM and Deloitte, Ed Szczesniak moved around the country every few years, and often found himself in new neighborhoods. Inevitably, his neighbors would notice the landscaping around his house and wander over.
"Somebody's walking over with two Budweisers on a Saturday going, 'Ed, you did that, can you come over to my house?,'" he said. "Next thing you know I've got a shovel in my hand, and am going to the nursery someplace."
With both companies, Szczesniak worked in consulting, IT, management and sales, and traveled the world. But after about 25 years, he signed up for horticulture classes through the University of Georgia at Gwinnett Tech. Szczesniak, who is from the Buffalo and Niagra Falls area of New York, had two degrees in management and economics, and an MBA in international economics.
Just for fun, he began night classes, and a short time later, the dean of the college invited Szczesniak into his office for a chat. The dean, who realized Szczesniak had breezed through the classes, asked, why don't you start your own landscaping company?
"I've been doing this stuff for free beer for years for friends and family," Szczesniak said. "So for fun, I opened up this company,"
Ultimately, Szczesniak didn't get a formal degree, but took the necessary classes, got a license and started Georgia Landscape Design, which designs and builds gardens, waterfalls and stone paths among a variety of landscapes, hardscapes and waterscapes.
The fun includes looking through the before-and-after pictures of past projects. Szczesniak often wakes up at 3 a.m. with an idea, then sketches a design in his home office.
"This is my second career, but to me it's my baby," he said. "It's the only thing I've ever done in my life that I could take pictures of."
While Szczesniak would eventually like to hand a portion of the company off to a young protege, he's on the third attempt to do so. He loves to play golf and travel, but not year round.
"I get bored on a long weekend," he said.
It's a passion Szczesniak inherited from his grandfather, Joseph, who was a master gardener/landscaper.
"I always thought it was neat, to me it was an art form," he said.
Szczesniak said he averages about 15 to 20 projects per year, over 40 weeks. He is the company's only employee, but Szczesniak subcontracts with other companies per specialization, such as planting or irrigation.
While he is still an investor in a local consulting firm, the landscaping design business is the closest thing to a retirement he sees. Szczesniak is not worried about growing the company, and having sleepless nights over payroll, he said.
"I'm there from the second somebody calls and says, 'Ed, would you come and look at my yard?'" he said. "To the end when we're sitting there with a glass of wine saying, 'That looks good doesn't it?'"