Interview: Richard Gardiner, chairman, BALI

Many people in the world of landscaping will already be familiar with Richard Gardiner for his seemingly endless supplies of energy.

d Gardiner, chairman, BALI - photo: BALI
d Gardiner, chairman, BALI - photo: BALI

Last week the self-confessed landscape obsessive took over the role of chairman at BALI, after four years as a board member.

But not content with that prospect, he is also planning a 245-mile (394km) cycle ride this summer around children's hospice gardens created through the Greenfingers Appeal.

One of the gardens, which is in Arundel, West Sussex, was created by a team of BALI landscapers including Gardiner last year. "It was (BBC Ground Force's) Tommy Walsh's fault because he said if we built the garden then he would open it," he says.

"I'm excited about the bike ride but I'm not sure my wife is, as she's driving the support vehicle."

Although it is just days since his appointment, it is clear Gardiner is relishing the thought of getting to grips with his new post.

The chairman of landscape contractor Norris & Gardiner plans a major drive to engage with members and help them through the recession, while inspiring new landscapers to get on board.

"When I first joined BALI it was probably for all the wrong reasons, but for the same reason a lot of people join - for the badge," he reveals.

"I didn't get overly involved or attend meetings and there are a lot of members like that, so they are not getting the full value out of membership."

He says that he is determined to change that with greater levels of communication throughout the body.

That could include the appointment of a field officer to help coordinate events, or even involve innovative methods such as text-messaging members with information.

"We have to be quite creative in the way we communicate with members," he explains.

"A lot are small businesses working out in the field and probably only check emails twice a week so we are looking at text-messaging."

In addition, a website revamp is underway that will allow members to update their own details to ensure customers have the latest information on their firm.

Shorter, "bite-size" pieces of information will be available, saving members from having to trawl through reams of reports and publications.

Gardiner hopes to inspire members to share knowledge that could help them survive the downturn.

"It is the smaller contractors we feel are most affected by the recession because they often rely on new business in a consumer market," he says.

"Anything we can do to help smaller businesses is a priority. However, the larger companies also do work with the construction industry, which has been heavily affected.

"But the smarter businesses out there will hopefully meet the challenges and be innovative."

Gardiner adds that his own firm Norris & Gardiner has been helped by the fact that it works on contracts of three to seven years in length, so has been cushioned to a certain extent.

Gardiner's succession as chairman of the family firm is a story tinged with sadness, as he took over the reins following his father Colin's death last year.

Surrey-based Norris & Gardiner was founded in 1964 by Colin Gardiner and Cedric Norris. The pair met while Gardiner was an apprentice sheet-metal worker at the Royal Academy of Engineering. After Norris retired in 1991, Gardiner took over the firm as a sole trader and became chairman in 2004, when the firm became a limited company.

Since Colin Gardiner's death, the firm has been run jointly by Richard Gardiner and his sister Vivienne Grant.

"My father started the business before I was even born," says Gardiner. "So in a way I was born into landscaping and grew up with it all the way through my childhood. It was a natural progression for me so when I left school I went into the family business."

Landscape is ingrained in every part of Gardiner, and he laughs as he describes how he was head-hunted to be a BALI board member.

"My passion got me noticed," he says. "If you have a passion to make a change then you find opportunities like this hard to resist.

"If I wasn't going to try to effect some change I wouldn't be doing it."

Gardiner may not be planning a revolution, but he certainly hopes to give the organisation a shake-up.

"There is always room for improvement, whether in my own business, this business (BALI) or any other," he says. "You can continually breathe new life into things."

1983: Joins Norris & Gardiner
1988: Joins Dicksons Engineering marketing department
1991: Rejoins Norris & Gardiner
1998: Completes management diploma at University of Reading
1999: Joins BALI's south Thames region committee
2004: Becomes a BALI board member and managing director of Norris &
2008: Chairman, Norris & Gardiner
2009: Chairman, BALI

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