Cathy Dykstra grew up in Wisconsin farm country, where she learned how to work machines like tractors and not be afraid of hard, sometimes grubby, work.
That stood her in good stead, because after trying teaching for a couple of years after college and finding out she liked the outdoors better, Dykstra quit and “started dabbling in landscape.”
She started with a weedeater and a 1986 pickup, charging costs and paying them off month to month – real hand to mouth. But she had determination in spades.
Today her company owns 13 trucks, services more than 100 large and small maintenance contracts a month, employees up to 25 people, and designs/installs everything from a modest landscape to one that requires craning in mature trees. (One of her installs is the award-winning Shaw’s Hill building in Grass Valley near Sierra College.)
In between, Dykstra did her time. “Every contractor has to do their time,” she says. “I worked for a Sacramento company during the day and took courses in irrigation design, deck building, and plant design at Sierra College at night.”
Although hers is not a field in which many women excel, Dykstra has advice for wannabes:
1. “You’ve got to enjoy physical work, like running a tractor or operating a ditch witch.
2. You’ve got to prove you can do it, even more than a man. I worked on a truck by myself. I had to prove myself even to my own employees. Gardening isn’t going to carry you very far.”
If you can do that, then being a woman can actually be an advantage. “Landscape design and building requires creativity.
Women can be a little more in touch with making the outside feel like part of the home, an extension of the home. I encourage women to do this; it’s very rewarding.”
Dykstra says that while everyone has a personal measure of what success means to them in this industry, “I think success is when the clients are happy and the employees are happy.” (Cathy D’s has a low turnover; some workers have been with the company seven years, almost a record in the industry.)
“Success is also when an owner can be personally proud of what they do. And having a personal life is critical, to me at least.”
(Dykstra has been married for 18 years and has two children).
“Personally, I love this kind of work, although I’m a CEO now and mostly sit at a desk doing bids. Still, on weekends the kids and I enjoy digging in the yard.”
Cathy D’s Landscape, Inc.
Phone: (530) 265-9748
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