Davey Tree branches out again

By Katie Byard
Beacon Journal business writer

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Davey Tree Expert Co. of Kent is continuing its shopping spree, acquiring the largest family-owned tree company in Minnesota.

Davey Tree, the longtime residential/commercial tree care service company, has acquired S&S Tree and Landscaping Specialists of South St. Paul, Minn., for an undisclosed amount.

The deal brings to 15 the number of businesses — big and small — that Davey has acquired in the past five years. S&S Tree’s payroll totals more than 75 workers.

Davey Tree, one of the largest employee-owned companies in the country, has about 7,400 employees in North America, including about 500 in Northeast Ohio.

Pat Covey, Davey Tree’s chief operating officer, said in a prepared statement Thursday that the acquisition “will strengthen Davey’s presence in the Midwest and bring additional regional business expertise, talented arborists and employee owners to our organization.”

The many acquisitions benefit Davey’s employee-ownership system. Acquired employees can buy company stock, with the larger shareholder pool balancing out employees and retirees that are redeeming their stock.

The company formulated an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1979, nearly 100 years after the business was founded by John Davey.

The acquisition of S&S Tree allows Davey to pick up market share in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, where it already has two offices.

S&S Tree is a much younger company than Davey. It was founded by Steve Sylvester in 1976, and began as a general landscaping business. Over the next 30 years, S&S expanded, adding plant health care, turf care and property maintenance services, along with offering mulch.

Sylvester, S&S owner as well as CEO, will serve as a consultant during the transition. His son Louie Sylvester will be district manager of the office, and another son, Tony Sylvester, will serve as assistant district manager.

Davey reported record revenues of $646 million for 2011, up from $591.7 million in 2010. The company will report earnings for 2012 in March.

The company made expansion through acquisition a strategic goal in 2003, and between that year and 2008 it picked up some 30 lawn-care services, tree-trimming companies and resource firms in markets around the country.

The National Center for Employee Ownership said last year that Davey Tree is the fourth-largest 100 percent employee-owned company in the United States. Davey ranked 18th among all companies with at least 50 percent employee ownership.

Publix Supermarkets of Lakeland, Fla., with 152,000 employees, was the highest ranking company with at least 50 percent employee ownership.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com

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