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Soaring High: at 29, Jonathan Saperstein is an Industry Heavyweight

Thursday, February 16, 2017
Article by: Kate Clary, Strategic Engagement Specialist

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Proud display – CEO Jonathan Saperstein stands among rows of burgeoning ‘Morning Sun’ Japanese Blueberry, a company exclusive hybrid, at Tree Town’s 665-acre Bunnell farm. (FNGLA PHOTO/KATE CLARY)

At age 29, TreeTown USA CEO Jonathan Saperstein heads up America’s largest tree farm – a collection of seven locations and nearly 4,000 acres which wind across Texas and Florida.

The Houston native and University of Texas graduate’s seven-year journey from sales and operations manager to the head of nearly 500 employees commanded national attention earlier this year as Forbes Magazine named Saperstein one of its 30 Under 30 for 2017 in Manufacturing and Industry.

“It was a surprise. I did not expect to get recognized as one of the Forbes’ 30 under 30. I was humbled to even be nominated,” Saperstein said. “It took a while for it to actually sink in.”

Across its locations, Tree Town USA grows around three million plants per year. That includes roughly 1,000 different plant types in a wide size variety. Headquartered in Houston, the company has also pioneered four new items including its Morning Sun Japanese Blueberry. 

Saperstein took the helm of his family’s nursery in 2015, buying out his father, David Saperstein. The elder Saperstein started the company in 2001.

In a similar fashion to his well-measured speech, and strategy-centric ideas, Saperstein has since led the company with a deeply business-oriented approach, putting people, growth and innovation out front.

One of his first orders of business after taking the helm was purchasing a 660-acre tree nursery in Bunnell, Florida, previously owned by Medallion Nurseries, and infusing a several-million-dollar capital investment into the location over the course of the last 12 months.

Green offerings - Tree Town USA includes three Texas-based growing locations and four production farms in Florida: Bunnell, Sandcut, Pahokee and Homestead. Tree Town produces nearly 3 million plants each year making them America’s largest grower of trees and palms. (PHOTO COURTESY TREE TOWN USA)

As part of that capital investment, Saperstein brought along some of the innovations Tree Town USA first honed at its other locations, including a state-of-theart, fully-automated potting machine - a point of particular pride for Saperstein, as he showcases its capabilities during a pit stop along a tour of the farm one chilly morning in late January.
“We want to make sure that this facility is continuing to grow, and it will be taken to capacity here very quickly,” Saperstein said.

There may be great innovation taking place at Tree Town USA, but Saperstein makes it clear that his priorities revolve around his people.  In fact, Saperstein added, he hopes to add more employees by year’s end.

“As we bring in more technologies, it’s not to reduce head count,” he said. “It’s to be able to improve productivity while making the work safer and less intensive, so that we can do more.”

In an effort to assist employees in carving out career paths at Tree Town, Saperstein oversaw the development of regular performance plans for each employee - which heavily rewards employee performance.

“I think we’re one of the few nurseries, that where every employee goes through a regular PMP, a performance management program, which drives their merit, and bonuses,” Saperstein said. “We have created incentives based on common, unifying goals that bring the whole team, across all departments and facilities together. It really leads to teamwork, and I think that’s the most exciting part. Our employees are by far the most important ingredient to our success and we strive to provide a safe, challenging and enjoyable work environment.”

Being part of an association like FNGLA also helps strengthen the company’s industry bonds, Saperstein said.

“When we partner together as an industry, we’re significantly stronger than we are separate,” he explained. “It really takes all of us working together and supporting each other -- whether it’s legislation, or the challenges that face all of us. Without that, we’re just never going to get to the place that we want to be.”

Along this morning’s tour, as the layer of dew around the farm continues to evaporate into the steamy atmosphere, and the din of progress hums, Saperstein reflects on the company’s journey so far.

As he navigates a back section on the property, pointing out a few new pads, and row upon row of green and growing plants, Saperstein uses a past experience exhibiting at FNGLA’s Landscape Show to articulate his point about associations.

He recalls how taking a break from his post manning the company’s booth for a quick tour around the show floor led to a chance meeting with a fellow exhibitor.

“I walked next door, and I saw this trailer manufacturer that I had not heard of, and so I just started talking to him,” Saperstein recalled. “He had not heard of us, because, in Florida, we had only been a B&B operation.”

At the time of the show, Tree Town USA was in the process of closing on the Bunnell location. Fresh on Saperstein’s mind was that, when the close was complete, they’d need equipment – lots of it.

“I guess it wound up being a little bit of a surprise for him – we placed our first order for over 100 – and then had a follow-up order,” Saperstein said of the Florida-based manufacturer. “That never would have happened if it wasn’t for FNGLA’s tradeshow.”

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