Grit and Determination

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

Grit and Determination

Colin Powell once said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” Looking at the life of Greg Francis, you can see the truth of this sentiment brought to fruition. “This quote speaks volumes to me,” he said. “Getting up, being responsible and dedication are the things that get you what you want. You can dream of success, but if you do not put in the man hours to make it happen, then it won’t.”

Greg was born and raised in Texarkana with his mom, his dad and his brother Chad, who is ten years older. When Greg was eight years old, his father, who had been a diabetic since childhood, passed away, leaving Greg’s mother, Francine Francis, to raise him alone. “I don’t remember a whole lot before my dad passed away, but it was definitely a rough time,” recalled Greg.

Losing a parent at any age is a difficult thing, but when it happens during childhood, every memory is precious. “As a kid, I enjoyed working with my dad before he passed. He worked in landscaping and residential dirt work, so that is where I initially learned a lot of my skills. I used to go to work with him in the summertime. I would ride with him on the dozer or whatever machine he was operating that day. I learned a lot from him during this time. When I was with him at work, I used to carry his voice pager around, and I thought I was so cool. I remember Sundays were always a big family day. We’d have family over and we kids would play on all the equipment while the adults sat around and watched us.”

According to Francine, Greg has always been a go-getter. “He was basically born an adult,” she teased. “It was challenging to get him to be a kid. I think after his dad passed, both my sons felt responsible for me. My husband told them before he passed, ‘Take care of your mom.’ They took it to heart and have always tried to do that. He started very early and wanted to try to start mowing other yards as a way to earn extra money.”

“At a young age, I knew I wanted to provide for myself and not have to rely on others, so I just started working. If I wanted something, I wanted to be able to buy it. The only way I knew how to do that was to work so I could earn the money to allow me to buy what I wanted and needed,” Greg said. So, with all the grit and determination available to a 13-year-old boy, he stepped into the role of business owner, doing yard work for friends, family and any other business he could drum up.

“I started my business in the eighth grade and would head straight to work when I got home from school,” he recalled. “In tenth grade, I started the work-release program. I would go to school for half a day, and then go to work the rest of the day. I didn’t have much of a game plan. I mostly took it day by day because I never really knew what would come of it. But Francis Lawn Care is still in business today and Francis Excavating has grown beyond residential to also include commercial and industrial projects and subdivision developments.”

Starting a new business is difficult, and there are always trials along the way. Greg encountered his fair share like everyone else. “At first, he used our mower, and then he bought his own with the money he had earned,” his mother said. “I remember he and I went to one of the dealers to look for a mower, and they didn’t give us the time of day… a woman and her son. He wanted to buy a bigger mower. So, we went to what was then Tom’s Tractor. They were impressed by him, and he bought his bigger mower from them. They won his business for a long time after that. You get loyalty when you give that kind of customer service. They believed in him. Later on, I saw the other dealer, and I thought ‘they made a mistake because over the years, he will buy hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of equipment.’” Leave it to a mother to see all the potential in her child, and in Greg’s case, she was exactly right.

Though he started young, from the beginning Greg was determined to build something he could be proud of. Each success pushed him further toward that goal. Eventually, at 15, he was ready to take out a loan so he could purchase his very own commercial mower. Unaware he needed to be 18 years old before he would be eligible for a loan, Greg applied. “The bank never realized I was not 18, so they gave me the loan. I paid that note off, and I needed to buy another mower, so I went back to the bank for a second loan. It was then they realized I was still not 18, but decided to give me the loan anyway since I paid off the first note ahead of schedule and was never late.” When he finally graduated from high school, Greg’s landscaping business was in high gear, and he made sure it continued to grow.

Greg at eight years old on one of his father’s backhoes.

A couple of years later, Greg’s focus began to shift. Since their father was in the “dirt business,” and it had been such a part of their early lives, Greg was determined to include his brother, Chad, when it was time to get Francis Excavating off the ground. Because the landscape business was running smoothly, and he had built a team he could trust to run things in his absence, Greg and Chad were able to focus their time and energy on the excavating business. “The first few years of business were a lot of personal man hours. We bid the jobs, we ran the equipment, we worked long hours… you name it, we did it. It was a rough few years starting out, just like any business, but we were determined to make it work.” And that is exactly what they have done.    

Coming from a legacy of hard workers makes an impact on a child, and that has been the example from all the adults in Greg’s life. His mother, Francine, has a successful career as the Director of Marketing and Communications at CHRISTUS St. Michael. Her example, as well as his father’s commitment to letting Greg spend time with him as he worked, and the influence of his “Papaw,” who was Francine’s father, laid the foundation for the hard worker he is today. According to Francine, “Greg was born with work ethic. He saw the family history of working hard. His dad worked hard, I worked hard, his grandparents worked hard. I would describe him early as being tenacious, stubborn, decisive, a risk taker and one who didn’t see challenges as challenges but as opportunities,” she said.

“When I was in middle school,” recalled Greg. “My Papaw would pick me up from school every day. After school, we always had a project to work on. We worked on old cars and trucks, barns… basically whatever we could get our hands on. The main thing I remember is that he taught me to do things the right way, the first time. So, taking the time to do something right and not rushing through anything has been something that’s always been instilled in me. I learned a lot about work ethic from him, so I’d say he had a lot of influence over me when it came to me starting my business.”

Many people can look back over their lives and recognize the people who have built in them a strong work ethic. What is it, though, that makes some brave enough to take that next step and act on that entrepreneurial spirit inside them? His mother is convinced it came naturally to Greg. “He’d share his ideas and tell me, ‘I can do it.’ And I’d say, ‘ok,’ and we’d give it a try. He was a lot braver than I was. He got that from his father. He had the bravery to explore the unknown.”

Greg, however, lays some of the credit back at her feet. “I started my landscape business when I was 13 years old, so she would have to drive me to and from my jobs. She also helped me get the word out by telling her friends and coworkers who then hired me to take care of their lawns.” Having that type of support and encouragement from the people around you can make all the difference. “My mom was always supportive and would never allow me to go hungry, but she always taught me to work for what I wanted. I learned really fast the value of earning money, saving it and reinvesting it in more equipment in order for my business to grow. It used to frustrate me some back then, but I now appreciate the fact that my mom never gave me any handouts.” She believed in his abilities to make a way for himself, and over and over Greg has proven her confidence was not misplaced.

Success can also sometimes hinge on the people with whom you surround yourself. Greg has been strategic in that area as well. He has been in a long-term relationship with Lauren Callaway for a while now, and she has many of the same qualities driving her to be successful in her own entrepreneurial endeavors. “They make a good couple on several levels,” said Francine. “They’re both entrepreneurial and driven to be successful in their particular roles and businesses. She’s taught him a lot about patience and looking at things a little broader sometimes.” Greg is grateful for her influence and support. “Yes, I am a lucky man. Lauren and I have a lot in common. We are very similar when it comes to our work ethic and drive, which is what initially attracted me to her. She’s very smart, beautiful and extremely caring. Lauren is very good at her job, and we actually work a lot together on projects. She’s as stubborn and headstrong as a mule, so she keeps me on my toes. I never quite know exactly what I’m about to get into with her, but she’s never steered me wrong, so I think I’ve found a keeper.”

There are very few who even know what they want to do with their lives at 13 years old. That number is made even smaller when you start counting those who are willing, at that age, to bring that dream to life. Greg Francis is truly special. We all could use a little more of the drive, determination and commitment to excellence that has made him successful in building his businesses. His advice to other dreamers is three-fold: “1) Be okay with starting small but to always strive for growth. Allow yourself to be the little guy and work your way up. As long as you have the drive to grow bigger, and you do not give up, then chances are you’ll do just that. 2) Always have a Plan B. I would say MOST of the time, Plan A does not pan out like you thought it would, so if you do not have a Plan B, you might get discouraged and quit. And 3) As you begin to grow, know that you cannot do everything yourself. Hire people that are an asset to your business. It takes many, many people to keep the puzzle together, and I’m very thankful to have phenomenal employees from the office to the field.”

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