Arborguard’s Spence Rosenfeld, former TCIA Board member, dies (2/6/52 - 4/1/18)

Spence Rosenfeld, 66, of Avondale Estates, Georgia, former president and CEO at Arborguard Tree Specialists, Inc., long-time TCIA member and a former member of TCIA’s Board of Directors, died April 1, 2018. He passed away peacefully and pain free, with his family by his side, after a long battle with cancer.

He earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Albright College and Master’s degree in Urban Forestry, Tree Pathology and Entomology from Duke University. He founded Arborguard, Inc. in 1981 and ran the company until a merger with The Davey Tree Expert Company in 2017.

A TCIA (then NAA) member since 1983, Rosenfeld was a TCIA board member from 1990-1995. He also served on the boards of Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association (MALTA), the ISA and the American Forestry Association.
Rosenfeld’s LinkedIn profile described him as a “Tree care industry expert with a passion for business development and entrepreneurialism.”

He founded his company (Arborguard, Inc., dba Arborguard Tree Specialists) in 1981 with little money in his pocket, he told TCI Magazine for an Accreditation profile in 2007.

“Basically, I had four days of work lined up. I went out and borrowed about $15,000. I had an old Asplundh truck, a chipper and some old chain saws. I had a couple of guys who were going to go out and do the work. The challenge was to stay ahead of them with sales, so that’s what I did. I sold work for tomorrow, more or less,” recalled Rosenfeld. “I climbed trees in college to make money, then made a conscious decision to move to Atlanta and start a business. I just did it.”

He ended up growing the company to 90 employees, with offices in Atlanta and Charlotte, and $10.5 million in annual revenue.
Rosenfeld said in 2007 that it was how they approached the customer that set them apart from their competition.

“It goes back to the culture of the company, where everything we do is oriented around solving problems for the customer,” he says. “When we go out and visit a property or meet with a new customer, we don’t talk about Arborguard and how great our trucks are and our insurance policy and everything else about us; it’s not about us at all. It’s all about them. We ask questions. We try to find out what kind of problems they have that we can help solve, and then we provide solutions. It’s a little different angle of looking at things, but if you get it, it’s very powerful.”

Rosenfeld’s biggest business challenge was a common one – finding and developing good employees.

“It’s always been the hardest thing. We are constantly recruiting. We visit different colleges. For our salespeople, we have a program where somebody who has ambition to be involved in this industry, in sales, will come on board and work in the field for 18 to 24 months. We have a very specific group of skills they have to learn and be exposed to; they’ll work in plant health care, tree care, and they’ll ride with our arborists. After they go through that training program – and get certified – then we’ll put them in a territory. We found that’s the best way to expand our team.”

Arborguard was the first company in Georgia to achieve TCIA Accreditation, in January 2007. They pursued Accreditation, said Rosenfeld, because “it was the right thing to do.”

“We want to be out in front leading the industry and that’s what that program, I think, is all about.”

Rosenfeld and Arborguard were early adopters of environmental initiatives, such as driving hybrid cars, recycling all of their wood products and using organics in their plant health care program.

  • On his website, Rosenfeld had a letter explaining his business principles:
  • Always do my very best.
  • Don’t work for money. Instead, work for the love and passion I feel from within.
  • Treat everyone with honesty and fairness, as I would want them to treat me.
  • Always do the right thing with the highest moral and ethical standards.
  • Provide the best quality possible for those who understand and appreciate it.
  • Listen to the customer and try to understand what they want.
  • Admit my mistakes, take immediate responsibility and, without compromise, make amends.
  • Contribute to the welfare of humanity and the community as a whole.
  • Know what I believe in and live by those same principles.

Rosenfeld merged with The Davey Tree Expert Company, an employee-owned company, in April 2017. Jim Stief, Davey’s executive vice president of U.S. residential operations, said, “We have been deeply impressed by Spence’s passion for the well-being of his employees throughout the integration of Arborguard and Davey. All of us consider it a great honor and privilege to have known and worked with Spence and to have forged with him a union of his life’s work – Arborguard – with Davey Tree. We are very cognizant of the legacy with which we’ve been tasked and will preserve and care for his employees and clients as he wished.”

Jamie Blackburn, district manager for Arborguard’s Georgia operations, says, “Spence was a father to the Arborguard family, always looking to balance the best interests of the company with the best interests of its employees, and for ways to expand individual opportunities and career pathways. His legacy will always remain as a passionate advocate for trees, for people and their communities, for healthy cities, and for a growing and thriving tree care industry. But most importantly, Spence was a great friend and a wonderful person, even when the tough business decisions had to be made, and he will be missed.”

Another source said that the reason Rosenfeld merged with Davey last year was because he was aware of his prognosis and wanted to do all he could to protect his employees for the future, knowing that Davey would preserve Arborguard’s brand, reputation and staff.

“Spence was the recipient of the GAA highest award, the Kim Coder Education Award, in 2010,” says Neil Norton, executive director of the Georgia Arborist Association. “I met Spence while working on the DeKalb Tree Ordinance in 1998, and was immediately inspired by his passion. Eight years ago, I spent a day with him making a video about root bridging. He is one of the reasons why I am in our industry today and feel so strongly about it. Spence will be sorely missed; but let his legacy inspire you to provide the best care for trees and our clients.”

Rosenfeld leaves his wife, Genny, and his sons, Matthew and Michael.

A memorial service was held at Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta on April 18. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Trees Atlanta, 225 Chester Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30316, or to Historic Oakland Cemetery Foundation, 248 Oakland Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30312.