Top 100: Family Business of the Year: Ian MacLean

Ian MacLean courtesy photo

Highland Landscaping LLC

820 A Enterprise Place

Southlake 76092

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Ian MacLean never intended to own a landscaping business. Count him as likely one of the few landscape construction business owners with a degree in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering.

Ian’s father, John, retired from American Airlines after managing a $16 billion annual budget and brokering the largest airplane purchase in aviation history. Ian’s fascination with aviation led Ian to attend the University of North Dakota to pursue a career in aviation.

Then 9/11 happened and his aviation-related degree had lost its luster as pilots were laid off by the thousands. There would be no career as a pilot or instructor.

However, while at the university, he also completed the school’s Entrepreneurship program and corresponding Kaufman Foundation Entrepreneurial Internship Program, which proved to be handy.

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MacLean had always planned to return home to Southlake and the first jobs he found were in the landscaping industry. After a short time in the industry he told his father, “I could make this my career. We could make this a career as a family.”

Highland Landscaping began 18 years ago with Ian MacLean and three part-time employees. It has grown to include six members of the MacLean Clan, as they like to call themselves.

His father, John, serves as Chief Procurement Officer and Financial Adviser; Ian’s brother, Jason, is  Senior Vice President of Operations & Planning; his mother, Jacqueline, was the initial bookkeeper, issuing handwritten invoices, and she now authors the company newsletter; and Ian’s two sisters, Sarah and Courtney, worked in the family business for close to 10 years each.

“Clan” is an accurate term for this family steeped in Scottish tradition.

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For decades, many of them have taken the trip to the MacLean Clan Gathering every five years at the Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, the ancient home of Clan MacLean. These MacLeans do honor the Scottish traditions, complete with kilts and bagpipes.

Ian began the company working small residential jobs, building a reputation for thoroughness and an eye for design. His first breakthrough occurred when he won the bid for a Chick-fil-A job on Southlake Boulevard.

The franchisee at the time, Mark Guilbert, chose Ian because of his imaginative plan for making the restaurant’s drive-through area a miniature botanical garden, punctuated with seasonal foliage and flowers that were switched out as seasons changed.

Guilbert received so many compliments for the landscaping that he called Ian and offered approval for Highland to display a small sign at the edge of the landscaping. Ian reports that the small 6 X 12-inch sign had an impact that led to millions of dollars of business from impressed patrons of Chick-fil-A.

That small – but invaluable – sign also helped lead the City of Southlake to choose Highland to landscape four roundabout intersections. Next came the landscaping project for the Hilton in Southlake Town Square and the Brian R. Stebbins Park in Town Square. Major residential and commercial assignments followed.

Ian MacLean became involved in the Southlake Chamber of Commerce when that Chick-fil-A client, Guilbert, left to become CEO of the chamber. He convinced MacLean to join, and then to become more active.

Before MacLean knew it, he was chairing the massive Oktoberfest that has drawn 100,000 attendees each fall, and he chaired the chamber twice in 2014-2016. 

That involvement opened the door for Ian to take a role nationally. He was approached by the United States Chamber of Commerce to serve on its Small Business Council. Now in his third year on the council, he is now chair of the Small Business Council.

The other glue that holds the MacLeans together is their shared faith.

They played a pivotal role in creating and implementing Mission in the Marketplace, a Christian faith community event that has featured former Baylor Bears football coach Grant Teaff and Dallas Cowboy & NFL Hall of Famer Bob Lilly.

Ian MacLean has also helped lead the charge for the Southlake Chamber’s prayer breakfasts, which have occurred virtually each month for the past few months.

Until this pandemic, Highland Landscaping performed more commercial landscaping than residential. COVID-19 changed that, according to Ian.

“We experienced a common malady with our competitors, as many of the corporate accounts were having cash flow issues. They responded by slowing their pay to vendors like us,” he said.

Highland is fortunate to be located in a robust community where a great number of its residents that are executives at firms large and small.

These executives are now spending more time working from home – with many situated on their patio or around a swimming pool – so they have been looking to elevate the experience with dramatically more attractive and inspirational landscaping, according to MacLean.

This pivot in focus has led the MacLean clan to increase the amount of its residential work in the past several months, a trend that should continue into the future.

Ian and his wife, Krisha, live in Keller with their three daughters, Ella, Clara, and Magnolia