Contractor of the Year Finalist: Wally and Mike Mundy

Like many people who are passionate about their work, Wally began his career in grade school. Born and raised in Aurora, a suburb 42 miles southwest of Chicago, then 9-year-old Wally earned spending money mowing lawns in his neighborhood. His customer base grew and provided him income through his college years. After serving in the military, Mundy returned home, married and in 1972 began to grow his lawnmowing business into what Tom Cook of R.C. Wegman Construction calls the best landscape contractor he has ever worked with.

Wally’s world
An upbeat and energetic family man, Wally proudly looks around Aurora and has an emotional ownership of his hometown. Mundy’s business philosophy mirrors his solid Midwestern personal principles of community, honor and service. Planted in each job Mundy Landscaping does is the pride and gratitude Wally feels for the opportunity to do the work. He approaches each commercial and municipal project as if it was being constructed on his own property and makes sure each job is done as if he had to wake up to it every morning.

“The customer is the reason we have a business,” Mundy says. Mundy understands that customer expectations and attitudes have changed over the years. “Customers don’t want to know what you’ve done for them lately. They want to know what will you do for them today,” Mundy says. “We try to put ourselves in their position to understand what the customer requires to meet their goal, not just finish a job. That can mean thinking several steps ahead of our part of a project so that the next company can come in and do their part to meet their requirements.”

During construction season, Mundy employs about 20 people, some who have worked for him for more than 20 years. In the off-season months, Mundy runs his business with a permanent staff of four. His long-time employees often encourage their own adult children to work for the company.

Pride and productivity
Mundy Landscaping maintains a fleet of GMC dump trucks, Deere tractors, Cat backhoes and Case skid steers in house, but Wally is mindful that his company’s success depends on the combination of high-quality equipment and first-class employees who take pride in their work. “Everyone needs to feel like they’ve accomplished something and feel good about their work. Giving our employees state-of-the-art equipment lets them get their jobs done efficiently and gives them a sense of pride in the work they do,” Mundy says. Optimizing his company’s human and iron assets increases Mundy Landscaping’s productivity and strengthens its reputation.

Growing with demand
Aurora shares the economic challenges many industrial towns in the Midwest face, and Mundy works with city planners to take strides to make Aurora a multicultural, family-friendly city with a strong accent on the arts. Wally’s artistic vision and architectural training is giving Aurora and surrounding Fox River communities award-winning landmarks. Mundy Landscaping’s work on the Sunken Garden in Phillips Park won the 2002 Environmental Improvement Grand Award from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, and was cited again in 2003 for Excellence in Landscaping Silver Award by the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association.

As the area’s growth continues, Mundy is seeing the type of projects he’s asked to do change. Mundy Landscaping began as a general softscaping services contractor but the company’s distinctive market niche began to emerge as outdoor decorative and functional hardscaping projects became part of new building designs.

At Aurora University, Mundy Landscaping rebuilt the entrance to an earlier residence hall to provide handicap access. In keeping with Mundy’s belief that art and function should work together, the project has a graceful garden pathway feel.

Also at Aurora University is Dunham Hall, a prairie-style arts and technology center. Mundy’s landscape shrubs and retaining wall designs balance the two-story glass wall on one side, while the black sparkling walkway up to the building’s arched entrance seems to reflect Mundy’s optimistic attitude.

As the Fox River winds through the city, Mundy Landscaping is responsible for building the Fox River Canoe Chute, part of the recreational renaissance on the river. Nearby is the Fox Walk, a series of riverfront walkways and bridges leading pedestrians from the Paramount Arts Center through the city to restaurants, entertainment and the Hollywood Casino. Mundy’s plantings and multi-level paverworks set the stage for relaxing by the river.

Mundy has held Aurora’s citywide landscape contract for more than 10 years and brings an artistic eye to even mundane projects like planting parkway trees.

Increasing demand for vegetation architecture, hardscapes and site preparation services is giving Mundy Landscaping reason to expand their equipment fleet to include larger equipment like a 315 Cat excavator. As Mundy Landscaping’s client base expands to include developers building large housing projects and 1-million square foot warehouses that use thousands of trees to mask their building from adjacent residential areas, Mundy prefers to rent or lease equipment that he feels won’t be used on a daily basis.

No generation gap
The change agent who is leading Mundy Landscaping into the 21st century is Wally’s son, Michael. Born and raised in Aurora, Mike shares his father’s ‘ownership’ of the town. Mike has a profound respect and love for his father, and proudly says, “My dad is the greatest man I know.” As a kid, Mike shadowed his dad on jobs and at the shop, learning to appreciate the business his father was building. More importantly, young Mike understood his dad was special because of the relationships his father cultivated in the community. When Mike’s ride-on push-pedal toy truck required some maintenance, Wally took it to the company’s shop for work. About a week later, Mike was the talk of the neighborhood when Wally delivered the renewed truck on the back of a flatbed tow truck with lights flashing, escorted by a full-dress, siren screaming Aurora squad car.

Wally is quick to admit that Mike’s insistence on bringing technology to the business has given Mundy Landscaping new momentum and an edge on the competition when bidding a job. Surrounded by a huge collection of construction equipment models, the company’s computer system houses a CAD landscape design system that provides the Mundy’s with better designs and increased productivity. Mike’s energy is a source of new business ideas and some amusement for his father. Knowing his son will eventually take over the family business gives Wally great satisfaction.

Measure of success
Both men share the same sense of personal and professional integrity. Companies who work with Mundy Landscaping understand that Wally and Mike’s definition of success includes gaining and holding the respect of their peers and the community. The need to do worthwhile, honest work is a large part of Wally’s management style and also the guiding factor in how he lives his life.

Robert Vaughn, chief of staff for the city of Aurora, cites an example of a public golf course landscaping job Mundy did that required 2,200 trees. Vaughn says even though he counted how many trees were planted, he knew Mundy Landscaping installed exactly 2,200 trees before he began his count.

Mundy’s success is also defined by his quiet charity. He often gives his time and materials to support community projects, including a gift of about $50,000 of landscaping around a local church.

Wally points to an old brick industrial building in downtown Aurora, saying that’s where his father worked. It is no coincidence several of Wally’s most attractive projects are within eyesight of his dad’s work.

In his commitment to his community and his need to honor his past, Wally does more than look towards the future and what it will bring him. Wally also looks up.

In the shadow of his father’s old workplace, on a cold winter’s night just before the turn of the new century, Wally was thinking about a fitting centerpiece for the city’s new Millennium Plaza. As he looked up, his eye was drawn to the North Star. It occurred to him that those who had gone before him, pushing the country and community forward seeking to make their lives better often navigated by the North Star. Mundy designed a three-sided, 60-foot concrete tower whose peak always points to the North Star. Surrounded by an open-air amphitheatre in a park along the Fox, Aurora’s Millennium Tower lifts its viewers visions and signifies Mundy Landscaping’s faith in the future of their hometown.