Jeff McManus Discusses New Book “Growing Weeders Into Leaders”

Jeff McManus. Photo courtesy of jeffmcmanusspeaking.com

Jeff McManus has just released his exciting new book “Growing Weeders Into Leaders. The guru of Ole Miss landscaping is now revealing his many secrets of how he put Ole Miss on
the national map in terms of natural beauty and breathtaking landscaping scenes. A man truly of all seasons!

HottyToddy.com: Jeff, before we review the book with you, for those readers unfamiliar with your Ole Miss history, please give us a brief synopsis.

Jeff:  I came to Ole Miss in the year 2000 because of the vision of then Chancellor Robert C. Khayat.  He envisioned Ole Miss as having one of the most beautiful campuses in America.  He understood that first impressions mattered and by making Ole Miss the best it could be, we could help set the stage for more greatness in the classrooms and beyond.

HottyToddy.com: A successful man is only as great as the family supporting him. Tell us about yours.

Jeff: Suzanne and I have been married since 1994, 23 years, we have 4 wonderful children, Sam 21, Nathan 20, Joshua, 19 and Mark 16.  Suzanne grew up in Va. Beach, Va. and graduated college with two degrees in Business Management and American Studies at University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.  Sam & Nathan are in school at Auburn University, Joshua is in school at Mississippi State and Mark is in the 11th grade at Oxford High School. At the baseball game recently my wife said she identified most with the umpire… having to continually sweep home plate after it was messed up.

McManus and his family


HottyToddy.com: Robert Khayat apparently had a great deal of influence with you, how so?

Jeff:  Dr. Khayat is a wonderful leader who taps into achieving a big vision with a team philosophy.  He challenged me to think bigger and beyond just doing work with excellence, but doing it for a bigger purpose.

One day when I saw him pulling up a weed on campus, I asked him, “what are you doing,” he said, “I am weeding by example.”  That is the kind of leader he is.

HottyToddy.com: Every time we look up, Ole Miss is either winning or being recognized with another national accolade thanks to you and your staff. Can you bring us up to date on a few of the more recent ones?

Jeff: We like to call the national accolades, national championships.  We have 5 national championships that I know about, most recently was 2016 USA Today as the most beautiful campus.  Princeton Review, Newsweek and 2 more from Professional Grounds Managers Society.   In our truck shed on campus we hang banners from the rafters like you would see in a coliseum to remind our team they are national champions.

HottyToddy.com: Your new book is already receiving some rave reviews.

Jeff: It’s fun to see the positive reaction to the book.  I had some great people helping me along the way with the book, too many to list here. It excites me most to hear how people are using it to grow their teams.


HottyToddy.com: Jeff, you always give credit to others when discussing your successes. Tell us about your staff.

Jeff: We have the best staff in the world.  We really do.  These folks do things that most people today just can’t  or will not do.  Working early morning in hot and cold temperatures.  Rain, sleet or snow, they are doing tough outdoor work and bringing such joy to our community.   We created a Landscape Creed a few years ago that brought our core values into clear focus.  As new employees come on board, they quickly hear our culture, and then they experience it.  We are blessed to have great leaders in Dr. Vitter and Larry Sparks, both who embrace the value of outdoor beauty.

HottyToddy.com: What inspired you to write “Growing Weeders Into Leaders”?

Jeff: There are a couple of reasons.  I wanted to share the story of how when given the opportunity people really do their best with incredible pride and belief in why and what they do. I also wanted share a few insights I found to be successful in creating a national championship program. We have people come to Ole Miss from all across the country to see how we do things. We host an annual Landscape University training program to share our ideas.   

HottyToddy.com: The degree of your success is now legendary. How has making great hiring choices impacted this?

Jeff: Hiring the right people is very important; learning how to interview is a science and art. One of my tasks is to make sure everyone understands our department’s role within the University.  Everyone is expected to pick up trash, me included.  No one is too good or graduates from hands on work:  to serve, get dirty and “weed by example.”  Dr. Khayat taught us that.

HottyToddy.com: For those of us who will be acquiring and reading the book, provide us a few insights as to what we will come away with.

Jeff: If you try great things, failure is part of the process.  Whether building a championship program or winning in life, you have to plant a culture of resiliency.  We don’t find excuses, we find ways to adapt and overcome.  There are opportunities if you look for them; they usually look like problems first.   

HottyToddy.com: Turning to the campus, how would you describe it to someone who has never been here?

Jeff: Majestic. Ole Miss is special. The Fredick Law Olmstead family and William Nichols laid out the space on campus in a unique way to create environments for learning – both inside and outside.  When you drive onto the Ole Miss campus, you sense it is a well developed space ready for you to grow your personal seeds of greatness.

HottyToddy.com: I have heard on numerous occasions from faculty and other university leaders that the beauty of the campus is paramount in student decisions coming to Ole Miss. This has got you make feel most proud.

Jeff: 62% of prospective college students will make their decision to attend a college or university in the first few minutes of a campus visit.  We regularly hear from parents, students and faculty how the look and feel of the Ole Miss campus connected with them.  It has very little to do with me, but a lot to do with those ahead of me in history and those today that develop the master plans. Ian Banner who continues to see the value in the master plan and unique green spaces makes it an exciting place to work.

HottyToddy.com: The Landscaping Camp of 2017 was another huge success. Tell us about a few of the highlights.

Jeff: The camp was a huge success because of the work of Rosie Vassallo.  She had the vision to invite people from all across the region to be part of the 3-day camp.  We had some great people in Oxford like Diane and Dickie Scruggs, Sam and Mary Haskell who allowed us to tour their beautiful yards.  That was a wonderful treat.   I look forward to Landscape Camp 2018.  

HottyToddy.com: With all of the beautiful trees on campus, talk about the most famous one adjacent to the Student Union that is protected by the security fencing.

Jeff: Ole Miss has some great trees on the campus, including some State Champion trees.  The Northern Catalpa tree between the Union and Bryant hall is the largest one in the state. Its trunk is 22’ in circumference and I estimate it was planted around 1848-1900.  Several years ago, we had a straight-line wind hit the campus and this tree pretty hard.  The tree’s soft wood split in several places and we knew in a matter of time we were going to lose this grand old tree.  We took steps to keep the tree on life support for as long as we can.  It has such a history and unique value.  The fence was added to keep people safe in the event a limb does fall and we knew construction was coming at the Union and the fence would provide some protection.

HottyToddy.com: Where can “Growing Weeders Into Leaders” be purchased?

Jeff: It is available at your local book store and at Square Books here http://www.squarebooks.com/book/9781683503309

HottyToddy.com: Jeff, we forgot to mention your many speaking appearances. Where are you headed next?

Jeff: I am speaking in Orlando, Florida September 14th to professional landscapers.  Then I will be speaking to the Mississippi Society Certified Accounts later in September.  I love speaking to groups that see the value in growing the people they work with – whatever the profession, leadership is a culture and a team effort.  


Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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