Tending the Family Tree
Trees have long been symbols of life and growth and venerated in religions and mythologies around the world. In Louisiana, where over half our state is forested, these botanical brethren offer food and shelter for humans and wildlife alike. They filter our air and water, slow storm surge, and are an integral part of our landscape and culture. And while they represent beauty and strength, these usual benefactors can also turn destructive when our weather turns severe.
For as long as Katelyn Zeigler can remember, her life has been intertwined with trees. “My best childhood memories are from our house in Folsom. My dad built a lot of it himself on his eight acres. We rode four wheelers, fished in the pond, and this one big oak tree – it was our playground and another world for me and my brother. We had no idea how hard times were for our parents back then financially. They protected us from that.”
Coming Out on Top
Today, at 28, Katelyn is the CEO and CFO of Zeigler Tree, the company her father, Sean, began over 20 years ago. With Sean as president and younger brother, Korey, as Vice President, the company is a reflection of the family tree. “Since I was around five, I’ve watched him build this company up from nothing, and it’s made him my idol.” As Katelyn scales an oak on the Mandeville lakefront during her photo shoot, it harkens back to a childhood exuberance that has matured into a confidence and unrelenting determination to come out on top of whatever opportunities life brings – just as her father did.
By the time Katelyn was attending Southeastern as a business major, she was already working full-time at Zeigler Tree handling phones, data input on quotes and sales, receivables and collections, surveys, photos and permit applications. “At that time, it was just me, my mom and dad, and my uncle with one or two crews – maybe a total of 15 people. I did a lot of the office work by myself for six or seven years. At the time, I was also the youngest person to receive their arborist license in Louisiana at 17.”
And while the ambitious teen seemed destined to follow in her parents’ footsteps, she did consider other paths. “I love the artistic realm and was particularly drawn to fashion. I had an online boutique for a year, but to really make it in fashion means moving to New York or Los Angeles. The sacrifices that my parents made to build this business are so meaningful to our family, I decided I had to be a part of it. Now we have at least 50 employees and six crews. Our ongoing growth is challenging but also very rewarding.”
While Katelyn says that she is humbled and appreciative to be given so much responsibility by her father, the journey has required tenacity. “First, it’s hard to gain respect as a female in such a masculine profession. Even though Korey runs the crew side of the business, that’s still a lot of testosterone to deal with. Also, as the child of the owner, there’s a lot of assuming I was given my position without earning it. I have to be tough, maintain boundaries and work beyond reproach by being on top of every area and exceeding already high expectations.”
Both Korey and Katelyn describe Sean Zeigler as a force to be reckoned with, mixing great love with a little fear – a strong leader who is harder on them because they are his children. Looking back on her ten-year tenure, Katelyn recalls, “One of his big leaps of faith was trusting me to transform the company from paper-based to electronic. I created the system in a week, taught the office personnel, and now we’re benefiting from a much more efficient operation.” Having grown up in the company and performed so many duties herself, Katelyn has literally written the employee handbook.
“The job is all-consuming,” reports Katelyn. “It’s some late nights, limited vacation time and not a lot of social life.” But she adds that there are soft spots to her days. Occupying a miniature couch in her office is Zoe, her pet French Bulldog. “Dad has her daughter, Bella, in his office next door with an identical couch.” Katelyn also tapped into her artistic talents to design her newly built home in Southern Oaks that she calls her sanctuary. “I made a lot of revisions to the plans and picked out all the materials. The house is a reflection of my personality.”
For now, Katelyn says her passion is perfecting the workings of the Zeigler Tree office to keep the company growing and to give back to the family that has done so much for her. But she also has sights on growing the family tree in the future. “In five years, I’d love to have a family and learn how to balance that with my career.”
Zeigler Tree is located at 253 Highway 1085 in Madisonville. For more information, call 985-893-0991 or visit zeiglertree.com.