Tending the Family Tree
Like his sister Katelyn, this issue’s Enterprising Woman, Korey Zeigler’s life has been intertwined with trees for as long as he can remember also. Although a year and a half younger than his sibling, he still shares early memories of the huge, magical oak tree that served as the canopy of their playground at the family’s Folsom home. What was a trying financial time for his father, Sean, became the beginning of a great adventure for young Korey. “I was still in diapers when my dad began Zeigler Tree. When the crew would get to the house in the morning, they were larger than life beasts of men to me. After we moved to Abita when I was five or six, I’d watch them get in the equipment truck parked across the street, and I begged not to go to school. All I wanted to do was ride in that center seat.”
Living the Dream
Korey continues enthusiastically, “It’s a blessing now working with some of those same guys who are like family and being able to lead the team. They sometimes like to remind me that they remember my diaper days, but they are awesome father figures who’ve taken me under their wing and are now collaborative co-workers. At 15 or 16, my first vehicle was a pick-up that could pull the stump grinder. I was living the dream.”
Also like his sister, Korey attended Southeastern while working full-time at the family business and became the second youngest licensed arborist in the state following Katelyn’s example. As Vice-President of the company at just 26, having grown up around the business for 20 years has given him lifelong exposure and experience resulting in a philosophy and vision rare in one so young. “We’re not just tree cutters. As an arborist, you learn to advocate for preservation. Taking measures to keep trees healthy like pruning or deep root stimulation is the first goal – you don’t want to just cut everything. When tree removal is necessary, we find the safest solution for everyone.”
Focus on Safety
The company relies on decades of experience, careful planning and a focus on safety, says Korey, who serves as Director of Operations with daily duties including estimating and crew coordination. “This work is dangerous and can turn into a life-or-death situation. Each scenario is different, and we manage that with weekly safety meetings, a Hazard Analysis for each job and gear that’s in tip top shape. We recently even took it up a notch by creating a dedicated Quality Control Team.” Korey says crew camaraderie is also important. “These guys have a passion for what they do. It’s hard work and an adrenaline rush on site. It takes more time and money to find the right way to approach each job, but we have to do it to keep safety the first priority.”
All In the Family
Because the Zeiglers are so family-centric, Korey says that the lines between life and work are difficult to distinguish. “We all go camping and 4-wheeling together or go to the house for barbecues or crawfish, and the conversation always goes back to the growth of the company or what new equipment is out there.” Korey explains that investing in state-of-the-art equipment is important for many reasons. “We’re very mechanized. For example, having remote control robotic cranes means no more climbing trees. That increases our efficiency while allowing the guys to have a longer and safer career.” What little down time the energetic youth has is spent in the gym. Even the Zeigler pets are expected to do their part for the family cause. For Korey, his golden retriever, Kash, performs the job of loyal officemate and expert navigator, taking that center seat in the work truck that his human so enthusiastically filled when he was a boy.
Growing the Legacy
“It’s so cool to have others just as invested in your work as you are,” says Korey. “My mom and sister have been great role models. Even though our responsibilities rarely overlap, you know they’re right there with you working for the same goals. And now, I get to brainstorm with my dad about the company’s future. He’s been building Zeigler’s great reputation for almost 30 years. It’s hard to maintain that, but he’s done it. He’s definitely in charge, inspiring a lot of love and a little fear.
Now, it’s my job to not just keep the company on top, but to continue making it better and better. I know our dad is tougher on Katelyn and me than others because we’re family, but we have so much respect for him, that we’re dedicated to living up to that very high standard. I will not be the stereotypical second generation fail. It’s difficult and demanding, but so special to be able to do a great service for the community while providing rewarding careers for our work family. And so worth it to carry on the family legacy and to be part of something bigger than yourself with those closest to you.”
Zeigler Tree is located at 253 Highway 1085 in Madisonville. For more information, call 985-893-0991 or visit zeiglertree.com.