Burr Ridge landscaper grows the business using Oak Brook home
Douglas (left) and Ed Giebel, owners of McFarlane Douglass indoor/ outdoor decorating, in Burr Ridge. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Behind the scenes
Name: McFarlane Douglass
Founded: In 1984 by Douglass Giebel with his brothers, Edward and George, in the basement of his Western Springs home
What: Provides commercial exterior and interior landscaping, including for the city of Chicago and the towns of Elmhurst and Lisle
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:06AM
BURR RIDGE — Douglass Giebel welcomed a dozen or so guests from the People’s Republic of China he met at a polo match into the Oak Brook home of his 94-year-old mother for tea.
Mate, an herb tea often drunk with a silver straw from a gourd on the farm in Argentina where the founder and president of McFarlane Douglass & Companies grew up, cements the relationships he starts, whether business or personal.
The ritual capped off a tour of the warehouse where the landscaping company stores the holiday decorations that greet international travelers at the terminals of Midway and O’Hare airports.
“All the lights and everything we had there was made in China,” Giebel said.
Leaving the Pampas, Giebel came to his father’s native country in the late 1960s to study animal husbandry in Pennsylvania. After graduation, he turned down jobs raising chickens in Iowa and handling snakes in a zoo.
“I didn’t want to wear a uniform,” he said.
After more than a decade working for large retail companies, Giebel decided it was time to strike out on his own. He said he believes even though he never advertised, the word of mouth that’s helped his company grow into a Chicago area leader in landscaping is a testament to the quality of his products and services.
The first thing Giebel does each morning when he arrives at work is to check the plants in the greenhouse.
“I can walk in, and I can sense whether the plants are doing well or not. They talk to me,” he said. “I always say the plants live because you love them.”
One of the things of which Giebel is most proud is how his company weathered the recent recession.
“We tightened our belt. No one was let go, and it pays off,” he said. “I am very proud of our employees. They’re our biggest asset.”
Designer Michelle Jethmalani is one of 84 full-time employees, who include horticulturists, botanists and business professionals. She was a freelance costumer and set designer before joining the company six years ago.
Jethmalani said there’s never a dull moment, from the time an employee interviews with Giebel. In fact, with one job candidate, she said, the company’s leader took him out to castrate a sheep.
“I actually had one of the more normal interviews with him,” she said.