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The Balanced Approach

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Arborist Mitch Seaward is a busy man, but his arborist practices and intelligent outlook are key to a healthy working life.

You know those days where you wish you could be in two places at once? Well, that’s every day for 30 year-old Mitch Seaward.

When he’s not running his parents’ tree care company near his hometown of Jimboomba, Queensland, he’s focussed on his own arboricultural consultancy and tree services firm. Between quoting, admin and consulting, he even finds time to get on the tools himself, reconnecting with what attracted him to the arb industry in the first place.

“If it’s a quiet day at Aus Arbor Operations (Mitch’s business, Australian Arboricultural Operations), I’ll go along with the boys if there’s a tree job on,” he said. “I’m not the sort of person who can sit in front of a computer every day. I have to be able to do something outdoors.”

Many in our industry can relate to this, but also how it’s difficult to be able to pick and choose what a working week looks like. His parents own Advance Tree Lopping – a long- established family business near Brisbane –             but when Mitch’s dad became sick, he took over everyday running of operations. “After I’ve gone to different work sites to show the boys the job and help set up, I do at least three to five tree job quotes for Advance each day. In between I may have a consultation or  a report to do for Aus Arbor Operations. I float in between all these roles.”

What makes Mitch so interesting to talk to is his level-headedness in dealing with all the plates he’s spinning at the same time. “I’d rather stay small and nimble, with just my wife Jess and I and perhaps one or two employees,” he explained. “I don’t want four crews running and trying to find 40 jobs a week. That’s how dad ran his business in the past – he had 30 staff before getting sick – I saw what it did to him and I’m not interested in going down that path.”

Mitch has been savvy. His wife Jess was working full-time for RACQ and he was full-time for his parents when he launched Aus Arbor Operations, but he knew within a few months it was all too overwhelming. It was risky, but Jess left RACQ and went full- time for the new business, and she’s now nearing completion of becoming a qualified arborist herself.

“When a client is stressing over something that could go wrong, I can reassure them we’re using all the right techniques and are fully trained.”

“She said if she was going to be part of this industry she wanted to know what she’s doing and talking about,” Mitch said. “Lots  of husband-wife teams run a business in our industry, but the wife’s typically in admin or booking roles in the office. Jess and I will be able to properly work together.”

Mitch served his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker doing timber joinery inside boats. “I promised myself I’d never be inside working, but as it panned out I was in the factory for five years,” he said. “There’s no way I’d go back.”

He’s now completed his Cert III, Cert V and diploma, and alongside his arb work has been able to utilise his boat-building experience. “We have a woodworking shop at mum and dad’s so any trees we can recycle we mill to get timber and build tables, chairs and bars,” Mitch said. “We don’t feel we’re wasting the timber.”

His outlook is refreshing. “There’s a stereotype of what a tree-lopper is, and I don’t want to be a typical door knocker cutting down trees every day,” Mitch explained. “It can be a very trigger-happy industry where we’re quick to cut down a tree. Once a tree’s taken out, you’re never going back to that property again.”

With an increasing awareness around sustainability, green spaces and the urban forest, many private, commercial, council and government clients are embracing a more ecologically sound approach. Mitch wants this kind of business, and as part of his push in this direction has invested in a 22-metre spider tower.

“I’ve moved in a totally opposite direction and will give people advice on how to remedial prune or get some nutrients back in the soil to keep the tree,” he said. “If everything gets taken out, there’s going to be nothing left to cut for anybody. If you can get a client across the line to prune rather than remove, there could be ongoing work for years.”

“With an increasing awareness around sustainability, green spaces and the urban forest, many private, commercial, council and government clients are embracing a more ecologically sound approach.”

Mitch acknowledges that running your own show isn’t always rosy. “Yes, you  have the opportunity to make more money and can schedule your own work rather than being told where you have to be each day, but reality is the work never ends,” he said. “The phone’s ringing on Saturday and Sunday, and when you have your own equipment, loans and overheads you have to put in that extra effort. It makes you do that as there’s nobody else you can rely on.”

Mitch uses trusted contractors and said he forged some excellent professional relationships with others doing their Cert III and Cert V courses at the same time. All are able to throw each other work when an extra pair of hands are needed. “It’s not an easy job, but is very rewarding when a client is stressing over something that could go wrong, but I can reassure them we’re using all the right techniques and are fully trained to do jobs without any damage. When you’re dismantling or bringing down a big tree and somebody’s house is at risk it’s a big responsibility. Something they’ve worked their whole life for is in your hands.” Having achieved plenty in his first decade of work, Mitch has the progressive sort of mentality that should ensure he’ll be in demand for the rest of his career. “I’ve tried to get ahead of the times a little bit, moving into a different sort of market and targeting a different range of clients. I want our tree industry to consider more sustainability.”

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