Press : West Austin News

One day back in the early 80s, a high school student named Rick Scheen was scraping windows at a construction job in Shreveport, Louisiana. He had just noticed a couple of sharply dressed men when a fancy car pulled up and the driver got out to talk. Rick could hear their conversation and it went something like, “You got time for some golf? Oh yeah, my sticks are in my back seat. Sure, let’s go.” Then they drove off.

Rick turned to a nearby construction worker and asked, what do those people do? The worker laughed and said, “They’re landscape architects.” At that point, a spark was ignited. Two years later, when Rick’s mother tossed the LSU course guide down on their kitchen table and suggested that he pick a major before he headed off for college, he started thumbing through it and then a light came on in his head—“my interest in building and construction . . . those guys I saw. . .landscape architecture!”

It’s always amazing to me when I hear a story like this. Point being, from the time he graduated from LSU’s nationally-renowned landscape architecture program in 1992, Rick Scheen has ascended to the pinnacle of his profession with the company he founded in 2000: LandWest Design Group.

How does the July 2008 cover of Architectural Digest for his firm’s work for Lance Armstrong’s West Austin home strike you? In short, since the company’s founding in 2000, Rick and his company have compiled an elite listing of customers, including international sports figures, Fortune 500 executives, and several of Austin’s homegrown billionaires.

Not bad for a Louisiana boy who once wanted to be a professional bass fisherman.

If I had to identify the most compelling “successful person” trait that Rick possesses, it’s the ability to instantly make up his mind and then act on it with ferocious zeal. (On that point, though I’d never met him before, I knew who he was as soon as he entered a West Austin coffee shop. This guy brings a lot of energy with him.)

For example, at one point in his college career, he had gotten fed up with a lot of things and decided that he would join the Army and get into the branch that would take him where he wanted to go the fastest. He made an almost perfect score on the written test and could have gotten into any career path available, but his criterion was that he wanted to join and be out of Baton Rouge immediately. With some guidance from the recruiter, a few days later Rick had dropped out of college and was in the infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia. In one year, Rick worked his way into an engineering unit, still following his interest in building and construction. What did he learn there? For one thing, how to operate many kinds of heavy machinery – and that knowledge has served him well. “I can make a backhoe do just about anything—dance around, turn on a dime, whatever—so if I go to one of my job sites and see a guy not doing it right, I can step in and show him.” (He also learned that being in college wasn’t such a bad deal, so he went back to school.)

After earning his degree in 1992, Rick did extensive professional work in Louisiana and then came to Austin. After rising from an entry level position to running the entire residential division of a large Austin landscape company (largely because he initiated taking on profitable residential jobs the firm was choosing not to pursue), he started LandWest Design Group in 2000.

Rick says that he did $1.5 million in work the first year, but after 9/11, things “got rough.”

But he’s persevered and now has 50 people working for him, including three landscape architects Rick believes to be the best in town. “And we’re all on the same page.”

So how does he approach his projects? “It’s all about education and everyone buying into the process.”

Rick says that obviously, whether you are talking about a $50,000 project or a project with a budget north of $12,000,000, it is critical that you come up with the right answers. But that is something he has done a lot of times now.

“There are all kinds of answers, but you have to include a lot of factors in your thinking. For a new project, who is the architect? The builder? We don’t just take a picture and then paint by the numbers. If it’s architect X, I know that the feel of the home is going to be different from someone else, so that colors my thinking.”

This is where Rick really got fervent about all the things you need to find out on jobs LandWest handles – whether big or small.

“Where do the pathways lead? How do service people approach the property? Is there a way to direct the paths so that the pool guy won’t track mud on a sidewalk each time he shows up? Which way does the wind blow most of the time and where should the pool be placed or sheltered to prevent leaves going in it? How high the steps should be is dependant on who will be using them and how long you intend to live at this residence – do you plan to be in this home for the rest of your life? Do you have plans to entertain and will you need spaces for concerts? If you need valets at your parties, what are the best places for entry and egress? Do you require handrails for elderly relatives? And there are overall aesthetic questions—should the stonework be gray, white, cream? What type of design is the house (Old World, Modern, etc.)? Would brighter plants work better or should the feel be softer? What about drainage?”

It’s obvious that Rick knows that the details add up to make the big picture right. And his ability to make quick decisions and act on them has served him well.

(By the way, he still likes to go bass fishing.)