Leave it to the Pros

Features - Cover Story Leadership 2017

Chris Marino digs deep inside himself to focus on snow all year long.

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September 26, 2017
Rob Thomas
Photo:trevor hooper

From a very early age, Chris Marino was actively involved in the snow industry. He began at age 10 by plowing driveways in his neighborhood with the family's garden tractor, which had a snow blade mounted on it.

“I teamed up with a good friend from school since he had a snowblower and we formed (not officially) our company called ‘Snow Pros,’” Marino says. “We kept that going until I went off to college.”

Now, 36 years later, he’s still going strong.

“Once I got out of college I started a landscape/snow company which was sold in 2006,” Marino says. “I took a couple years off from this business and dug deep inside to find out what I really wanted to do with my life and realized that I always had a passion and love for the snow-management business.

“In 2009 my wife and I decided to form a snow-only company – Xtreme Snow Pros,” he says. “We felt that if we were able to dedicate our full attention to the snow-only business, with no other distractions, we would hopefully be on a fast track to success.”

Marino and his wife, Dawn, met through a mutual friend when they were 19 years old. and have been married for almost 21 years. She says they always tell their children – Haley (17), Hannah (15), Tyler (12) and Hope (3) – to find a career that makes them happy.

“It doesn't have to pay top dollar, it just has to be something that they have a passion for. Of course, we would love for them to be a part of our company,” Dawn says. “Our son, Tyler, has loved the snow business from the start. He wants to be part of the business and, although he is young right now, he does seem to have a true passion for this work. As soon as it snows, Tyler is outside ‘plowing.’ Like father, like son.”

Xtreme Snow Pros, based in Mahwah, N.J., sees a typical snow season of approximately four months. Marino says they plan to be 100 percent operational by October 31 of each season, but it generally doesn’t start snowing until December in their market.

Marino uses approximately 50 trucks - a mixture of both Chevy and Ram. His typical setup is a Ram 5500 with Western 9.6 V-blade and 6-yard salter, and a Chevy 3500 with a Western Wideout with 2-yard salter. He runs seven liquid applicator trucks along with sidewalk division box trucks and supervisor trucks. During a typical winter weather event he’ll have roughly 150 people working - 95 percent are in-house.

Without the summer of landscaping many in the industry experience, it’s all snow, all the time for Marino.

“We are a snow-only company, so this is our full focus all year long,” he says. “In the off season our team is working on perfecting our procedures, securing new work, maintaining our fleet of equipment and training our team members.”

It’s the love of snow that keeps Marino going.

“When I am not working in our business, one of my favorite things to do is snowmobile,” he says. “Within the business I love the thrill of the storm. I thrive [on the] complexity of the event and work best under pressure, so it fits right within my personality.

“I also love technology and the capabilities of deploying technology in our company and how we can run a storm remotely but almost feel like we are with our teams,” he adds. “We are constantly trying to improve upon our systems and be able to test them out to see them come to fruition during an event. I love the challenge this offers.”

J.T. Bolger, Managing Member of Two-Forty Associates, a real estate investment and redevelopment firm, has known Marino for 20 years. The relationship began with Bolger as an employee, but has since flipped – as Bolger’s company now utilizes Xtreme Snow Pros to handle commercial snow needs in the North Jersey area.

“Our friendship and business relationship both remain strong to this day and I respect Chris for his vision and passion for snow and his family,” Bolger says. “Chris is unique in the fact that he looks beyond what is ‘accepted’ - the accepted way to do a parking lot; the accepted equipment and other accepted practices. He has taken the snow business from something a landscaper or a guy with a truck [does] and evolved it into a company that specializes and focuses on solutions for snow-and-ice management.

“While this type of company was generally around, his model in my eyes is different,” Bolger says. “He talks with people outside the area, finds out how they handle it, and then he brings it back to this area. Leading the charge with brine, using tractors over loaders, sidewalk machines instead of man power. He is in constant search of technology to make his company more efficient and more transparent.”

Dawn has witnessed her husband evolve and excel with both the business and family.

“Chris the business man is someone who I honestly respect so much,” she says. “He has grown from the boy I used to know into the man I know today. I've watched him truly become a better man in all aspects of his life.

“He has grown so much as a businessman over these years,” Dawn says. “He has a true passion for his work and he puts so much effort into perfecting the company to his best ability. He has become involved in anything and everything he can to learn more about this industry and he is motivated more than anyone I know. He speaks the truth and he is a man of his word. This is why he is respected in this field and I'm extremely proud of the businessman he has become.”

Family

As for Chris, the family man, Dawn calls him “an awesome husband and father.”

“He puts his family first and is always there for the important moments (unless there is a snow storm),” she says. “He is incredibly loyal and he truly cares about our happiness. He is a very involved father and together we put much effort into raising our children to be good people. I truly feel so fortunate to be married to someone who has the qualities Chris has. He is a true family man.”

About that, “unless there is a snow storm” comment ... That’s the down side of being a family man in the industry.

“We cannot predict snow ... so during the winter we must always be anticipating a storm,” Dawn says. “Snow doesn't care if it's Christmas, a birthday or the birth of a baby. When the storm comes, Chris must be working. When our first child was born it was snowing. Chris wasn't able to be involved during this time as much as he would have liked to. For our daughter's Sweet 16 birthday, it was snowing and Chris couldn't be part if it. Many things are missed but it's part of the territory and we all understand that.

“The other downside is the stress it brings,” she adds. “A storm is tons of pressure. As the owner, Chris carries this all on himself. And being the perfectionist he is, the pressure to please our clients is intense. But he also is not a quitter and he would never give up. At times he works for days straight and misses out on much and in return his family misses him.”

Marino credits Dawn for being there since Day 1, literally.

“My wife has been by my side and inspiration since the day we started our first company together,” he says. “In fact, we used her teenage phone line as our first number, which is still in use today by the company we sold our previous business to. Through her support, guidance and wisdom she has brought the best out in me. She also has been the backbone of our family and taking care of our four children, while giving me the ability to focus on our company, knowing that she has my back at all times.”

To paraphrase a proverb: All work and no play makes Chris a dull boy. Not surprising, when he’s not working, he’s with family.

“I am very dedicated to my business and my family. So if it is not business related, you can find me with my family,” Marino says. “I love to be fully involved with them, whether it is watching them play sports or spending weekends at our second home in the mountains.

“I believe in getting outside and spending quality time enjoying life in person and not by just reading about it,” he says. “I take my older children away each year on what I call my ‘Adventure Trip’ with them. I have taken them to different locations each year in the United States and Canada to not only spend quality time with them, but get them outside and able to enjoy all the different things there is to do. I also have a passion to travel, as well. By setting our company up to run virtual, it has given me the ability to travel more, but still able to keep our company moving along.”

Marino’s management philosophy is easy – providing his team with the tools, resources and training to ensure that each team member can feel confident and perform at their highest level. Also, having the systems in place to keep everyone’s stress level to a minimum so they can think clearly, which in turn will provide peak performance.

That says, his toughest challenge is getting the best a team member has to offer.

“I try to bring the best out of people, which is a challenge,” Marino says. “I know many of us are capable of more than we think. I want everyone to perform at their highest level and sometimes certain personalities are fine without pushing themselves. This is hard for me at times because I know if they gave more effort, it would actually make things easier for them in the long run.”

Joe Capobianco, business developer at Xtreme Snow Pros, has grown in the industry since joining Marino’s team.

“He has helped me grow both personally and professionally, by pushing you to the next level and not letting you settle for second,” Capobianco says. “He takes a very keen interest in seeing you develop your skills. This has helped me, personally, because it helps me have a better balance overall.”

Capobianco sees similarities between Marino the businessman and family man.

“Chris is very family oriented. He believes there are priorities in life that come first no matter what,” he says. “He has a kind heart and wants to help whenever he can.

“Chris the businessman is very similar,” Capobianco adds. “He wants to help his crew grow and become the best they can for his business, but also for them, too. He knows when it comes down to it, the more we succeed, the more his business succeeds. When it comes down to it when it is crunch time it is time to shine.”

Giving back

Within the snow-and-ice industry, Marino is an open book.

“I have tried my best to be a mentor and teach what has worked for me and what has not worked for me,” he says. “I enjoy speaking events so I can share with others my knowledge pertaining to this industry. I also have joined my peers in the ASCA for Legislative Day on the Hill in Washington DC. and plan to continue this, as well as any other future endeavors to push for fairness in our industry.”

And he helps in the community whenever possible.

“We often donate items to schools, churches or the town,” Marino says. “I allow the use of my trucks and equipment when needed. We donate trailers to the town parades as well as driving our army trucks in the parades. We partake in the Wounded Warrior Runs each year with the military trucks our company owns. We have donated free snow plowing services to families in our area who have an active spouse in the military.”

Beyond that, he coaches his children’s soccer teams.

Looking forward

Like most responsible leaders, making the snow-and-ice-management industry better is a priority. Marino has some ideas.

“We need to establish better training in the industry, not only for management but down to the entry-level team members,” he says. “Dealing with a general labor shortage is an issue for many snow companies. Slip-and-fall fraud claims are also a big problem in our industry and pushing for fair lawsuits is a huge need.”

As for someone looking to get into the business? “Be open minded and know that, as with most things worthy in life, it is very challenging,” Marino says. “But if this is your dream, I will always be the guy to say to go for the dream. Dreams don't come easy though. You must put in the time and effort to succeed and you must be different than the average to stand out and be noticed. Most of all you need to believe in yourself and surround yourself with positive people that support you.”