Jeff McManus, University of Mississippi

The SportsTurf Interview: Jeff McManus

Meet Jeff McManus, Director of Landscape Services, Ole Miss Golf Course and Airport Operations. Jeff has been with the University since 2000. Jeff has a bachelor’s degree in Landscape and Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University. He is also an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist. His background in 5-star resorts such as Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando and Turnberry Isle Resort and Club in North Miami, have given him the vision and understanding of how important it is to make a great first impression with landscaping. “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” McManus says. “Whether we like it or not, people often judge our organization by the outside appearance.”

SportsTurf: First question: How did you end up in charge of the airport?

McManus: I am often amazed at how I ended up at the airport—and several other things I get to do. When I started at the Landscape Services Department, I began the job with the understanding that first impressions matter. For the first few years, I used that idea to drive some changes I wanted to make within the department. We didn’t have a lot of resources, but with a little engagement and effort, we began working smarter and becoming, overall, highly efficient. There were some key things we did that created some high-profile results. We lowered our cost of operations. Our daily mowing time went from 10 days to 4 days. We got some national recognition for the beauty we created and maintained. The airport, known as UOX, is the first place many new visitors see of Ole Miss, Oxford, and the state of Mississippi. First impressions matter both in appearance and customer service and UOX was in need of both. When asked to do it, I extended the thinking and training we were doing in Landscape Services to cover UOX. In the past several years we have become the second busiest airport in the state. 

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ST: Who do you root for when Ole Miss and Auburn play?

McManus: I love both schools because I have given the last 19 years of my life to Ole Miss and I went to school at Auburn. I love them both just as you love your children. That said, I work hard everyday to recruit top talent and students to Ole Miss to be one of the best of the best.

ST: What experiences led to your interest in professional development?

McManus: Professional development has given me some amazing opportunities for personal growth and connecting with others. I know I feel better about my life when I am growing and improving. When you are around others who want to do the same, it produces an incredibly positive culture. It was that culture that led to our five national championships in beautifications. We are blessed to work in an environment that is positive and produces results.

ST: Why did you decide to become a leader in managing resources and “turning weeders into leaders”?

McManus: Most people I meet don’t have a lot of people believing in them and many of them are trapped in a lie that says, “You’ll never be more than what you are” or “You can’t change your life.” But living in this country is a great gift. We have opportunities others only dream of. Yet, the fear of “what if” holds us back from fully accessing the opportunities. “What if I fail?” “What if they laugh at me?” “What if I actually do it an succeed?” I think most people go to the grave with their best gifts, talents and dreams still inside them. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of watching others break through their fears and become their best self. A good part of that process is due to the support and professional development we experience on our job. Watching that happen is amazing and fulfilling and I simply wanted to keep doing it.

ST: How do you manage your time with so many competing responsibilities?

McManus: First, I make sure to prioritize daily what is important. I set routines in my life, such as working out and running. They are on my calendar; therefore, I do them. Next, I look at who is best suited to do the various projects, assign them to the job and then make sure we schedule times to communicate and review. When I hire someone to run a department, project or even a crew, we review the vision, mission, goals, budgets, discuss strategies and desired outcomes together. Once we are on the same page, my role is to get out of the way and let them run it. Of course, I check in and review key elements of our plan periodically, but I learned a long time ago I had to give up some control and my perfectionist attitude to be able to do more. I must have faith in those that I work with to get the work done. That takes practice. One of the biggest and most damaging fallacies we live with is that we can actually manage time, but the truth is, we can only manage our priorities. Time is the great resource we are not given more of, so we have to use it wisely.

ST: What’s your favorite work activity now?

McManus: I really enjoy cultivating leadership culture for teams and organizations. There is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing the light bulb turn on for one person, then another and another, and then watch them excel in their success. When you get the opportunity to mentor younger leaders, owners, supervisors, executives, and see how it changes their life, it makes the work fun.  

ST: What’s new on the Ole Miss campus with regard to your athletic field surfaces?

McManus: This response is from Brian McNeill, Assistant Director, Sports Turf in Athletics: “Our newest fields are the football game field, this season will be the fourth year of bermuda 419. The football practice fields, we have one natural 419 turfgrass and one artificial field; this is our fourth year on both surfaces. Our natural track field is bermuda 419 and is in its fourth year. Our soccer field is in its third year, after we resurfaced the top and had the addition of certified bermuda 419 sod. The Ole Miss baseball and softball fields are original fields and doing well (also 419).”  

ST: What’s next on your to-do list regarding your speaking and professional development business?

McManus: I am excited about our next Leadership Academy November 6-7on the Ole Miss campus. It is a great way for leaders to grow themselves while working to develop leadership from within. This time, we will focus on communication and creating systems that allow a leader more time to focus on growing the business, not working in the business; how to increase high standards and even how to retain top talent. (For more information see here.