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National Pest Management Association Convention Conversation: Russ Ives

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It’s a family affair at Rose Pest Solutions.

Russ Ives, president of the Troy, Mich.-based pest management firm, was recently named president of the National Pest Management Association. Following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, Russ Ives is the third generation in his family to hold this position. His grandfather, Harlem Ives, served as president in 1954-55 and his father, H. William Ives, served 1977-78.

NPMA Convention

Russ’s brother, Jim Ives, heads up the company’s operations team and one of Jim’s sons recently joined the company. Russ’ son Jeff works in the business as well.

And although many members of the family have held jobs in other industries, they often find their way back to pest management. Russ, for example, started working for the company at a young age. He then went to college, became an accountant, worked at a “Big 6” accounting firm, then came back to pest management.

“I grew up in the business. I first started working in the business when I was 15, in the warehouse then over succeeding summers through college, and in between years of graduate school, working in various offices,” he said. “I had a little bit of sales responsibilities, and I performed some special work like termite or mosquito control, and some of the route work. I did a little bit of supervision too.”

Ives graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Amherst College and earned his MBA from Northwestern University — Kellogg School of Management. He has been president of Rose Pest Solutions for 23 years.

In addition to serving as NPMA president and as CEO/president of Rose Pest Solutions, Russ Ives also has served the industry in a number of other capacities:

  • He also serves as president of the pest control insurance group, PestSure, as well as president of CPS Insurance, the reinsurance company in Hamilton, Bermuda, which is the financial arm of PestSure. 

Founded in 1860, Rose Pest Solutions provides pest management services for commercial and residential clients from its 15 district offices in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.

PCT Editor Jodi Dorsch sat down with Ives at July’s NPMA Academy in Las Vegas to discuss his presidency, changes affecting members, and the future of NPMA. 

PCT: What do you think of NPMA Academy? This is the 20th year of the event — an exciting time.

Ives: This is, I think, the third time I’ve really been here for the Academy. I’ve been in the vicinity a number of times with committee meetings, board meetings, and such. There’s an incredible energy to this meeting. It’s obvious, even in industry groups, been recognized as something unique. And by industry I’m not talking about our own industry, I’m talking about other kinds of industries that serve similar-type memberships — and that probably have more resources than we do.

One of the challenges that most of our companies face, given our size, is getting our own employees outside of our own cocoon and getting them connected to ideas that don’t come up in a normal daily course of business. That’s one of the real benefits of having NPMA Academy available to companies large and small. It’s an interesting mix of folks because while it may have been established to develop young leadership, now, 20 years later we’ve got folks coming back for the 15th, 16th, 17th time. We’ve got folks that are virtually new to the industry; they’re taking this as a training opportunity for themselves. And then we’ve also got what was the original target in many respects — the next generation — the sons and daughters of those that have found our industry to be a great career and a great investment. 

PCT: Your son Jeff has been to more Academies than you have.

Ives: His first Academy was probably six or seven years ago before he was in the industry actually. He was in search of a job at that time and the Academy was coming up and I said, “Hey, maybe this would be something that would be helpful to you.” So he went. And very close to that time he got an interview with Stacy O’Reilly at Plunkett’s Pest Control. After the Academy that year he went to work for Stacy for about a year and a half or so.

He’s been to several Academies and he has served in the Leadership Development Group. 

PCT: That’s how it’s supposed to work. Get people involved in the industry and the NPMA via Academy.

Ives: It is. Most of our companies try to figure out different ways to equip that next generation but that transition isn’t for everyone. Every company transition to the next generation is dependent on the interest and capabilities of the next generation — it is important to be that way.

In our family, we’ve tried to have folks do something else and then figure that pest control was definitely what you wanted to do. My dad once said, “Certainly we’re a company that can house the next generation but if that’s your interest you’ve got to do something else first. You’ve got to learn elsewhere, you’ve got to make mistakes elsewhere, you’ve got to earn your spot elsewhere and get your kudos elsewhere because all that goes into preparing you for a job to succeed.” So that’s what he did with my brother and with me. That’s what I’ve done with my son, that’s what we’re doing with my nephews. 

PCT: Let’s talk a little bit about you and NPMA. How did you get involved? And what has that experience brought to you and your company?

Ives: My first exposure to NPMA was in 1978. I started at the company in September of ’78. My dad was outgoing president of NPMA at the convention in ’78 in Orlando; Norman Goldenberg was right behind my dad. At that convention, I had the opportunity to meet the men who preceded or succeeded dad in leadership. I started to get engaged in the Michigan Pest Control Association a couple of years later. After less than a year on the board I became vice president of then-MPCA (Michigan Pest Control Association) and then a year or so later I was president.

So that got me exposure to our state association. There was no “joint state” initiative back then, but it got me exposure to other folks in our industry and working together with them. I was elected as a director of NPCA and then was elected in the second year to the executive committee. They had an executive committee that consisted of the five officers back then. Each of them was elected individually; it was not a succession like there is today. 

PCT: So you could be up for election three years in a row?

Ives: You could lose three times (laughs). But then they would supplement that executive committee with three members from the board because the board was a lot larger. There were three members from the board that would serve within the executive committee with the officers and I had that privilege. Then I was elected secretary/treasurer of the association in 1993. It was a challenging time for the association — we were living a lot more hand to mouth, so to speak. Also, a lot of the NPCA committees were drafting technical bulletins. Those are some differences between the association back then and today. 

PCT: What do you think you have gained from being part of NPMA? And what has your business gained as a result of your involvement?

Ives: Certainly within our market area in Michigan, NPMA has been a huge resource to us from a legislative and regulatory standpoint. The association has helped keep some of the adverse situations that have appeared at times in some other parts of the country from happening locally. I also credit NPMA with the acquaintances and friends I have developed through engagements and from going to PestWorld. And through participating on committees, every time, there’s something to bring back to your organization out of that.

You often think that as you get to a certain size, you kind of “have it together.” But I’ve found you learn so much from companies that are much younger and perhaps much less afraid. Even though Rose has 155 years of experience, it’s always a risk the longer you continue to do what you’ve always done — and that’s not necessarily the best way. So, communicating with other NPMA members opens our eyes in many respects to other ways of approaching problems.

Government relations is a huge and important function of the association. But I read something recently that struck me. That was that government relations are not a member benefit. Wait a minute, what? The point the comment was trying to make was that government relations are not an association benefit because it affects everyone in the industry. Yes, it’s a hugely important function of the association. But you can’t think of it entirely as a member benefit because ultimately we serve everybody in the industry. 

PCT: What would you say to someone who says, “Tell me about the association. What am I going to get out of it? Why should I join?”

Ives: There was a presentation produced about a year and a half ago called “10 Things You Don’t Know About NPMA.” There are some great insights there about the services NPMA offers.

Particularly for smaller companies, you can make your NPMA membership dues back very quickly. You’ve got resources in Fairfax, Va. — entomologists and pest identification resources — which are significant for a smaller company that may not have these resources in their own offices.

The online community My NPMA has message boards and sharing. Via those message boards, you’ve got access to expertise from different parts of the country. Someone you don’t know can respond to a question you put out to the community and get answers. You don’t have that if you’re not a part of NPMA. You’ve got affinity programs related to vehicles, related to gasoline, related to prescription cards, and more. These benefits can be really significant. You’ve got access to QualityPro that you do not have if you’re not a member. For a smaller company, you can put yourself on the same playing field from an industry stewardship perspective to communicating with potential clients with the largest companies in the country. The QualityPro toolbox is really helpful; it’s helpful to my company, but I think it is even more helpful to smaller companies. 

PCT: You will be the president during CEO Bob Rosenberg’s transition. That’s a big deal because Bob has been here for so long and he’s so beloved by many people. Can you talk a little a bit about the hiring of a new CEO? And how this transition is different from others in that the board has had about two years to prepare?

Ives: It’s a real blessing to recruit for a position in which something’s not broken. I think this is the first time we’ve replaced a CEO since Phil Spear where we’ve had significant time for a new hire. When you have a retirement, you’ve got some time to prepare for it and you’ve got time to search.

I think the succession committee has tried to do a lot of forward-thinking — what the industry is going to need from the association in the future — and is trying to find an individual who has the right skill set. No matter where the new leader has been previously, everyone learns something differently from another leader. And I think from a staff standpoint, that’s a wonderful thing about having new leadership — because there’s bound to be something from the new leader that would help them to improve as well.

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for our staff, and also from the standpoint of looking forward, maintaining energy, and defining NPMA’s emerging direction.

There’s no question that any change brings a little bit of nervousness, it brings a little bit of excitement, it brings a sense of the unknown. But I have every confidence that the process is working well. And I think we’ve got a great committee to do that discernment. 

PCT: One of Bob’s legacies likely will be the right-sizing of the NPMA staff. Former NPMA Executive Vice President Rob Lederer certainly did a great job of hiring and keeping staff members. I’m an outside observer but it seems that Bob has hired the number of staff members that NPMA needed to move full steam ahead.

Ives: Bob has had some great raw material to work with. I think he has team members who are very committed to our industry and who are capable in their areas of responsibility. Also, they are committed to each other, which makes for great teamwork. It means that the entomologists — when you get to a convention or a meeting — will be shipping boxes right alongside the conference staff. It might not be someone’s particular area of expertise but because it’s something that needs to be done, they’ll pitch in. All NPMA staff is quite willing to do that. And that’s something that’s very much in evidence at meetings like Academy but it’s also evident in the office. It’s a credit to several generations of leadership of the association.

Among Bob’s gifts and graces is an ability to help empower folks to really test out some new skills. And yes, there’s been a reorganization administratively and NPMA has brought in some additional folks as replacements or as supplements to certain areas of need. 

PCT: Cindy Mannes is back at PPMA, that’s an exciting personnel change as well.

Ives: Cindy coming back to PPMA is a privilege in a number of fashions: one is that is you have somebody who knows PPMA well, who was with it when it started and helped to develop a lot of the initiatives, outreach, and measurements since its formation. Not only did she start that but she maintained an engagement with it when Missy Henriksen was with us. So it’s wonderful to have a pretty easy handoff back to a very capable and committed person like Cindy. 

PCT: How has the NPMA board of directors changed and what does that mean to the association?

Ives: We now have three supplier representatives as defined by the bylaws. One of them is from UPFDA and there are two other industry suppliers. They have a vote, which is new. I think this change acknowledges that there are a lot of challenges that PMPs and suppliers have in common and that our industry is stronger because of their support.

I’d like to think that in the last several years NPMA has made a great effort to formalize the ways we can receive feedback and provide information to the supplier community, whether it was meetings at PestWorld or through their representation on the board. It is still an association of pest management professionals — all you have to do is look at the numbers on the board and you know that. But I think that the supplier community has welcomed that opportunity and stepped up to the plate in terms of how they’ve become a more formal part of the association. 

PCT: What’s the next big project or initiative for NPMA?

Ives: There is no grand new initiative for me to espouse — although certainly getting a successful transition accomplished with the right individual is obviously a key priority. But I also want to say that I think that we have an opportunity this year to benefit hugely as a membership base from the work that is gone into improving, enhancing, and developing the new database. Among the key initiatives for past presidents Laura Simpson, Kevin Pass, and Billy Tesh has been to try and help our members become more aware of what they have in their association membership. It’s been said many times that so many of our 7,000 members don’t know everything that is available to them as members of the association. And there’s a percentage that doesn’t even realize that they are members of our association because they come in through a state program, which was what they really joined. So many of us are very close to our own state, local, and city associations but haven’t studied NPMA’s offerings.

With the database and what that will enable us to do in terms of outreach, our members are going to get a lot more information, hopefully in ways that make sense to them and fit their needs. For example, the ability for members to manage their own accounts is a big one. Members will be able to manage their profile and their own interests and subscriptions. I am not one prone to overpromising benefits — and I'm not saying that everything will be flawless, it never is, but you don’t grow unless you’ve made some mistakes. But the outcome will be something that will be really positive for our members.

Read the full story here >

October 30, 2015    

Written by: Jodi Dorsch

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