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[2008 Leadership Profiles] John Chapman

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A skilled troubleshooter, Terminix’s John Chapman is adept at teaching others the finer points of pest management.

| October 13, 2008

One John Chapman was born in 1774. And another John Chapman was born in 1949. One dedicated much of his adult life to propagating trees. One dedicated much of his adult life to saving those trees from wood-eating pests. One John Chapman was known as Johnny Appleseed. And the other John Chapman is known as one of Terminix’s “answer men” — a group of skilled troubleshooters willing to impart their knowledge unto others.

There are a number of ironic similarities between the John Chapman of yore and the man who serves as Terminix’s director of technical services. For instance, both appreciated the earth from an early age. “As a kid, I was into everything that had anything to do with nature,” Chapman (the honoree) says. “My mom had a routine of frisking me to get the live critters out of my pockets because she didn’t want them in the house.”

EARLY INFLUENCES. Chapman planned to become a veterinarian, combining his love of animals and science. That is, until he saw the veterinary students at Michigan State University dissecting animals. The stomach-turning sight led Chapman to explore other options, including entomology. “When I took an Entomology 101 class with Dr. Roland Fischer, one of my first and most important mentors, I knew I was in the right place,” he says.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, Chapman moved south. “I decided Texas is warm, Michigan is cold — easy decision,” he says. “And I knew there should be plenty of bugs in Texas, so I figured I could find something to do with entomology.”

A career in pest management wasn’t Chapman’s initial goal, but he answered an ad in Corpus Christi for a service technician at the local Terminix office. He never dreamed he’d remain with the company for more than a quarter of a century.

Bob Akin, the Corpus Christi Terminix franchise owner, and Vern Walter, who owned the Harlingen, Texas, franchise, were significant influences on Chapman’s early career. Akin instructed Chapman on the business aspects of structural pest control, and Walter on the technical side, since that topic had not been part of Chapman’s college curriculum. Pursuing even more on-the-job education, Chapman participated in Terminix-sponsored clinics where Bud Snyder and other Memphis-based instructors presented the finer points of pest control.

A TECHNICAL DIRECTOR AT HEART. In 1974, Chapman accepted the position of assistant manager at the Fort Worth Terminix franchise, having learned much about the business side of the industry from Akin. Meanwhile, Vern Walter moved to Memphis to serve as Terminix technical director and periodically asked Chapman to consider joining the company’s technical staff.

“I was getting away from technical services and moving into management,” Chapman says. “But you won’t see any management books or awards around my office. I was really a technical director at heart.” And that’s why Chapman jumped at the chance in 1977 to join the Memphis-based Terminix technical department.

The days before PowerPoint presentations on laptops involved lugging slide projectors and collapsible screens across the country, often on red-eye flights, in order to bring technical training to Terminix employees.

“When we weren’t traveling, we were working on training materials, monthly training programs and technical bulletins to keep the technicians in the field up to date on the latest products and treatment techniques,” Chapman says.

He credits his ability to put technicians at ease to his own humility, recognizing that he’s not the ultimate expert in the field. He notes that, “I always remembered the fact that people helped me to learn the structural pest control industry, so now it was my turn to do the same thing. I don’t talk down to people because I don’t know everything, either. You can learn something new every day in this field.”

As so often happens to bright, young professionals, Chapman was not to stay long in Memphis, heeding a call to grasp a new opportunity in Fresno, Calif. Moving his family across the country was a major consideration, but Chapman says, “At that age, you want to try new things.”

One of Chapman’s accomplishments in his new position was implementing a training program for new technicians with the goal of passing the licensing exam to become a field representative, which is required to identify pests and make recommendations regarding control. With Chapman’s program, the licensure exam pass rate increased significantly and managers knew their new hires would be able to do productive sales work in the field within a month due to the initial training program.

TERMINIX’S ANSWER MEN. After five years of technical management work in California, Chapman was ready to return to Memphis and rejoin the corporate staff. As director of technical services, Chapman works with Stoy Hedges, sharing the Terminix technical services duties. Hedges is responsible for general pest control while Chapman focuses on wood-destroying organisms. “We’re the ‘answer men’ for anything technical that has to do with Terminix,” Hedges says. “If we don’t know the answer, we find out.”

Hedges notes that he and Chapman share many personality traits, such as a sense of humor, a positive outlook and the ability to communicate technical information in an understandable way. Hedges also appreciates his co-worker’s reliability and modesty. “People can depend on John to come through when they need help,” he says. “Both John and I, having done the work ourselves, having run routes and drilled houses, can understand what (the technicians) are going through.”

Chapman’s longevity at Terminix is somewhat unusual in the pest control industry. “I like the company I work for, and I like the people that I work with,” he says.

FAMILY AND INTERESTS. As Chapman continues his career with Terminix, he uses his personal time to further cement his similarities to Johnny Appleseed. “Outside work, I enjoy doing the yard work and trees. I’ve moved quite a few times and usually the houses didn’t have trees. I’ve planted over 100 trees,” he says.

His hobby working on his classic MG Midget automobile and spending time with his six grandchildren also keep him busy. Never an avid reader, Chapman recently discovered the joy of books: “The iPod has changed my world. I now get audio books and go through a book a week. I’ve taken a liking to literature and tried to catch up.”

Chapman also appreciates his family’s support as he pursued his career, particularly as he traveled the world to help develop Terminix franchises on other continents.

“My wife (of 37 years) has been there every step of the way,” he says. “There was more than one occasion where she found a bag of insects in the freezer, and she had to take on the brunt of the responsibilities with the kids. She’s had to put up with a lot.”

A LEADER BY EXAMPLE. At 59, Chapman has a few years left before retirement, and he plans to stay right where he is. “I like what I’m doing,” he says. “I enjoy training others and keeping the field up to date, helping to teach people the right way to do things.”

And other executives and field representatives throughout the company seem pleased that Chapman will be around for a while longer.

Fred Strickland, who has worked with Chapman at Terminix for 25 years, says, “His relationship with staff is very unique. He’ll always do whatever is needed to get the job done. If I could use one word to describe him, it would be ‘consistent.’ He’s very discerning when selecting the technologies adopted by Terminix, and he’s an awesome teacher. If I was going into a termite war, I’d want John right by my side. I’m honored to work with him.”

And like Johnny Appleseed, Chapman’s friends say he has a generous nature and does right by the people he loves. He cared for his mother in her last years and still takes care of his mentally challenged sister. In fact, Strickland notes, “It’s that caring side of John that is his most remarkable quality.”

Through his willingness to plant the seeds of knowledge and success among Terminix employees around the world, this John Chapman has touched lives, shaped careers and served as a role model for more than 35 years.

Chapman's '15 Minutes of Fame'

It’s not all serious business at the Terminix offices when Chapman and Hedges are present. In fact, all of America got to witness one of Hedges’ pranks. Knowing that Chapman has a propensity to “scream when you startle him,” Hedges and other co-workers scared Chapman with a fake dog that appeared to leap at him from within an office. The prank was recorded and later aired on “America’s Funniest Videos.” “We didn’t win any money, but it was fun,” Hedges says. “John still has people come up to him and say they saw him on the show.”

“America’s Funniest Videos” was not Chapman’s only TV appearance. In 2003, Chapman appeared on the History Channel program “Modern Marvels: Exterminators.”

John Chapman at a Glance

  • Director of technical services, Terminix International, Memphis,Tenn.
  • Handles the WDO technical areas
  • In addition to technical positions, Chapman has held management positions while at Terminix
  • Graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in
  • Married to wife, Sue, for 37 years; two daughters and six grandchildren
  • Hobbies include yard work/gardening, working on his classic MG Midget, listening to audio books