Dr. Eric Smith, the inaugural PCT/Syngenta Professional Products Crown Technical Excellence Award winner, is one of the fortunate few who have been able to practice a lifelong passion, the study of insects, as part of his full-time profession — technical director of Lynchburg, Va.-based Dodson Bros. Pest Control.
Smith’s enthusiasm and interest for pests and pest control leave a big impression on colleagues, co-workers and others. “Even on vacation, Eric still works — learning more about pest (and non-pest) species and gathering material for future training programs,” said Copesan Services Corporate Entomologist Jim Sargent. “For example, I almost missed my plane at a national conference because Eric wanted a ‘few more minutes’ to look at specimens in Utah.”
A LIFELONG FASCINATION. Smith’s interest in insects can be traced back to a time that not even he can recall — infancy. “When I was in diapers I would go outside and catch honeybees in my hand,” Smith said. “Apparently, I learned somehow to do it without getting stung. My mother gave me a jar and let me have at it.”
The son of a pair of educators, Smith’s interest in insects was nurtured while growing up in suburban Cincinnati. Smith’s path toward entomology began at nearby Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he graduated in 1966 with a botany degree. He then attended Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., where he studied under renowned beetle expert Ross Arnett. Smith then attended The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, and earned his Ph.D. in systematic entomology, while studying under Don Borror, best known as a co-author of Borror and DeLong’s Introduction to the Study of Insects, a standard insect textbook used at universities today. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the top researchers in the world,” Smith said.
From 1975 to 1980, Smith served as insect collections manager for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he was responsible for the management and implementation of programs related to the museum’s entomological research collection. This was a fulfilling job for Smith, who says that by nature he is “a collector.” “I’ve gone through phases collecting different items, but I always came back to insects,” he said. “I just find them fascinating. They were fun to collect and to watch as a kid and that hasn’t changed.”
MAKING HIS MARK. Smith first became directly involved in the structural pest control industry in 1981, when he was hired as technical director for Orkin Pest Control, Atlanta, Ga. His responsibilities at Orkin ranged from research, development and evaluation of products and treatment techniques to the production of training materials to troubleshooter. “It’s the greatest training ground from the perspective of getting to see pest control from the West Coast all the way back to New York and Florida and all points in between,” he said. “I saw pest control in every type of climate, environment and structure you could imagine.”
Smith left Orkin in 1988 to begin work on what would be his seminal work, the NPCA Field Guide to Structural Pests (see “An Industry Standard,” below left). After spending six months as a technical sales representative for Maag Agrochemicals, Smith decided to return to the service side of the structural pest control industry. Ed Pinigis, ex-technical director at Dodson Bros., heard Smith give a presentation on pharaoh ants at a state association meeting and recommended him to Bert Dodson Jr., president of Dodson Bros. In 1989, Smith officially joined Dodson Bros. “Bert’s given me total support. He reviewed my work the first year and then said, ‘It’s yours — go to it. Let me know how I can help,’” Smith said.
Much like his previous position at Orkin, Smith wears many hats at Dodson Bros. Smith is responsible for addressing a wide range of technical questions of importance to customers, regulators and others. For example, Smith might spend a morning answering customer inquiries and identifying insects sent to him by Dodson service technicians, and then spend the afternoon performing quality assurance inspections at top-tier Dodson accounts. This ability to communicate with a wide range of people is one of Smith’s most impressive traits, according to Dodson. “Eric is a giving, humble and extremely hard-working individual. He never talks down to people and he’s always willing to help no matter who you are,” Dodson said. “You may be president of a corporation, a technician or a concerned customer — he gives everyone equal attention.”
A LEADING EDUCATOR. Smith has left his mark as one of the pest control industry’s leading educators, not only for his work at Dodson Bros., but also as a member of Copesan’s and NPMA’s technical committees and the educational committees of the state associations in Virginia and North Carolina. Dodson estimates that in addition to his company’s service technicians, about 7,000 professionals have been educated at various workshops presented by Smith. As a member of Copesan’s Technical Committee, Smith is called upon for his knowledge on insect identification and for other technical questions. Likewise, the knowledge Smith has gleaned from this group has been immeasurable. “They’re the most valuable group of people I know in the industry,” he said.
Smith also has shown the ability to adapt his training programs to changing industry needs. For example, after observing that the industry was becoming saturated with lecture-style meetings, Smith decided to concentrate his training efforts on more hands-on training. In the last few years, Smith has been instrumental in the development of the Virginia Pest Management Association’s Master Technician Training Programs on ants, cockroaches, rodents, termites and occasional invaders. These programs include half a day of classroom learning, including field learning, and half a day of identification. Begun at Virginia Tech, it has now become a traveling program. In addition to viewing the insects under microscopes, attendees can take insect collections and identification reference materials back to their offices. Smith also is co-chair of the North Carolina Pest Control Association Pest Control Technology School, and he helped institute a similar identification course that has been used in this course.
Smith’s involvement in these programs are just the latest accomplishments in a career that spans 25-plus years and has impacted thousands. In presenting the Crown Technical Excellence Award at the PCT Rodent Management Summit in March, PCT Publisher Dan Moreland commented, “Last summer, we solicited nominations from the industry for the first annual award, surveying hundreds of our readers and receiving scores of nominations. There was one person who stood head and shoulders above the rest as the consensus pick for the award as a result of his vast market knowledge and selfless commitment to the industry. That person was Dr. Eric Smith.”
Upon accepting the award, Smith thanked several mentors, including industry consultant Harry Katz, and Dan Stout, former senior vice-president of Whitmire Micro-Gen Research Laboratories, who passed away in 2001, as well as his colleagues on the Copesan Technical Committee. In addition, Smith credits wife Deborah Blanchard for providing the support necessary for his professional success.
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT magazine and can be reached at email@example.com.