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Home Magazine [2009 Leadership Profiles] Jeff Singley

[2009 Leadership Profiles] Jeff Singley

Features - PCT News

| October 16, 2009

A “fearless” salesman with a genuine heart and a desire to serve that rallies the troops.

Jeff Singley is a small town guy with a big heart who has never been afraid of hard work. He was born and raised on a farm in Americus, Ga., a town of 30,000 that’s in the same county where former President Jimmy Carter grew up.

Now, as executive vice president of Arrow Exterminators, based in Atlanta, he reflects on many of the experiences that brought him to this point. “I have lived my entire life in Americus,” says Singley of the rural town that’s about three hours south of Atlanta. “As a young child, the closest house was a mile down the road,” he says.

Growing up, Singley says he inherited a strong work ethic from his parents, Laverne and Clifton. His mother and father both held full-time jobs in a nearby industrial park. “I grew up having a lot of responsibility and chores, but I didn’t mind,” he said. “It taught me the importance of hard work.”

His parents had to sacrifice a lot as they raised their children. “I watched my mom roll pennies, quarters and dimes to buy a used car, so I would have something to share with my mom and dad to drive when I was 16.”

His strong Christian faith has also been a major influence on Singley’s life. For all of his 44 years he’s been a member of the same church, the Williams Road Church of Christ in Americus, where he currently serves as a deacon. Religion was such an important part of his family’s life that they attended church two times on Sundays and once on Wednesdays, Singley recalls.

Singley says it’s this connection to family, religion and friends that has kept him in Americus, a town that he’s witnessed grow over the years. “I remember when there were only 20 or 25 people in the church on Sunday when I was a young boy.” Since then attendance has grown to several hundred and in recent years Singley helped build a new auditorium.

AN EARLY WORK ETHIC. As a youth, school came easy to Singley, who favored computer science and math. He was heavily involved in sports up to 10th grade, and also recalls spending lots of time in the outdoors. “I still enjoy the outdoors,” he says.

But Singley’s hard work ethic surfaced early. “I’ve always been a hard worker. I wanted my own money. I didn’t want to ask Mom and Dad for anything.” Singley got his first job at 13, tending the lake house of a local physician who was a member of the church.

Then at 16, Singley took a full-time job at the regional grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly. “The owners were very strong Christians. They weren’t open on Sunday. I respected everything they did.”

“I would wake up and work at the store from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., then go to school. I doubled up in school rather than waste periods, then I left school early.” Looking back, says Singley, “I missed a lot of the things that were fun for kids, but they weren’t necessarily fun for me. I liked being independent. I don’t regret that time.” He worked as a meat cutter and quickly rose through the ranks of the company.

Impatient to earn a living and not afraid of hard work, Singley decided not to attend college. And as it turned out, working for the store would further his career in ways he wasn’t fully aware of at the time. “I was a pretty shy guy early on, but as a meat cutter you face the public every day, so it helped me be more social,” he observes. It was also during this period Singley met his wife, Liz, who worked for the University of Georgia Extension Service and attended the same church.

Piggly Wiggly was eventually sold to new owners, and things began to change. The store stayed open seven days a week and began selling alcohol, which prompted Singley to reassess his commitment to the company. “I was having to go to church on my lunch hour on Sunday and then go back to work, which I didn’t like,” he said.

Singley had a friend who owned a local pest control company, Biltmore Exterminating, and asked him about job opportunities. “He said he was looking for a salesperson,” recalls Singley. “I took the job to hold me over until I could find something else and I’ve never left the industry. I have never regretted the decision.”

A year and a half later, Biltmore was purchased by Waste Management. “Waste was a really, really good company,” says Singley, who worked as a cold-call commercial pest control salesman. “I was a naive, young country boy, who didn’t know any better. I just started selling. I didn’t have a major market like Atlanta or Dallas, but the first year I was with Waste I was the top-producing salesperson in all of Waste. I loved it. All I knew was go door to door to door. I sold a ton of stuff.”

OUTSTANDING GROWTH. When the company merged with ServiceMaster Singley decided to reassess his career once again. Ray Crim, a longtime associate, had joined Arrow Exterminators and offered Singley a position. “He is a very smart guy,” said Crim. “He knows every part of the business from the ground up. There isn’t a job or a piece of equipment that he doesn’t know how to do.”

For his part, Singley says he was impressed upon meeting Arrow’s president, Joe Thomas for the first time. “He was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met in my entire life. He really was interested in my career. He said, ‘I’ve heard great things about you and I’d like to have you here.’ That was in 1991 and I’ve been with the company ever since.”

Singley recalls Arrow was a different company then. “They were a strong termite company when I joined them, but Joe wanted a strong pest control business as well. Macon and Savannah were my main focus. One day I called on 35 people in Macon and sold 21 contracts.” Singley said in 24 months he helped grow the area to more than $1 million in revenue with about $600,000 of that in pest control. “I had some good people helping me build the business,” he added.

“We took a branch from nothing and grew it into a region,” recalls Singley. “Most of it was built by the guys on the ground.” The region now generates $14 million in business, with only a small portion through acquisitions.
Singley says he traveled three days a week until the company had enough business in the region to support several offices. Today, in Americus alone, Arrow does $1.5 million in business and has 10 routes.

Colleagues admire Singley’s drive and personable style. As a salesman, Singley is “fearless,” observes Crim. “I don’t think anybody outworks Jeff Singley.”

Arrow’s Thomas became a mentor to Singley. “He’s taught me if you don’t put the goal out there, you’ll never push yourself hard enough to succeed. He’s willing to step out of his comfort zone and work without a safety net. If he trusts in you and believes in you enough, he’ll give you all of his support and everything he’s got.”

The feeling, apparently, is mutual. “Jeff is a very warm and caring individual,” says Thomas, now CEO of Arrow. “People seem to just naturally take a liking to Jeff. He unconsciously uses this to his advantage. He has a knack for team building and getting folks to rally around him. This quiet leadership has helped him and his regions to be very successful. As a leader, he has helped the folks working for him to realize that different styles of leadership need to be used, depending on the situation and the individual.”

What’s more, said Thomas, under Singley’s leadership, the size of Arrow’s South Georgia region doubled in a very short period of time. Overall, the company grew from nine locations and $10 million in revenue, when Singley started, to 70 offices and $100 million in revenue today.

But even with those outstanding accomplishments, Singley remains modest. “I don’t need a lot of possessions. It’s not about what you own; it’s about how you live your life. Being a good father and being a pillar of the community is what’s most important to me.”

Family and friends clearly remain important to Singley. His parents live on the 400-acre farm he purchased in Americus, in a home Singley built with the help of his brother. “They’re about 500 yards through the woods from my place,” said Singley.

Singley is grateful to his wife of 23 years, Liz, for her constant support. “She has always been there for me. I don’t ever have to worry about the family. Despite a grueling travel schedule when opening new territories, like the Savannah office, she has always ensured things were taken care of at the home front.” The couple has two sons, Kyle, 19, a sophomore at Georgia Southwestern University, and Ryan, 16, a junior at Southland Academy.
What’s more, his pursuits in the industry have been rewarding for Singley. “I don’t have the luxurious school credentials that a lot of my colleagues in the industry have, but I’ve got a whole lot of real-world experience.”

A MENTOR TO OTHERS. In his current role as executive vice president of the company, Singley still enjoys building relationships. “I like to get in the vehicles and travel with these guys,” he said. “I don’t crack the whip. I just try to help them get better. You can’t demand people’s respect; you have to earn it. And the best way to earn their respect is not to ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself,” he observes.

It’s just another example of how Singley lives his life, providing service to others, whether it’s his family, his co-workers, his fellow church members or the community. Never was this more evident than two years ago this past March when a tornado carved a 28-mile strip through his hometown, causing millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses. “I was worried the county was not going to rebound,” Singley said. “We lost most of our industry in this small town.”

“He has a strong sense of community and will give of himself almost to the point of collapse,” observed President and COO Emily Thomas, pointing to Singley’s heroic efforts to help after the tornado. “Jeff spent every waking hour with a chainsaw and bulldozer, clearing trees from our customers’ homes and property. He was not asked to do this, nor did he even think about it. He just did it.”

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Singley says, “I’ve never been one who likes talking about myself. I’ve always felt if you do your job well, you don’t have to talk about yourself.”

He acknowledges wearing many different hats in life, but wants others to enjoy seeing the progress they’ve made. “I take pride in what we’ve accomplished, but what I’m most proud of is being able to mentor the people in the markets where we’re just developing our business to the point of building the operation and look back and say, ‘Wow, look what we’ve accomplished.’ That’s been very gratifying.”


Up Close: Jeff Singley
Executive Vice President
Company/Affiliation: Arrow Exterminators
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Personal: Married to wife Liz for 23 years; lives on 400-acre farm in Americus; proud parent of sons Kyle, 19, and Ryan 16; active member of church and community; devoted follower of sons’ wrestling teams
Career Highlights:

  • Commercial salesperson with Biltmore Exterminating/Waste Management (1987-1990)
  • Responsible for start-up of Arrow’s sales in Macon, Ga. (1991)
  • Named Arrow’s first national sales manager
  • Found and executed many Arrow acquisitions
  • As South Georgia regional manager, earned more than $14 million in sales
  • Senior vice president responsible for South Georgia, Florida and the West
  • Named executive vice president in 2008