Two key members of the executive management team at Western Exterminator Co. — Tom Anfora and Tom Anderson — continue a legacy
The iconic "Little Man" caricature has represented Western Exterminator to customers in California for decades. It has been seen in movies, driven past by millions of commuters on the Hollywood Freeway and even copied by the rock band Van Halen for concert tour T-shirts and souvenirs in the 1980s.
However, this caricature is more than a unique branding tool for this 89-year-old privately held company based in Anaheim, Calif. It represents the tradition of doing right by the customer, treating co-workers like family and taking pride in wearing the green and yellow uniform.
For two employees, the values represented by the man in the top hat have become integral parts of both their personal and professional lives.
The coming together of these two different people from distant coastlines fits in with Western Exterminator’s long-standing philosophy of successfully taking individuals and molding them into a team — a very successful team.
AN AMAZING JOURNEY. When Tom Anfora, Western’s vice president and general manager, packed his bags and left his native New York to move across the country in the winter of 1975, he had no idea what an interesting road he was about to travel down.
Anfora and his wife Linda first determined California was for them during a 1974 trip to Disneyland. After growing up on the East Coast, they both enjoyed the sunshine and feel of California, and even though he did not have a job secured, they put a $1,000 deposit on a home.
Through a family connection Anfora landed a job at a local computer company and that’s where the story gets interesting. Before the couple arrived in California the owner of the computer firm decided to move the business to Utah, so the job that secured their mortgage was gone and the Anforas had to go to Plan B…and quickly.
Tom started applying for pest control jobs, one of them at MJM Exterminating, a local company that had just been acquired by Western. After filling out his application on a Friday, Anfora received a call Monday that one of the company’s technicians had broken his leg over the weekend and they needed someone that day. "They sent the guy over with a cast on his leg in a truck and he asked me to drop him at home and off I went," said Anfora of his first day on the job. "The other challenge was that I had never driven a standard transmission vehicle but here I was driving my route, learning on the fly."
Overcoming the challenge of navigating the streets of Los Angeles while driving a standard transmission was not the first time adversity had thrown a curve at Anfora.
Born in Harlem to first-generation Italian-Americans, Anfora was taught the value of hard work from his father, a former WWII POW and wholesale shoe salesman who traveled New York’s five boroughs every day.
"I learned a lot from my dad about how to get along with people. He had a special way of connecting with people and he was very successful at what he did," Anfora said. "He taught me to be humble and to understand that not everyone you come in contact with is like you or shares your ideas."
When Anfora was 4, the family left the city and moved to Long Island as part of America’s rapid expansion to the suburban lifestyle. He grew up hunting and fishing in what was once a rural area but started working at 13, and by the time he graduated high school was managing small retail clothing stores.
Following a year at the University of South Carolina, Anfora received his draft notice and was stationed at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. His specialty was assembly and disassembly of nuclear projectiles, skills Anfora is grateful that he hasn’t had to put to use in civilian life.
Toward the end of his hitch in the Army in 1966, he received word through the Red Cross that his father had suffered a massive stroke and that he needed to come home. "They gave me a hardship discharge out at 2:00 p.m. and I was working at Bond’s Clothes at 4:30 p.m.," Anfora recalled.
He took multiple jobs to support his mother and four younger siblings, and help pay for his father’s medical bills. Aside from selling clothes at a variety of stores, Anfora cleaned beer tap lines at bars and worked in a bowling alley. "It was always about family growing up. You did everything for your family. It wasn’t even an expectation. You didn’t know any different.
"It was very unfortunate what happened to my dad but I never felt I was deprived of anything," Anfora said. "I always felt it wasn’t my responsibility but my duty. It was my dad. Wouldn’t your dad do that for you? Of course he would."
Over time his father was able to use a wheelchair and a walker and even regained some speech. He helped out around the house and even tutored Anfora’s youngest sister with her school work. "My dad kept battling and always wanted to help out in some way. That was just his personality," recalled Anfora.
During this time Anfora got married to Linda (who he’d met at one of the stores where both had worked). The retail business’ 12-hour days, six days a week, however, led them to decide a change of careers might be good. This was August of 1971.
On a fluke, Anfora stopped in at Arrow Exterminating on Long Island, and asked if they were hiring. After explaining to then-general manager Bob Brown what he did for a living, they told him that this might not be the right line of work for him.
But Anfora persisted and after an hour or so, Brown and owner Bernard Stegman told Anfora that if he wanted to spend a week of his vacation, they would let him work and see how he liked it.
After three days Anfora was hooked and he came home and told his wife that he thought he could make this work. "The key to the business is simple," he told his wife. "If you can talk to people, you can sell them and make money."
While supportive of her husband’s dreams, Linda said there was one problem – what Tom was being paid wouldn’t cover the rent. But as usual the Anfora spirit to work hard and overcome challenges came through and they made the leap.
Anfora’s mother’s reaction to his new career, however, was less than enthusiastic. "Are you serious?" were the first words out of her mouth. He assured her that he was going to be successful with this career choice and by the end of the conversation he had sold his first customer when she signed up for monthly service.
BORN TO BE A PCO. Anfora’s work ethic and love of people fit well into the Arrow organization. "I just loved working there. They would do anything for you and I never thought there would be another organization like that," he recalled.
While at Arrow, he met visionary technical director Dr. Austin Frishman, who became a role model and mentor. "He was one of the most guiding influences I’ve ever had in my life because he was so passionate about pest control," said Anfora.
Flash forward to early 1975 and while driving his standard transmission service vehicle, Anfora was looking to make a lasting impression upon his new but still temporary employer.
Following his father’s advice that he’d get noticed by being the hardest worker in the office, he applied for a service route in Western’s Los Angeles office. They told him, "if you can finish the route, we’ll put you on." Route 7 in Beverly Hills was Anfora’s proving ground and he was up to the challenge.
"The route had 300 customers and about 250 of them were celebrities," Anfora recalled. "The customers included some real heavyweights such as Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, George Burns and Jack Benny to name a few."
From there Anfora worked in various technician and mid-level management positions until 1981 when he took an inside salesman position looking for an opportunity to advance. He remained in that role until 1984 when he volunteered to join Western’s newly formed commercial division.
That fall Anfora was chosen to be the service center manager for the commercial unit and even though the challenges were significant, he wanted more. He applied for 11 different promotions and was turned down each time.
"I thought I had the fleet manager’s position but Roy (then President Roy Ashton) came and told me I didn’t get it and I was devastated," said Anfora. "Roy told me, ‘There’s going to be a future here for you but not fixing trucks.’ At the time I was angry because I felt I was the best person for the job. Now I see why they didn’t pick me."
Ashton, a member of the inaugural Leadership Class of 1989, told Anfora they were going to break the commercial division into a separate unit and while he couldn’t promise anything, he thought Anfora would someday run the unit.
Those words came to pass and Anfora eventually became the commercial division manager overseeing 83 employees, operations in three states and handling Western’s valuable Copesan Services relationship. He stayed in that position helping grow the unit until 2000 when he was named assistant general manager in 2001. Then in 2009 he was named vice president and general manager.
In his current role, Anfora oversees the day-to-day operations of the company’s 34 service centers that are home to dozens of managers and hundreds of service technicians. His role, above all else, however, is to make sure the company delivers the highest quality service to its commercial and residential customers. It is a role he is perfectly suited for, according to Western Exterminator President Mike Katz.
"Tom is very bright and is excellent with people," said Katz, a 1992 Leadership Award recipient. "He brings energy to the position and is not afraid to push to get things done a certain way. However, he is fair and his people respect and trust him."
The typically humble Anfora, who still loves to get out in the field and work with technicians and customers to solve their pest problems, credits his co-workers for his success and says loyalty and work ethic are key ingredients. "I have the best people in the pest control industry working for me. Everyone does their job — it is amazing," said Anfora.
In reflecting on his career achievements, Anfora once again recalled the wisdom of his father. "He told me, ‘Don’t go just by dollars because dollars will fool you. Enjoy going to work and that’s worth much more than money. You’ll love coming to work and you’ll love your people."
IN IN BRIEF…
Name: Tom Anderson
Company/Affiliation: Western Exterminator Co.
Location: Anaheim, Calif.
Position: CEO and Chairman of the Board
Career Highlights: Worked as a technician, WDO inspector, salesman, branch manager, sales manager, quality assurance manager, vice president and chairman of the board of Western Exterminator Co.
Personal: Lifelong bachelor who enjoys fishing, cooking, reading and travel, as well as numerous volunteer activities primarily centered around helping children and veterans
IN IN BRIEF…
Name: Tom Anfora
Company/Affiliation: Western Exterminator Co.
Location: Anaheim, Calif.
Position: Vice President and General Manager
Career Highlights: U.S. Army veteran; assistant manager, Bond’s Clothes; service technician, Arrow Exterminating Co.; branch manager, commercial division manager, assistant general manager, and vice president and general manager, Western Exterminator Co.
Personal: Married 40 years to wife Linda; son, Dr. Andrew T. Anfora; enjoys reading, travel and spending time with family
Executive Q&A with Tom Anderson
Growing up in a pest control company is not all that unusual. Family-owned businesses have long been a significant part of the industry landscape, and a look at the PCT Top 100 backs that up. In fact, Western Exterminator is a prime example of a family-owned business that has "adopted" its employees and created a culture that has promoted growth, stability and caring.
From the time he was old enough to remember, 57-year-old Tom Anderson has been part of the Western scene, following the company’s mantra to ‘Take care of the customer as you would like to be taken care of.’
"It was always impressed upon me that when dealing with customers and employees that we all follow the Golden Rule," said Anderson. "I honestly believe that has been the backbone of the company’s success and longevity."
Like most children in a family business he started with the company coming in on weekends and school breaks to help out. For Anderson, it was painting the company’s Little Man statues that ride on the back of service trucks. Of his early art skills, Anderson said, "I think I was in people’s hair more than anything else but it was a fun time."
However, it was not Anderson’s goal to join the company in a full-time position. He planned on going to school to become a teacher and work part-time until he landed a position in the education field. That, of course, changed. "After a couple of years, I never thought about teaching again," recalled Anderson. "I never wanted go anywhere else."
Anderson started with the company full-time in 1974 and has worked in virtually every area of Western’s operation from the bottom up. There was no corner office handed to him and that was at his father’s (former CEO Ole Anderson) insistence.
"I’ve done everything from pulling junk out from under houses to running a service route to working in our structural fumigation division," said Anderson. "I learned very fast that hauling 200-pound tarps up on a roof is not an easy task."
Over the years Anderson assumed more sales and management responsibilities and today has taken the reigns of one of the industry’s most respected and successful companies.
"Tom grew up in the business but he was not given any special treatment," said Roy Ashton, vice chair of Western Exterminator. "He is a very humble person and his breadth of knowledge about all areas of our business is impressive. Looking at Tom today, he is a reflection of his father."
The even-tempered Anderson has ridden the highs and lows of the past two years’ volatile economy well and eagerly credits his management team for their work. "We look at our company as a combination of a big operation and a tight team as well," Anderson said. "We are fortunate to have some brilliant minds and when an important decision needs to be made, we make it as a team and we roll with it."
It’s a sentiment reinforced by owner Richard Lovejoy, a member of the board of directors who worked side-by-side with Tom’s father, Ole, for many years. "It’s a corporation but our daily dealings with each other, it’s like a partnership," he said. "I think in the last 62 years I’ve been here we’ve always worked to get along together. I can’t ever remember getting mad at Bobby (Strom, another owner and member of the board of directors), Ole or Tom. We might disagree, but it’s no big deal. People say partnerships don’t last forever, but this one has lasted for quite a while through a series of recessions and the Great Depression."
"It still goes back to what my dad told us when we were running the company," Strom added. "You guys are now ‘married’ so you better make sure you get along."
With his father’s and uncles’ influences strongly entrenched, Anderson is ready to lead Western into the next phase of its long and rich history. "It’s been a life experience that has been ultra-rewarding. Western is my life and I couldn’t be happier," he said.
PCT recently sat down with Anderson to ask him about his influences and plans for Western Exterminator:
Q: Who is the one person who has had the single greatest impact on your life and why?
A: My grandmother, Eleanora Anderson. She was probably the wisest, most ethical person I’ve ever known. She immigrated from Sweden around 1900, learned the language and became a citizen. She was very proud to be an American. She had a profound habit of constantly speaking little words of wisdom and always believed in doing the right thing. She was a philosopher, diplomat, peace-maker, and a great baker.
Q: Every manager brings something different to a company’s corporate culture. What is the single most important quality you bring to Western Exterminator Company and why?
A: Western’s corporate culture revolves around a simple belief in the Golden Rule – we treat all of our customers and employees in the same manner that we would wish to be treated ourselves. I simply work with our team to ensure that this remains near the forefront of our day-to-day operations.
Q: What is the single most important factor that has contributed to Western’s success?
A: Customer referrals.
Q: What role have you played in that success and why?
A: Implementing our current customer satisfaction measurement system; it gives us a better grip on how our customers truly feel about the work that we perform and acts as a tool for our constant improvement. I happily admit that this system was introduced to me by a Copesan colleague, Alfie Treleven of Sprague Pest Solutions.
Q: What has been the proudest moment up to this point in your career and why?
A: I can’t really come up with one moment...there are many. Some examples are whenever one of our employees purchases a home, has a child graduate from college...or when one of our customers contacts me to compliment the work that one of our people has done.
Q: What has been your greatest disappointment?
A: Losing a customer due to a failure on our part.
Q: What changes, if any, do you foresee at Western Exterminator in the years ahead?
A: Although I don’t foresee any philosophical changes in Western’s vision, I do look forward to the next generation stepping in and "doing it their way."
Q: Why is volunteering for various civic organizations so important to you?
A: I strongly believe in giving back to the community and, more specifically, doing whatever we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves and, in turn, to help them help themselves. This is not at all unique to me; the majority of my co-workers, family and friends feel the same way.
Q: What are the civic causes you’re most passionate about and why?
A: Mostly things revolving around children and veterans. We owe it to both groups — the kids because they’re the future and the vets because they’ve earned it.
Q: What is something your colleagues in the pest management industry would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m somewhat of a gourmet cook; in fact I’m quite passionate about it. There are very few things that I’d rather do than spending the day in the kitchen perfecting a classical recipe or creating a new one. I also like to cook for a crowd.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: In the wonders of life and nature. Inspiration surrounds us every day of our lives. As a young man growing up I was always inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem, "If." The poem provides a short, concise recipe for happiness and success. I still enjoy sharing it with young people at appropriate occasions.
Q: If you could be in any other profession what would it be and why?
A: I love this industry and, in fact, have never really considered anything else. If I had to do something else I would probably be a chef.
The Western Leadership Tradition
As Tom Anfora and Tom Anderson enter the ranks of the distinguished recipients of the Crown Leadership Awards, they won’t have to look far to see a familiar face at the annual awards reception. They’ll join fellow Western co-workers Roy Ashton (Class of 1989), Mike Katz (Class of 1992) and Debbie Byrne (Class of 2005) on the Leadership Awards alumni list. Western has also had several winners of the Crown Leadership Technician of the Year Awards program — a testimony to the company’s commitment to excellence in all aspects of its operation.