He contributed sweat-equity, then vision, to turn the family distributorship into an industry institution.
Just before Tom Forshaw III was a high school senior, he spent the summer digging foundation ditches for his father’s new distribution company’s building. In 1961, his father, Thomas Forshaw II, started Forshaw Chemicals to sell and formulate products to the wood preserving, saw mill and pest control industries.
Little did Forshaw know that after high school, college and several years in the military, he would return to build his career in the pest control industry. "As a young man, while I attended pest control meetings with Daddy, I didn’t think much about the industry at the time," Forshaw admits.
FORMATIVE YEARS. When it came time for college, Forshaw had to choose between Clemson University, his father’s alma mater, and North Carolina State. He selected NC State, majoring in applied mathematics and pursuing minors in both computer programming and economics. "I figured I would go to NC State where I could get some work done," kids Forshaw, alluding to Clemson’s reputation in some circles as a party school. While at the university, Forshaw also participated in intramural sports and joined the ROTC.
Throughout college during summers and vacations, Forshaw worked for his father mixing chemicals and doing other odd jobs at the company. The company was a formulator at that time and, recalls Forshaw, "We mixed a lot of chlordane."
After graduating in 1966, Forshaw went into the military where he spent six months training in Georgia and New Jersey and then a year in Korea as a company commander. "I ran a signal company where I learned a lot about leadership. I was responsible for 260 people," reports Forshaw. After serving in Korea, he joined the Army’s psychological warfare unit. It was work he enjoyed since this assignment brought him closer to home.
Yearning for a more unregimented life, in 1968 Forshaw left the military and moved back to Charlotte. He was 24 at the time. "Ultimately, I decided to join my dad in the business. He gave me the car keys and told me to go and sell something."
Forshaw recalls that most of his time in those early days was spent selling agricultural products, but he saw opportunities in structural pest control too. "Several times after calling on farmers, I would visit PCOs on the way home and try to sell them some of our new products. I had attended some of the pest control meetings in the area, including those at NC State, so I was familiar with the industry."
The company’s biggest account in the 1940s was Orkin, and Forshaw’s father had already built relationships with several managers there, so it was natural they would want to do business with Forshaw.
Ironically, all of the other segments of the Forshaw business (i.e. agriculture) are gone now. "We’re primarily pest control. Both my brother and I bought dad out in the early 80s. And in 2005, we split the business in half. He took the wood preservative business and I kept the pest control business," states Forshaw.
Reflecting on his career, Forshaw says it was simply meant to be. "I feel I was born in the pest control formulation/distribution business. I enjoy the business. I think the majority of people in the industry are honest, family businesses."
PERSONAL INTERESTS. Like all companies, Forshaw has had its share of ups and downs, but overall business is consistently good, says Forshaw. Using pilot metaphors, he explains, "You can be flying high some of the time, but you can’t be flying high all of the time."
And there’s a reason flying terms permeate Forshaw’s speech. He’s been infatuated with aviation ever since his uncle arranged for him to ride in a helicopter at the age of 6. Having earned his pilot’s license in 1983, Forshaw still flies and owns a single-engine plane. "I like getting up in the air where I don’t have to worry about following that white line in the middle of the road," says Forshaw. "I can make turns when I want to — plus I like getting there faster than driving!"
Forshaw met his wife, Meredith, soon after leaving the military. "Without my wife pushing me and her guidance, I don’t think I would have accomplished all that I have. Sometimes I need to be calmed down, which she is very good at."
Today, Forshaw’s family is still involved in the business. His oldest daughter, Anne, has worked for the company; his son, Thomas IV, remains heavily involved in management; and his youngest daughter, Susan, is doing some of the web work for Forshaw. "My proudest moments have been when the children have been working in the business with me," attests Forshaw.
Son Tom IV observes, "My dad has been a tremendous influence on my life both personally and professionally. I feel that my upbringing was shaped by his strong background in math (and possibly his time as company commander conducting psychological operations in Korea for the U.S. Army). He has taught me to look at situations from all sides. Evaluate the good (the necessary), the bad (the unnecessary), and then determine how to make it better. If the benefits outweigh the costs, the decision is easy. He has also taught me the importance of family. And that strong family base is paying dividends now that I have three boys of my own. I am proud to be working in the company my grandfather worked so hard to create and my dad worked so hard to build to where it is today."
LOOKING AHEAD. Forshaw is particularly optimistic about the future. "I think the pest control industry is really taking off. Customers are demanding high-quality service." He believes PCOs who adapt will succeed. "Things are going to change, but those who understand the needs of the customer are going to be fine. There are still a lot of small pest control owners who need product, service and education. And there are a lot more manufacturers that need to get their products to the marketplace, which is good for distribution."
Besides Forshaw heading up his own company, his leadership roles include being a member of the NC State Engineering Foundation Board, a member of several state and local pest control associations and serving as an adviser to one of NPMA’s boards. He’s also a former UPF&DA president and chairman of Speckoz.
"My plans for the future include resting a little more and spending some more time with my wife. I’d also like to stay in contact with the industry. I’m gradually transitioning the business over to my son. It’s much easier to sell it to an outsider than passing it through, but we’re going to make it work," Forshaw explains. It’s nice to be able to do that for your family. Not many businesses survive two generations, much less three generations. We’re approaching our 50th year in business in 2011. That’s an accomplishment in itself. There’s been a Tom Forshaw calling on PMPs since 1946!"
Long time friend and associate, Valera Jessee, executive director of UPF&DA, observes, "a visit with Tom Forshaw is like reading an interesting history book on pest control. He and his family have been a major part of the defining moments of pest management for many years."
Today Forshaw remains as dedicated as ever to the pest control industry. He is a seven-year survivor of prostate cancer, and just after being diagnosed in 2003, Forshaw found the strength and will to attend the national convention even though it was just three weeks after he had surgery. "I needed to be there since I enjoy the meetings so much," he explained. "At the time, I was chairman of Speckoz and UPF&DA and felt weak. I didn’t stay the whole time, but I did what I needed to do."
Forshaw says having cancer didn’t change him all that much. "The prognosis is great. I just take it one day at a time." However, he admits, "I do think more about my family and how I’m going to live out my life in the coming years."
In contrast, Forshaw doesn’t think much about the early days spent creating the company from the ground up. He’s too busy thinking about all the opportunities that lie ahead.
IN IN BRIEF…
NAME: Tom Forshaw III
COMPANY: Forshaw Distribution
HEADQUARTERS: Charlotte, N.C.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Serves as an NPMA board advisor; member of the NC State Engineering Foundation Board; member of several state and local pest control associations; former UPF&DA president and chairman of Speckoz; served in the U.S. Army as a Company Commander in Korea and with its psychological warfare unit; graduate of North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.; served in ROTC.
PERSONAL: Married 41 years to wife Meredith; three children — Anne, Thomas IV, and Susan; enjoys boating, hunting, fishing and flying; holds a pilot’s license; is a cancer-survivor.