The statement is heard every election cycle and goes something like this, “Send a business person to Washington, D.C., or to the state capitol, and he or she will get things done.”
Many say that argument is sound because who better than a person who has built a business from the ground up or who is responsible for making a payroll to understand what it takes to get things done — and to know what’s really important to workers.
The pest management industry has an abundance of individuals who match this profile and who have entered public service to make a difference for their communities.
Several pest management professionals have successfully run for public office at the national and state levels using the skills they honed as business owners and managers. These individuals know how to communicate, build consensus with co-workers and suppliers, know how to balance a budget, and are leaders inside and outside their company.
Each decided to enter public service based on a sense of duty and patriotism as well as having the goal to improve how government works with the business community. Each wants to make it easier for business owners to run and grow their businesses, and contribute to their respective economies.
They also have learned that working in government isn’t the same as bidding on a termite job or deciding to replace vehicles in their fleet. As business owners they had the power to change direction on a dime or launch a new service offering after just one meeting but in politics the pace is considerably slower and the process more layered.
When reviewing the roll call of Congress and state assemblies you will find that the pest management industry is well represented. Led by second-term U.S. Congressman Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL) the list includes Missouri State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr.
When you include industry professionals who serve in local government, the number grows significantly. Such involvement demonstrates the pest management industry’s willingness to serve and take an active voice in how the pest management and business community is represented from city hall to the U.S. Capitol.
PCT visited with four of the industry’s public servants to ask what inspired them to run for office, what skills transferred from their business to their political career, what they’ve learned about government during their time in office and what advice they have for PMPs considering running for office.
South Carolina State Treasurer
Home Pest Control
Columbia, South Carolina
Following graduation from the University of South Carolina, Curtis Loftis took a summer job in the family business to make some money until he decided exactly what he wanted to do with his future. The family business was pest control and the company was Home Pest Control, founded in 1962 by Loftis’ father.
“I did not go into it looking to make a career in pest control but once I started working in the business I liked it and decided to put my degree to good use helping grow and expand the business,” said Loftis.
Using the latest technology and mirroring best management practices from leading Fortune 500 companies, Loftis built Home Pest Control into one of the state’s leading pest management providers. In 2000, Loftis retired from the day-to-day business operations and left to travel and see the world but he always intended to return to the family business at some point.
After a 10-year hiatus Loftis was back and Home Pest Control was continuing to grow and flourish under the direction of his business partner Steve Leidinger so Loftis set his sights on a new challenge — running for South Carolina Treasurer.
Loftis said he felt the care and custody of the state’s finances were not being looked after and the veteran businessman decided he wanted to do something about it. Loftis ran and carried all 46 of the state’s counties in 2010 and won re-election unopposed in 2014.
His campaigns have been built on talking about real issues when it comes to the state’s finances, an approach he learned while running his own business.
“Most voters do not fully understand all that the Treasurer’s office does in investing and managing more than $40 billion in state funds and acting essentially as its chief financial officer,” says Loftis. “Our job is to get the biggest bang for South Carolina’s bucks whether we are buying vehicles or miles of highway.”
Loftis also is working on changing the culture of government to make it more supportive of the business community.
“Small businesses must be proactive to grow and prosper and we don’t always follow that model in state government,” says Loftis. “We are encouraging our staff to advance ideas that will help small businesses and be bold on behalf of our business community.”
When asked what advice he would share with a fellow pest management professional considering running for office or entering the political arena, Loftis says get prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
“If you are dedicated to changing government for the better it will involve a lot of hard work and dedication,” says Loftis. “The road will not be easy because reform is difficult for people to accept and they will challenge you but if you persevere you can succeed.”
Rep. Mike Bernskoetter
Missouri State Representative
Art’s Pest Control
Jefferson City, Missouri
Do you know an elected official who can say they can inspect a crawlspace in the morning for termites and debate a proposed bill on the floor of the state assembly in the afternoon? If not, then meet Missouri House of Representative member Mike Bernskoetter (R-District 113) and owner of Art’s Pest Control in Jefferson City, Mo.
Bernskoetter, a third-term representative, says his business is located only a half mile from the capitol building in Jefferson City and the close proximity allows him to wear both of his professional hats equally when the Missouri legislature is in session from January to May.
“I live and work within five miles of the capitol and that has its advantages when it comes to taking care of our customers’ pest management needs and my constituents’ requests and inquiries,” says Bernskoetter, who was elected as majority caucus secretary by his fellow House Republicans this term.
The veteran pest management professional — he purchased Art’s Pest Control in 1986 — entered the political arena after watching a national trend where the interests of small businesses were not being represented and the fiscal responsibility of government was lacking.
“It wasn’t something I was planning on doing but the timing worked out that our youngest son was heading off to college and our representative was term limited,” says Bernskoetter.
Having never run for political office before Bernskoetter says his initial campaign against a Jefferson City councilman was devoid of poll numbers, political handlers and an extensive lineup of television advertising spots.
“There was naturally a little apprehension in the beginning and we ran it by the seat of our pants but we just kept moving ahead,” says Bernskoetter. “In each election since I’ve grown more comfortable with the political aspects of the job...it has been time consuming but very rewarding.”
Looking out for the interests of small business owners is what prompted Bernskoetter to run for office and his work in the legislature on their behalf is what keeps him there.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our country’s workforce and represent half the country’s economic output,” says Bernskoetter. “We are trying to reduce mandates that tie the hands of small businesses and prevent them from hiring new workers and growing and contributing to the local economy.”
When asked what skills he has transferred to the legislature from his day job as a pest management professional Bernskoetter says the basics serve him well when working on behalf of his more than 36,000 constituents.
“Be on time, do what you say you are going to do, manage your time well and make customer service a priority,” says Bernskoetter. “Those traits work well in pest control and in government.”
Bernskoetter encourages other industry professionals to seek elected office if they have the support of their business and home families.
“You can’t do it alone and you learn quickly that you can’t run politics like you run your business,” says Bernskoetter. “In your business you can make a decision and change directions in a matter of hours but in politics the process is longer, ideas have to be fully vetted and you need to build consensus with your fellow legislators to move things along.”
Rep. Bob Dold Jr.
U.S Congress (R, IL-10th District)
Rose Pest Solutions
When Bob Dold Jr. decided to first run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 it was not only good timing but the culmination of a lifetime education in the value of service and dedication.
“Serving a greater good was ingrained in me and my siblings from my parents (Bob Sr. and Judy) from an early age,” says Dold in an interview from his Washington, D.C., office. “It also was an important part of my longtime and ongoing involvement with the Boy Scouts.”
What motivated this father of three and Boy Scout troop leader to decide to jump into the middle of the contentious national political arena?
Dold says his decision to run was both emotional and practical. The emotional side came from his experiences running Rose Pest Solutions with his parents and the fact that government was making it harder and harder to open the doors every day.
“I was frustrated that many of our representatives did not understand what it took to set a budget, make a payroll every week or hire a staff,” says Dold.
The practical side came from Dold’s political mentor Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) who held the 10th District seat for five terms before winning election to the Senate. Kirk was Dold’s representative and Dold often went to him to voice his concerns as a small business owner.
The advice Kirk gave to Dold? “He told me it was the time to step up or stop complaining,” recalls Dold.
The campaign trail opened Dold’s eyes to the harsh reality of today’s somewhat caustic and hostile political landscape but he again drew on the lessons his parents and family imparted on him.
“You have to keep your cool and balance, even when people are reacting to you or saying things that are not true,” says Dold. “You have to stick to your core beliefs and listen.”
Dold put those lessons to work twice more — in his 2012 re-election campaign, which he lost by a narrow margin and again in the fall of 2014 when he regained the seat that represents Chicago’s North Shore suburbs.
Dold agreed with the assessments his fellow PMPs offered about the differences between running a business and running the government.
“The pace can be frustrating at times because things move much slower in government than they do in business,” says Dold. “Just as we educate customers on our pest management services it is my job to educate my colleagues on the vital role our industry plays in not only protecting public health and property but in contributing to local economies across the country.”
What advice would the second-term Congressman give to aspiring public servants who also happen to own or manage pest control companies? “Our industry is active in the community every day and service is part of our DNA,” says Dold. “I would encourage someone interested in seeking an elected office to engage with fellow business owners and civic groups.”
Dold says whether it is running for the school board or a city council post, the perspective PMPs bring as it relates to meeting a budget and listening to what people need is important.
“The need for good, well-rounded public officials has never been greater and the pest management industry has an abundance of talented men and women who fit the bill,” says Dold.
Senator Arthur Orr
Alabama State Senate (R-District 3)
Cook’s Pest Control
A self-described “doer” Arthur Orr has never shied away from hard work and a challenge. That’s why balancing two time-consuming careers — one as vice president and general counsel for the country’s 8th largest pest management company (Cook’s Pest Control) and the other as a third-term senator from Alabama’s 3rd district — hasn’t slowed this native Alabamian down.
“Back in 2006 I was looking at the condition of our state government and didn’t like what I saw and decided to do something about it,” says Orr. “When I approached Jim Aycock (president of Cook’s Pest Control) he could not have been more receptive and gracious about my desire to run. Without the flexibility Cook’s has provided none of it would have been possible.”
Having never run for elected office before, Orr was a little apprehensive as he set out going door-to-door in his district during his first campaign but he soon grew to appreciate the opportunity to connect face-to-face with his future constituents.
“With each campaign I have grown to enjoy the interaction with the residents in my district and I am fortunate that many of those relationships have carried on through the years,” says Orr. “It has afforded me the opportunity to keep in touch with the needs and concerns of the district and that has been very valuable during my time in the senate.”
Orr’s experiences in the private sector as a lawyer with a firm in Decatur, as well as with Cook’s, taught him the value of sensible regulations for businesses. Orr chairs the $12 billion Finance and Taxation Committee for the state and as sits on the council that reviews proposed regulations state agencies wish to introduce.
“The choking effect of unnecessary regulations on business today needs to be changed,” says Orr. “Many of the regulations are well-intentioned but the impacts they have in the real world of business are costly and inhibiting to business owners.”
Juggling the demands of two careers requires Orr to be a diligent time manager and with 150,000 constituents and an employer that operates in a five-state region, responding to e-mails from a hotel room in Montgomery after a day in the legislature and on weekends is common.
“I am very fortunate to have a supportive family and employer that allow me to pursue a career that I feel the Lord has tasked me to do,” says Orr, a man dedicated to his faith and who serve others via his extensive work overseas with the Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity International.
Orr says the most rewarding aspects of his legislative work are installing transparency and accountability into state government and working on legislation that will have a long-term positive impact on the state. “Business expansion is the key to growth for any state and establishing a pro-business environment with sensible regulations and responsible fiscal practices is a goal we work toward every day,” he says.
Editor’s note: Do you know a PMP who’s served in office that PCT should highlight? Send an email with his or her contact information, as well as yours, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is a partner of B Communications. Email him at email@example.com.