To the casual observer the rangeland of southern Arizona is not likely to be thought of as a center of agriculture, but the fact of the matter is you can’t judge a book by its cover. Who would believe that cattle are the 48th state’s leading agriculture product and it produces enough beef to feed 4.6 million Americans annually? It is from this pocket of sun-baked soil where one of the pest management industry’s most influential leaders got his start working cattle, building fences and in the process learning lessons that have served him well through the years.
Univar’s Trace McEuen grew up in a fifth-generation family of independent cattle ranchers that “trace” their lineage back to the mid- to late 1880s when Arizona was a territory and the lush tourist resorts of Tucson and Scottsdale were nothing but cactus.
Making a go of it in conditions that most would balk at and persevering at their craft for generations says a lot about character and a willingness to do what must be done.
“The experience taught me the importance of building your own destiny and it instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit,” says McEuen.
His upbringing in ranching led McEuen to enroll at the University of Arizona where his initial ambition was to pursue a career path in veterinary medicine. Yes, as so often happens in college McEuen changed directions and ended up graduating with a degree in applied science focusing on soil chemistry.
Not unlike many of his fellow recently-minted scholars, McEuen wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do for his life’s work following graduation. He took a job with the federal government mapping soil for the Central Arizona Water Project that channels water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona residents.
His desire to interact with something other than maps and reports led him to take a job that would seemingly be outside of a soil science major’s comfort zone.
You Have To Start Somewhere
McEuen — with no background in sales — took an outside sales position with the Tucson branch of Van Waters & Rogers (Univar’s predecessor) working in their agriculture division.
“VW&R was just starting to branch out into the pest control industry and they let me help with the start up,” says McEuen. “My first impression of the industry was that it had a lot of hard-working, honest people like Norm Ehmann and Bob Hartley, and that is something I continue today.”
McEuen credits Hartley, the longtime Truly Nolen executive, as a significant mentor in his career; someone who took the time to show a green salesperson the ropes and help set a career foundation built on integrity.
“Bob has as high a degree of integrity as you will see in this industry,” says McEuen. “He always made me be on my game and challenged me to bring more value not only to his company but to the industry as a whole.”
His time around fellow VW&R teammate Ehmann also proved beneficial to McEuen’s development as a salesman and a leader.
“Norm gave so much of his time and knowledge not only to customers but to virtually anyone involved in the industry,” says McEuen. “The passion he had for his profession and the pest management industry made him a terrific ambassador and instilled a passion in me to follow suit.”
McEuen says Ehmann’s gentle demeanor hid the “bull in the china shop” approach he took when it came to pursuing a cause he believed in. Whether it was representing the pest management division within the much larger, industrial chemical-dominated world of VW&R, talking with a customer or working with his beloved Boy Scouts, Ehmann didn’t shy away from rolling up his sleeves and finding ways to get the job done.
As McEuen rose through the ranks at VW&R and later Univar, taking on district and regional management positions, he took the lessons learned from his mentors and put them to work.
One of the first people McEuen met when he entered the industry was Bert Putterman (Leadership Class of 1995), president of Oliver Exterminating, which owns Arizona Exterminating in Phoenix. Putterman, who was working for Truly Nolen in Tucson at the time, was also in his first-year in the industry and one of McEuen’s first sales calls was with Putterman.
“He was a well-spoken, polished guy right out of the gate,” recalls Putterman. “He moved up the VW&R ladder fairly quickly and earned a reputation for being straightforward and trusted. If Trace told you something would be done, it would get done.”
Putterman says McEuen had a knack for understanding the unique pressures pest management professionals in Arizona were under at the time — the state regulatory agency was disbanded under a cloud of corruption, the housing boom spurred a robust termite pre-treat market and the industry’s reputation suffered as the result of the actions of some bad operators.
“Trace was able to navigate through these challenges and push the industry in the right direction,” says Putterman. “He worked behind the scenes to make positive changes at a time the industry needed it.”
Whether it was pushing for stand-alone service centers dedicated solely to pest management or finding alternative chemistries when products were lost from the market, McEuen battled for what he believed in and took some gambles.
“It was always boom or bust growing up in the cattle industry so if we lost a registered product or had a setback with a customer we looked at it as a way to find our strengths, evolve and make a positive out of it,” says McEuen.
While in charge of California for VW&R McEuen pushed for moving the pest management product line into centers that were designed specifically for pest management professionals.
McEuen says he wanted to create a “retail-like” shopping experience that gave smaller pest management operators the opportunity to look, touch and talk in-depth with someone face-to-face about products.
“We were able to brand our pest management outlets and establish a place where PMPs had a comfort level to come in and see the latest products and take home expert advice,” says McEuen.
Working alongside such talented and generous leaders such as Hartley and Ehmann gave McEuen a clear picture of what a leader should be.
Thoughtful Leadership Advice
Thought leadership is defined as, “Having informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise; trusted sources that move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success.”
Trace McEuen feels that Univar has long held a thought leadership position in the pest management industry with dynamic leaders such as Norm Ehmann, Bevan Cates and John Bolanos. What is McEuen’s advice for aspiring leaders?
“Give it everything you got and don’t look month to month,” says McEuen. “Look at the big picture and make sure the organization and people you are working with fit in with what you believe. Feel good about what you do and don’t have any regrets.”
“Leadership is standing by your people, your principles and being driven by more than ‘making a number’ on a balance sheet,” says McEuen. “Make that number about the people you work with because at the end of the day it is all about them.”
Another important aspect to McEuen’s approach is the value he places on workplace culture and identity.
“A strong company culture and identity trumps strategy every time,” says McEuen. “Leadership isn’t always defined by who is on top of the organization chart. It is defined by who can lead in their specific situation.
“Our best leader might be a customer service representative who consistently finds solutions for customers and earns their confidence. We want to motivate all our people to be leaders in their roles.”
Karl Kisner, vice president marketing for Univar, says McEuen’s long tenure with the organization is one his greatest assets when it comes to leadership.
“He has worked from the ground up and knows what it is like to be in the field as a sales rep or managing a district,” says Kisner. “He is decisive, willing to listen and always strives to do what is best for the customer and the company.”
The demands of being the top man in today’s business world are not what they were when McEuen started with VW&R. The speed, constant accessibility and need for instantaneous results in today’s corporate environment can be a challenge to manage both in and out of the office.
“I would love to say the pendulum is always in the middle when it comes to balancing work and personal, but that is easier said than done,” says McEuen.
McEuen says he received a piece of sound advice from his predecessor John Bolonas (Leadership Class of 2009) that no matter what happens at the office or in a meeting, family matters in the end. It is advice McEuen strives to follow.
It shouldn’t be a surprise coming from a family of ranchers that away from the office McEuen is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys golf, paddle boarding, hiking and just getting outdoors, and when he can combine that with family all the better.
“It may seem off kilter at times but in the end family helps set your priorities and gets things headed in the right direction,” says McEuen.
Spoken like a true leader.