Meeting a snake face-to-face in a crawlspace can be a little frightening, even for a man who spent 20 years of his life as a member of the U.S. Air Force Security Police. According to the USAF, the role of its Security Police is to protect the people, property and resources of the U.S. Air Force. It’s a physically and mentally demanding career that calls for dedicated, highly focused and professional individuals.
And if there were just a few words that describe PCT’s 2013 Termite Technician of the Year Shawn Svehla they are dedicated, highly focused and professional (not to mention humble). After retiring from the military more than 13 years ago, Svehla moved his family to Florida to live near his wife’s extended family and turned his attention toward protecting properties of customers from Jacksonville, Fla.-based Turner Pest Control.
Svehla’s brother-in-law worked for Turner Pest Control at the time and encouraged him to apply for a job. Everything fell into place, and he was hired to conduct termite inspections, treatments and handle “trouble calls.”
When Svehla was conducting wood-destroying organism (WDO) inspections early in his career, he recalls an incident when he inspected a home for sale and found it had an active termite infestation. The sale fell through, so the property owner didn’t pursue treatment. Several months later, Turner Pest Control received a call from the homeowner questioning Svehla’s inspection. “The woman’s handyman told her that I couldn’t have possibly gotten into the crawlspace, since his 90-pound son couldn’t get in there,” says Svehla.
They thought Svehla had been trying to sell them a treatment they didn’t need. Svehla remained calm and returned to the house. “I remembered the house, and recalled there was a hole in the floor where you could see the ground. So I asked her to wait there for a moment,” he says. “A few minutes later I was looking up at her from the crawlspace with my flashlight.”
His patience and respectful attitude paid off. He sold her a termite job on the spot.
The right attitude. Today, Svehla’s area of expertise is managing and conducting residential and commercial pretreatments. Since he was promoted to that position, he has single-handedly pretreated millions of new construction square feet for Turner Pest Control. He tackles his schedule with a steadfast approach and a focus on the details.
Serving Our Country
Next, he spent three years as a flight sergeant supervising more than 30 people on his shift who were charged with keeping order as well as protecting weapons and aircraft. He also became the superintendent of correctional custody where he was responsible for supervising wayward airmen.
“It was kind of like an airman boot camp for 30 days in an attempt to straighten them out so they could rejoin the Air Force,” Svehla says. “We were able to give them a second chance to show that they could be productive in the Air Force.”
Toward the end of his military career, Svehla had the opportunity to write security and law enforcement publications, which are updated annually as well as anytime Air Force regulations would change.
Regardless of his position, the military taught him discipline, staying on schedule and effective communications skills — all of which serve him well now that he’s serving Turner Pest Control customers.
“Our builder relationships are a critical part of Turner Pest Control’s business. Approximately 50 percent of our new residential customers originate from our pretreatment program,” says Mark Slater, CEO of Turner Pest Control. “In this competitive market, builders have many choices of pest control companies to use, but Shawn is one reason they choose and trust us.”
Working with builders is not always easy. Construction schedules fluctuate based on weather or delays from subcontractors, but when the builder needs to get the pretreatment done before the next construction phase can begin, they count on Turner Pest Control to come through.
“Shawn is always flexible in meeting the needs of our builders. He shows the same superior level of initiative when working with our larger commercial construction projects,” says Slater. “Shawn maintains positive working relationships with each one of the contractors on the job site and they rely on him the same way we do — to get the job done and done right the first time.”
Proud to be a Certified Pest Control Operator (CPO) and Registered WDO Inspector in Florida, Svehla regularly attends FPMA meetings to stay current.
“On a daily basis, Shawn strives to improve his industry knowledge and raise the service level for his department and the company. His commitment to continuous education keeps him up to date on the most innovative and reliable solutions to assist our termite service to the community,” says Slater. “And his internal quality assurance record for safety is unblemished.”
What Svehla likes most about his job is meeting customers and builders, and getting to know them. Several years ago, he did a termite inspection for Mark Duper, former wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins who played during the Dan Marino years. “He brought out pictures of himself and Dan Marino and we ended up talking football for the rest of the inspection,” says Svehla.
Serving his community. According to Slater, Svehla recently helped the Jacksonville Habitat for Humanity (HabiJax) build 25 homes in only six days for deserving families in the community, by coordinating and conducting pretreatments at all of the construction sites.
Svehla is an avid runner who regularly participates in charity races. At this year’s Gate River Run, a 15K, he proudly ran wearing his Turner Pest Control shirt and finished in the top 3 percent out of more than 17,000 runners.
He often runs with his son, Troy, a senior in high school. Svehla attends all of Troy’s track and field meets, just as he did when his daughter, Theresa, was in high school. He’s also very close with his two grown stepchildren and sees them and their children every few weeks.
In addition to teaching religious education and coaching flag football, Svehla is a volunteer basketball coach through Upward Sports. Upward Sports is a Christian sports league for youth athletics that is focused on creating individuals with strong character, confidence and spirit. “I really enjoy communicating with kids and expressing to them the importance of sportsmanship, having a good time and treating other players how you’d like to be treated,” Svehla says. “I give all the kids an equal amount of playing time, regardless how good or bad they might be. That’s more important to me than winning any game.”
And Svehla’s not just coaching during his free time. He serves as a mentor to new technicians and his colleagues often look to him for advice. His industry experience and knowledge makes him the go-to person for his colleagues and one of the best trainers on the Turner Pest Control team, according to Slater. He has been honored with many company awards over the years. He has been named MVP by his peers and earned technician of the month for superior performance numerous times. “Shawn is the type of an employee that you would like to clone,” Slater adds.