This quintessential “servant leader” has earned the admiration of the entire pest management industry.
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing,” the noted philosopher and theologian Albert Schweitzer once said. If that’s the case, it’s easy to understand why Ray Johnson, owner of Johnson Pest Control, Sevierville, Tenn., has been so successful throughout his life.
Members of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) had an opportunity to witness Johnson’s selfless personality and “lead-by-example” management style in 2011 when he was elected president of the organization, proving that nice guys can finish first.
Former NPMA President Larry Treleven describes Johnson as an unpretentious leader who always leads from the heart. “I really admire Ray Johnson,” he says.
Prior to Johnson’s successful term in office, former NPMA President Mike Rottler says he observed Johnson interacting quietly among his peers, asking good questions and, perhaps most important of all, listening – characteristics that are important in an effective leader. In that way, “Ray embodies some of the traits I admired in my own father,” Rottler says.
“Ray is the consummate Southern gentleman, but he’s not afraid to speak his mind, standing up for what he believes,” adds Kevin Pass, owner, Action Pest Control, Evansville, Ind. “Ray can be firm but he’s always polite.”
Fortunately, the 30-year industry veteran from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee believes in the pest control industry. “He’s been a tireless ambassador for the NPMA and the pest management industry,” Pass says.
The Making of a Leader
Ray Johnson’s success as a leader – both in business and association affairs – wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knew him growing up. A serial entrepreneur, Johnson launched a successful lawn care business while still in high school, mowing up to 40 lawns per week at the height of the season.
NAME: Ray Johnson
COMPANY: Johnson Pest Control
HEADQUARTERS: Sevierville, Tenn.
TITLE: Owner and President
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Launched successful lawn care business while still in high school; worked as a service technician and sales inspector for Orkin Pest Control; launched Johnson Pest Control from his home in 1984; elected NPMA President, 2011-2012; served in a number of elected positions with Tennessee Pest Control Association.
PERSONAL: Married for 33 years to wife Tammy; three children, including twin daughters, Lori and Lindsey, and son, Grant, along with two grandchildren, Sawyer and Rayleigh Beth; enjoys spending time with his family and playing guitar; active in First Baptist Church of Sevierville.
Growing up “in a family of workers” laid the foundation for Johnson’s business success later in life. His mother was not only a secretary at the local junior high school, but, Johnson adds, “We had two gardens, and my mother ran the swimming pool in the summer where I worked as a life guard.”
Always comfortable multi-tasking, Johnson also was an employee of Bill Sloan Supply, a local one-stop shop for area townspeople. “I pumped gas, stocked shelves, put together bicycles and mowers, cut up meat for hamburger and performed other tasks,” he says with a laugh. “I turned the money over to Mom to save, which enabled me to buy my car.” Johnson’s savings also funded his other great passion in life – music. “I’ve always loved playing the guitar,” he says. “It’s soothing to the soul. It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.”
Another significant part of Johnson’s life for many years is his wife. Johnson’s marriage to Tammy, after his two years of study at Hiwassee College, also was to be the incentive for his decision to embark on a pest control career. “Tammy and I were getting married in September 1979,” he says. “I saw an ad in the paper for Orkin that said they were hiring for $10,000 a year. Well guess what? I needed that $10,000 and I needed a job.”
Following a 3-1/2-year career at Orkin, where he worked as a technician and sales inspector, Johnson returned to his entrepreneurial roots, launching Johnson Pest Control out of his home in the spring of 1984 as a one-man operation. “I started the business with absolutely no money,” he recalls of those early days. “In fact, I was dead broke. I went to a Rent-A-Center to rent a typewriter to type out my invoices to send bills out. I paid so many dollars a week for it until it was paid off. I still have that old typewriter.”
Johnson built the business one customer at a time, making sales calls in the morning and servicing accounts in the afternoon. After a year, Ray hired his first employee but continued to work in the field. “I was scared to death when I hired the first employee because some months, I could hardly pay myself, much less an employee,” he says. “But we are blessed with a lot of good customers built on relationships. The Lord blesses us with plenty of bugs and makes more every day.”
The company now boasts more than 20 employees, providing residents of eastern Tennessee with quality pest control services delivered by a professional and passionate staff. The company always strives to be the very best, Johnson says. “We will always listen, show genuine concern, be polite, smile, be honest and put ourselves in our customers’ shoes.” For instance, in 2004, Johnson Pest Control was the first company in the “Volunteer State” to earn NPMA’s QualityPro certification, an industry program designed to increase professionalism through self-regulation and create common-sense, quality standards.
You Can't Do it Alone
Despite his many successes, Johnson notes that the transition from technician to business owner was not without its challenges, and he had help along the way from others in the industry. Among his first contacts were associates of Oldham Chemicals, from whom he learned about the East Tennessee Pest Control Association – which he quickly joined. He also met regularly with PCOs George and Carl Haynes, Joe Culvahouse and Bill Millsaps. They travelled together to meetings, such as NPMA’s Eastern Conference and PestWorld, where Johnson benefitted from the business insights and market experience of his industry peers.
|Ray Johnson’s wife Tammy has been a significant part of his life since college, and their marriage was the incentive for his decision to embark on a pest control career.
“I tagged along with these guys and others like Paul Hardy of Orkin because they had a lot of wisdom and were willing to share it with me,” Johnson recalls.
Those experiences, along with relationships with PMPs from across the U.S., resulted in his election as NPMA president in 2011, an honor he has not taken lightly. “I’ve tried to do as good a job as I can to make the industry better, because our association is made up of great folks,” he says. “There are probably a lot of other individuals who are more qualified than I am, but I am deeply moved and grateful to be entrusted with the honor of being NPMA President.”
Johnson feels the future of the pest control industry is bright. “If you look back 10 years, we didn’t have iPhones, iPads, Google, YouTube or Facebook which are great tools for us. Looking into the future, we will have to continue to learn to adapt to new technology. The service aspect of the business will still be the same and our industry will be built on good service. Without that, no matter how much technology we have, it won’t matter.”
Family Comes First
When not working or traveling to NPMA events, Johnson enjoys spending time with his family, including his twin daughters, Lori and Lindsey; son, Grant; and two young grandchildren, Sawyer and Rayleigh Beth.
With music playing a prominent role in Johnson’s life, he and Grant have a daily jam session in their “man cave,” where Grant plays drums and Johnson plays guitar. He also is a guitarist for his church and for the Hearts on Fire group, a youth praise band.
Strong believers in supporting one’s local community, Johnson and his wife Tammy contributed a sizable gift in honor of Grant, who has cerebral palsy, to the new city library, giving the entire library adaptive technology for the handicapped. Johnson also has recorded a musical presentation, entitled “Spirit of America,” that is sold to raise funds for Project Sevier which will help fund construction of an accessible playground adjacent to the county’s new hospital.
People Make a Difference
Ray Johnson believes his company is unique because it goes to great lengths to hire the right people. Each potential employee undergoes a “brutal hiring process,” according to Johnson, because “when you make a bad hire, it affects the whole company.”
That attention to detail and commitment to excellence is also apparent in other aspects of Johnson Pest Control. The company’s trucks are impeccably clean; employees undergo extensive customer service training; and technicians and inspectors wear crisp uniforms with visible ID badges.
“When a customer calls for an inspection, we get their email address. Then, we email the appointment schedule along with a picture of the inspector so that when that person arrives, the customer is comfortable allowing a stranger into their home,” Johnson says. “We also email a photo of the technician before he arrives.”
In addition, shortly after joining the company, each service technician is provided with a “Pocket Play Book” featuring helpful tips on interacting with customers, pricing and other vital information.
Regular communication and ongoing education isn’t simply reserved for customers, Johnson says. From lessons learned in his early days as a business owner, he knows their imporance in employee relations as well. “I now listen and think through situations instead of making abrupt decisions,” he explains. “The keys to leadership are listening and taking into consideration the thoughts and opinions of others.”
In years past, children at the school across the street from Johnson Pest Control would cross over to the office on field trips to learn about insects. Now that the school has moved, the company holds an annual Open House for Kids at the office. It has become a community event where children can learn more about pests and have fun at the same time.
To illustrate why he and his wife are so committed to reaching out into the community to help others, Johnson cites his favorite Bible verse from John 3:30, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” The verse is not simply words to Johnson, rather he lives it with humility and gratefulness to God. The company’s web site carries an invitation to join Ray and Tammy at the First Baptist Church in Sevierville. “Being blessed as I have been, I am grateful that the Lord has given mercy upon me and humbled my spirit,” Johnson says. “I know I couldn’t be where I am without His help.”
Industry friend, Bob Kunst of Fischer Environmental Services says, “One of the outstanding things about Ray is that he really lives his faith. He is kind, devout, selfless, honest and always goes out of his way to recognize kindness in others.”
Johnson’s life serves as an example of his faith that not only influences others but would make Albert Schweitzer proud.
Up Close & Personal
Ray Johnson, owner of Johnson Pest Control, Sevierville, Tenn., is known throughout the pest management industry thanks to his tenure as NPMA president in 2011-2012. But here are three things you may not know about this industry veteran:
- Ray was adopted, as were his two brothers.
- Each year as a child, the week before and after July 4, the family would travel across the mountains to Robbinsville, N.C., in an old-fashioned, horse-drawn wagon train along with 100 or more wagons.
- Ray and his wife Tammy were foster parents for a period of time.