A self-proclaimed “industry neophyte,” Copesan President Deni Naumann’s leadership skills have garnered her respect and admiration from her peers.
As a self-proclaimed “industry neophyte,” Copesan President Deni Naumann attributes her success, and being named as a 2013 Crown Leadership Award winner, to the people around her. “I just help to define the direction and keep people guided,” she said. “I strive to inspire people to see a path and envision that path with me so we can move forward to successfully impact the strategic growth of the business and the industry.
“My success has always been a result of the team I have around me; the people that believe in the vision and walk the path with me,” Naumann observed.
But the people around Naumann are just as quick to attribute her success to her own personal attributes and industry commitment. As Copesan’s Vice President of Finance Kevin Fixel said, “You’d never suspect her short tenure (in the industry) based on what she knows, what she is involved with and how she contributes to the industry,” Fixel said. “No matter the issue or topic, Deni always maintains a ‘can do’ attitude. Nothing can be put before her that will defeat her. Deni is the epitome of ‘whatever it takes’… She will not be denied and literally does whatever it takes to solve a problem, meet a deadline, satisfy a client, sell a new account, as well as meet her demanding schedule.”
Dr. Bobby Corrigan, president of RMC Pest Management Consulting, echoed a similar sentiment. “Deni’s greatest contribution to the industry by far is her vision for setting the ‘quality bar’ for pest management services very high. She makes all others stretch for those heights, and by doing so, all parties in the pest management partnership between provider and client grow,” he said. “What’s more, Deni achieves her quality goals while also making everyone feel positive about the process.”
Naumann’s support and admiration of her team also reflects her own leadership skills, as she has a seemingly innate ability to elevate those with whom she works, and an “ability to move people to do more than they thought they were capable of achieving,” said Alfie Treleven, president of Sprague Pest Solutions and Chair of the Copesan Board of Directors. “Deni’s internal drive combined with her ability to execute a structured plan, set measurable goals and improve herself and others sets her apart. She is consistently focused on success activities and results.”
Advocate of Service Metrics. It is such setting of measurable goals and achieving results that Naumann sees as her greatest contribution. When she was hired into the industry as Copesan president in 2006, Naumann brought a 28-year background in manufacturing. In the manufacturing industry, she said, there is always a strong focus on metrics, and one of her primary goals was to bring the same to the service industry. “We hadn’t necessarily had that discipline in our industry, and I am very much an advocate of delivering performance and service metrics,” she said.
In her hiring interview with the Copesan Board of Directors, Naumann recalls that she asked them, “How do you know what clients believe about our service delivery and what the company’s service metrics are?” The board answered, “That’s for you to figure out.” So, Deni said, “I thought to myself – well, we are going to do just that!”
Having been on the board at the time of her hire, Treleven has witnessed Naumann, in fact, do just that. “Deni has brought a high level of energy and an incredible work rate to the task of measuring and professionalizing all of Copesan’s business units,” he said.
“In an organization comprised of companies led mostly by men and women confident in the quality and virtues of their own organizations, Deni has successfully established herself as a standard bearer in the quality effort,” added Russ Ives, president of Rose Pest Solutions. “She has developed, with her team, the metrics that challenge each of the Copesan companies to improve in ways that support our value proposition to the client.”
Such a strong focus on numbers and metrics can sometimes indicate someone who is not people-oriented, but that description is the antithesis of Naumann’s character. And that disparity is a part of what makes her — and Copesan — a success. “Deni gives accolades openly and truly appreciates a job well done and extra effort exerted,” Fixel said. “At Copesan, she is the gold standard for giving feedback and recognizing people. She openly recognizes staff for completed projects and accomplishments.”
Additionally, Fixel said, “Deni goes out of her way to get to know personnel at Copesan Partner companies. It is amazing how she knows the names of people in all functions in our Partner companies — management, technical, office and techs.”
Do Unto Others. “Deni is very competitive while also being very compassionate,” Treleven added. “She has an incredible passion to be excellent at what she does and an equal passion to help those around her to be excellent at what they have set out to accomplish.” In fact, Naumann’s proudest moments are in “mentoring individuals and really seeing them stretch their talents and potential. That really makes me proud,” she said, adding that one of her greatest disappointments is “when I’m not able to figure out what will inspire a person so they can succeed. I find that very frustrating.”
Naumann has also found that industry mentoring helps to make her a better leader. She makes an effort to work out in the field at least every couple months, and in doing so, she said, she learns so much from the people with whom she works.
Not long ago, in fact, Naumann joined a group of PMPs and Corrigan for a “NYC rat night safari.” While in a rat-infested alleyway, the group was standing in the dark looking into various nooks and crannies hoping to see wild rats, Corrigan said. Suddenly a large rat came running out of a hole in the ground and ran directly toward Naumann. Corrigan, who saw the rat coming up from behind Naumann, said, “I watched in awe (or was it amusement?) as the rat ran directly between Deni’s ankles. We told Deni if she wanted to see wild rats up close and personal, all she had to do that night was look down at her shoes. When we told her what happened, she just laughed and said ‘Cool!’”
But her mentoring isn’t limited to industry interaction. Naumann has been a prolific reader since she was a young child and she has worked to share this love and ability with others. “I love reading of all types — literature, nonfiction, biographies, self-help, and, yes, even trashy romance novels,” she said. “I read everything from ‘Hunger Games’ to ‘Good to Great.’” As a little girl, Naumann would ride her bike along the gravel roads in her hometown of Bettendorf, Iowa, to the library to spend summer days reading book after book; then filling her bicycle basket with more books to take home.
Still a devoted user of libraries and a strong believer in the library system, Naumann shares her love of reading by tutoring adults to improve adult literacy. This can be as simple as teaching an adult to read a bus schedule, to tutoring them to read documents essential to their job performance, or even to just be able to read a greeting card.
One of the most touching moments Naumann experienced was in helping a gentleman in his early 50s learn to read children’s books. “His first grandchild had just been born, and he wanted to be able to read a book to his grandchild,” she said. “When you can help someone achieve that, it is humbling and a blessing,” Naumann said. “Adult literacy has been a passion of mine for years. I expect that when I do retire, I will be involved in that (outreach effort).”
A frequent speaker at industry events, Naumann also understands what it’s like to be unable to do something that others take for granted. “People might be surprised to know that I couldn’t speak until I was three years old,” Naumann said. “I had a speech issue in that my tongue muscles hadn’t developed.” To correct this, she went to a speech pathologist from the age of three until she was in 11th grade. “My father would say I haven’t shut up since!”
Naumann’s industry peers have similar, if a bit less direct, thoughts on her energy and passion. “Deni has unending energy,” Fixel said. “She has been called the Energizer Bunny — and sometimes the Tasmanian Devil, though that seems to be when she’s noticeably tired and turns on the after-burners.”
Such energy is a common descriptor of Naumann. As Ives said, “She demonstrates an uncommon energy and enthusiasm for the job, whatever that may be, and leads by example. The pace of the entire organization picked up when she joined Copesan.”
And before you, the reader, wonder if Naumann will take offense at seeing such descriptions in print, know that, as Fixel said, “Deni likes to laugh. She can laugh at herself, too. She dishes it out, but she can take it.
“As is the case in the business world, it can be rough at times. A good belly laugh can help ease the tension,” Fixel said. “And the Steering Team at Copesan (i.e., Deni’s direct reports) finds the right times to ease tension. We work well together and look forward to being together and find this time refreshing and inspiring — certainly never a dull moment!”
Corrigan expressed similar sentiments in lauding Naumann’s leadership style. “Deni exemplifies what the Crown Leadership Award is all about,” he said. “She is a proven leader, of course, but more importantly, she is genuine. To me, Deni possesses some type of magical lightness of being. Every time I see Deni around people at the various meetings, she is making them smile, or laugh or just feel lighter about life. You can spot it a mile away. It’s the ‘Deni-gift’ that she brings to us all.”
The Future. Whether inspiring or challenging, Naumann has found a home in the pest management industry. In fact, her two favorite things are its ever-changing nature and the passion of its people. Technology and personnel hiring and development can be challenging, she said, “And I love those challenges – I think the change you can create is really exciting, and we have so many dedicated and intelligent people in our industry that we continually make things happen.”
As such, Naumann sees a bright future for all those in pest management. “I’m very optimistic about this industry. The service we provide is needed and valuable for the safety of our health, food and property.” Additionally, she said, it is an industry that is recession-resistant. “Roaches and rats just don’t care about the economy,” Naumann said. “That is one of many interesting things about pests – they are survivors. As they continue to persist and to thrive, it creates opportunity for all of us in the industry.”
And Naumann intends to continue driving those opportunities for her team and the industry. “It may be a cliché, but for me, it’s about staying true to my calling,” Naumann said. “That is, making lives better; living with faith, integrity and action; and applying these to both life and business. For me, pest management is a really noble profession.”