If you know what you want and you have a plan to go out and get it, you can be very successful in this industry. This philosophy – simple as it is – is often overlooked by the average person, according to Alfred H. Treleven III, president of Sprague Pest Solutions, Tacoma, Wash.
Occupying the 6th position in a family of 11 brothers and sisters may have had something to do with Alfie’s philosophy of life and leadership. He became an early family leader, learning quickly the advantages of negotiation, strategic planning and execution. "I think birth order did play a role in how I deal with teams and how I learned to bridge the gaps growing up. Mom and dad were totally about the family and teamwork and if you got everyone working together, mowing the lawn or cleaning the house was done quicker doing it together. I became a pretty good negotiator, spending a lot of time getting people to do my chores!"
The two summers he spent working at Sprague, one in high school and one in college, convinced him that the pest control business was not for him. He loved sports and communications. But in his senior year of college, his dad wanted Alfie and brother Larry – a member of the Leadership Class of 1991 – to develop the business in Seattle, about 35 miles from the company’s corporate headquarters in Tacoma. "I told dad and Larry if there was a way for me to come in and build the business and not work 30 years as a tech, then I’d be interested." So in 1981, after graduating with a degree in communications and business, Alfie joined Sprague Pest Solutions.
"My love of bugs has been centered on how I can make money delivering pest solutions for clients," explains Alfie.
In November of 1984 Alfie joined Larry at the home office in Tacoma to use his skills at the corporate level. "Alfie has a wealth of knowledge and has added to the company and helped take it to the next level," explains older brother, Larry.
If you talk to Alfie about Larry or Larry about Alfie, you’ll hear nearly the same words. They work in tandem, each taking care of specific areas of the business, complementing one another’s talents. "Working with Larry is wonderful since his interests are different than mine," Alfie explains. "Larry is good at the big picture and will do whatever it takes to make sure the details are done."
COMPANY HISTORY. Alfie’s father, A.H. Treleven, Jr., knew what he wanted. He wanted to provide for his 11 children and put them through private schools. And he saw that the way to realize that goal was to work hard and make it happen. "Dad was the hardest worker I’ve ever seen in my life," Alfie says. "He certainly influenced Larry and me, as well as his employees."
The company opened its doors in 1926. It wasn’t until 1931, however, that Alfie’s grand-father bought the company to provide for Alfie’s father and his brother.
Today, with 128 employees in eight service centers and several satellite locations, Sprague focuses 95% of its business on commercial pest management and prevention. In many of the markets where it operates, the company recommends other pest control firms when they have requests for residential service. "We actually recommend what most people would consider their competitor. In essence, we are a lead source for other companies in our industry," explained Alfie.
The decision to concentrate on commercial service came through a self-evaluation process that determined what they do best: commercial pest control. Sprague is structured to handle the account management needs of complex businesses. They also employ highly trained service teams with advanced education credentials. This combination is attractive to high-end commercial customers like food processors.
Sprague is a Copesan Services company and Alfie is Chairman of the Board of Copesan. He feels that the relationship with Copesan has helped Sprague immensely. "We have learned so much from everybody in that organization – Dick Keenan, Victor Hammel, Bob Sameth, Russ Ives, Jim Steckel, Tom McCloud, Paul Sterling, John O’Reilly, to name just a few. Other people deal with the same issues we do but they have different ways of solving problems. We’ve hugely benefited from that relationship," Alfie says.
Clark Keenan, president of Waltham Services, a Copesan company, says of Alfie, "His vision helps everyone to see into the future with more confidence. He leads by example with high integrity."
Sprague’s upper management travel frequently to their service centers because they believe running the company by email or phone will not allow them to exceed their clients’ expectations, a goal of the company in every client interaction. "We have to be out in the field in order to touch the people’s hearts and learn some of their struggles," Alfie says. "If we’re just sitting here, we lose touch with what we do and how it impacts our clients and their customers. It also helps us understand the challenges our employees face if we’re there beside them on a regular basis."
"Alfie is a strategic thinker, guided by the destination rather than the task. He is unafraid to fail and imbues the organization with that feeling. He is quick to recognize accomplishment and offer encouragement, and is unfailingly positive in attitude," explains Russ Ives, president of Rose Exterminator in Troy, Mich.
BUILDING THE TEAM. Alfie’s leadership skills keep Sprague a strong and vibrant company, always looking to grow. Personally, what motivates this Leadership Award winner is seeing employees grow to be better than they ever thought they could be, and seeing teams come together and be stronger than they ever thought possible. It’s important at Sprague for people to understand the role they want to play in delivering pest solutions for their clients and work toward that goal.
"There are lot of strong egos in our industry and their teams suffer because it’s more important for them to be out in front. In our organization, I guarantee that if it weren’t for our senior leadership team, we would not be as successful," Treleven says. "This team includes Regional Managers Jeff Miller and Tim Gallagher, Technical Director Jeff Weier, Director of Sales Jerry Shuck, Director of Marketing Carrie Thibodeaux, Chief Financial Officer Joann Carlsen, and Larry and I. We both recognize the importance of the team as a whole and are always ready to acknowledge that importance to the team."
And Treleven practices what he preaches. His colleagues at Copesan view him as the ultimate team player, contributing to the organization in a multitude of ways. John O’Reilly, president of Plunkett’s Pest Control in Minneapolis, says, "Alfie pays attention. He invests extra effort to keep up to date with what is happening within both Copesan and Sprague, with the people in each company and with the industry. Second, Alfie has a clear vision of where he wants to lead both companies and has communicated that vision to everyone involved. Third, Alfie is dedicated to the planning process."
Mike Katz, president of Western Exterminator Co. in Anaheim, Calif., describes Alfie as "very professional, bright, thorough, forward thinking and innovative."
Alfie believes that if leaders think it’s all about them vs. what’s important for the team, they might have an impact over the short run but not for the long term. "Those kind of leaders," he says, "leave a big hole in the organization when they go away. Leadership is all about sustainability and understanding one’s role of stewardship in the organization. Hopefully you’ve developed those around you well enough that when you get out of the way, they’ll be able to take it to the next level. My goal is that when I step away from any leadership position I have, every organization that I touch is better and capable of going beyond where it currently is."
And isn’t that what effective leadership is all about?
Committed To The Professional Pest Management Alliance
Though residential pest control isn’t the primary focus of Sprague Pest Solutions, the company opted to support the NPMA’s Professional Pest Management Alliance, an initiative to bring positive messages about pest management to consumers. "After having a chance to listen to Cindy Mannes, really watch that organization develop, and the people they started to bring on at the board level, it all started to come together," Alfie says. "It made sense for us to pay back something to our industry to help our industry get better because no matter what, if the industry is better, it’s going to help Sprague. Certainly, the payback is better in the residential market, but a strong industry helps all of us."
The pest control industry has had and has a great number of influential individuals who have had a significant impact on Sprague’s success. Alfie cites Norm Ehmann as one of those people. "When Norm traveled he would visit and stay at our house. Norm really pushed my dad and Larry to buy in to the key role that education played in our industry. Norm trained a good number of employees in our company. In fact, we have a plaque in our training room dedicating it to Norm because of his role in defining the importance of education."
Ehmann says Sprague Pest Solutions is a "one-of-a-kind operation. Their secret weapon is constantly thinking about how they can improve their operation."