[2003 Leadership Awards Profile] Kevin Pass

Features - PCT News

October 17, 2003

Like father, like son. Kevin Pass followed his father Bobby into the world of entomology, but with a twist. While Bobby made his name in academia, Kevin established his reputation running a successful pest control business.

Yet it wasn’t easy getting started. Following his graduation from the University of Kentucky in 1981, Pass worked with farmers in Henderson, Ky., helping to control agricultural pests. But he soon realized that a need for traditional pest control services existed in the area, and with just $500 he established Action Pest Control.

"I started the business on a shoestring. I was probably the worst technician in the industry at the time but I was persistent," Pass recalls. "If not for my dad, I would have never made it. I got my work ethic from my dad. He used to work Saturdays and Sundays. He did it because he loved the field of entomology. Like him, I’ve always enjoyed working. I like staying busy and I like making money."

It was during those early days in Henderson that Pass expanded his service offerings to include commercial work, termite control and fumigation. In addition, foreseeing the rapid growth of the pest control industry, he founded Video Instructional Programs (VIP) with friend and colleague Mark McGee. Together they produced instructional videos for the pest control industry.

BUSINESS EXPANSION. Nineteen eighty-six was a pivotal year for Pass. The previous year, he had become the license holder and employee trainer for Aardvark/R.O. Williams Pest Control in Evansville, Ind. When he was offered the opportunity to buy the business in 1986, Pass had to evaluate all the ventures in which he was involved already. He concluded that the business had a long-term history in Evansville, one that he could leverage into a profitable operation. As a result, the company’s headquarters was moved from Henderson to Evansville.

By 1988, Pass had converted the former R.O. Williams Company into a larger, technologically advanced pest management business. In 1990, he acquired Nationwide Pest Control in Owensboro, Ky., renaming it Action Pest Control of Owensboro Inc. In the years following, VIP disbanded and the assets were earmarked for further expansion, eventually resulting in the purchase of A+ Pest Control in 1996, Action’s largest independent competitor. The acquisition doubled the company’s size and presence in Kentucky.

Action Pest Control moved into the Vincennes, Ind., market with the purchase of Brother’s Pest Control in 1998. Pass also has expanded his business ventures with the addition of a construction division and the recent purchase of a Weed Man franchise. "I’ve always wanted to develop a lawn service business because it’s such a natural fit with the pest control industry. It made sense to capitalize on our (pest control) customer base," Pass says.

Terri Haake, Action’s financial manager, has worked with Pass for 10 years and witnessed the company’s dramatic growth first-hand. "I like the atmosphere at the company. We’re not afraid to take the plunge and try something new. We’re not afraid to be on the cutting edge of things. I like the aggressiveness and professionalism of our company. We have a high level of performance expectation," she says.

Also echoing similar sentiments is Sales Manager Jim Werner. "I like working for Kevin because he’s so open to new ideas. He’s not afraid to take risks. We are not a stagnant company," he states.

Bobby Corrigan, a member of the Leadership Class of 2000, nominated Pass for this year’s award. "Kevin started his pest control company from ground zero," he said. "It is now a multi-million dollar company and provides a top-level, progressive service. It’s one of the best companies in the U.S. in my opinion."

BUSINESS FUTURE. Action Pest Control is one of the fastest-growing companies in the Midwest, but it’s come at a price. "We reached a point several years ago where I felt like we weren’t progressing as rapidly as we should," Pass says. "My personality is not suited for the day-to-day operation of the business. I’m a pretty good planner and thinker who is able to launch things, but I get bored easily once things are up and running." So Pass decided to hire John Jurkowitz, a local business consultant, to get the company back on the right track.

Jurkowitz understands the pressure and joys of owning a business, and counseled Pass to delegate more of his workload. "Kevin gave birth to the business, so it’s not easy to give up some of the control as the business matures," says Jurkowitz. "To his credit, he looked at me, and he said, ‘I’ve been ready to do this for 10 years, but I need someone to show me the way.’ He’s in the process of letting go of some of the day-to-day responsibilities that get in the way of thinking strategically about the business long term."

A strategic five-year plan was introduced in January 2003, to help Pass and Action reach higher sales goals and develop more streamlined operations. Eventually, Pass will become the chief executive officer and relinquish all daily management to an operations manager and a leadership team. "I have a lot of confidence in my people," Pass says, "which allows me to focus on issues of strategic importance to the company."

"Kevin is the quintessential entrepreneur," Jurkowitz remarks. "He has enormous faith in his own ability. Kevin is one of those people who can sit back and look at the situation and almost tell immediately if it’s a good investment for him or not. You can’t learn that. You’re born with it."

One area that Pass has invested in on a daily basis is the local community. Spend any time with the president of Action Pest Control and you’ll quickly realize that he takes his responsibilities to the community very seriously, and not just on environmental issues, but on educational and ethical concerns as well (see related story – Code of Ethics). Twice a month, Sales Manager Jim Werner appears on the local noon newscast to offer advice on pest control. Action is also involved in a program called Monarch Watch. Area schoolchildren are given monarch butterfly larvae, which develop into pupae and then adult butterflies, to gain a first-hand understanding of entomology. The company also contributes to the United Way, Boy Scouts of America and Operation City Beautiful.

Even Action’s tagline, "The Evolution of Entomology," reflects this concern for the community. "We wanted to communicate to our customers that there’s a science behind our service capabilities. We wanted to let them know we’re not a fly-by-night company," states Pass. There’s no risk of that given Action Pest Control’s sterling reputation throughout its market area.

A Father's Influence

Kevin Pass’ course in life was greatly influenced by his father, Bobby Pass, who died last year. The elder Pass joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky (UK) when Kevin was still a toddler, and six years later became the chairman of the Department of Entomology.

He revolutionized then-current thinking about pest control techniques. Instead of spraying until the bugs died, he suggested using pesticides sparingly, in combination with non-toxic procedures. This approach morphed into the current standard of integrated pest management.

Kevin obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in entomology from UK, but he learned about more than just bugs from his dad. "Dad always told me to hire the most intelligent people you can and make sure they have good personalities, and then get out of the way," Kevin says. Bobby followed this same philosophy in his department, attracting enthusiastic and intelligent entomologists, and then giving them room to work and grow.

One of the researchers Bobby encouraged was Dr. Mike Potter. "In my heart, I believe that part of the reason I’m at UK is because Dr. Pass had a real understanding and appreciation for the pest control industry, reinforced by Kevin’s involvement," he says.

"Kevin blazed his own trail into the corporate world but you can sense that growing up in an academic family made him never lose sight of the technical side of the business," Potter adds.

There was mutual respect between father and son. "Bobby tended to talk more about the entomology department than himself," continues Potter. "There were many times, though, that he’d talk about Kevin, the growth of his business, a big pest control account he just landed, and you could tell how proud he was of his son and the contribution he was making as a practicing urban entomologist."

A Code Of Ethics

Action Pest Control developed a multi-layered Code of Ethics that covers virtually all aspects of the business. “I believe a Code of Ethics is essential to creating the proper culture at our company,” President Kevin Pass says. “Of course, it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not enforced, so that’s an essential component of implementing a Code of Ethics.” What follows is the complete Action Pest Control Code of Ethics:

With Our Clients:
• Always be courteous to our clients and treat them with the utmost respect.
• Strive to provide a quality of service that exceeds our clients’ expectations.
• Communicate with the client so that all of their concerns are fully addressed.
• Disclose to clients all pertinent health and safety information.

With Our Employees/Co-Workers:
• Provide the highest quality in training to our employees.
• Treat employees and co-workers fairly and with respect at all times.
• Provide a safe work environment.
• Provide adequate wages and benefits so employees can maintain a reasonable standard of living and look forward to a future for themselves and their families.

With Our Neighbors/Community/
• Conduct ourselves professionally with the public at all times.
• Be forthright and truthful with our advertising and guarantees.
• Promote active community involvement.
• Maintain our facilities, vehicles and personal appearance in a manner that projects a professional image within our communities.

With Our Competitors:
• We should treat our competitors as professionals and speak of them in a professional and courteous manner.
• We should avoid price cutting and work cooperatively with our competitors whenever possible.

With The Environment:
• Store, apply, and dispose of pesticides in a safe manner and in accordance with label instructions.
• Strive to be environmentally friendly by choosing the least toxic method of control whenever possible.

With Our Suppliers:
• Communicate to them our level of satisfaction regarding their products and services.
• Seek only training and information from our suppliers and never solicit gifts of any kind.
• Keep all supplies, bids and quotes confidential, and do not pit one supplier against another.