To those who don’t know his backstory, Dave Fisher may seem to be something of a paradox. One of the industry’s most grounded and pragmatic leaders — steadfastly committed to safety, by the way — Fisher regularly ditches his phone, straps on a backpack and takes to the wild, often in bone-chilling, desolate conditions, for days or weeks at a time. (He tells of a particularly disappointing moment when he discovered during one of his treks that his guide had brought along a satellite phone. Where’s the fun in that?)
But it’s precisely his sense of adventure that has fueled Fisher’s rise from humble roots to a senior leadership position with pest management giant Rentokil North America. Now senior vice president of Operations, with leadership extending across the Rentokil Steritech, J.C. Ehrlich, Presto-X and Western Exterminator brands, Fisher has built a storied career that began on the frontline of pest management in Lancaster, Pa.
That’s where he grew up — in Lancaster, a small town steeped in the traditional values of its Amish heritage. Integrity, hard work and humility became part of Fisher’s fabric, as did the call of the outdoors, where he spent every minute he could. “I’ve had a passion for the outdoors and the sciences since I was young,” he shares. Fisher became a Boy Scout at 7, and grew up to become an Eagle Scout and part of the Lancaster Scouts’ leadership team. “I love teaching young people about the outdoors,” he says. “There’s so much for them to learn.”
Fisher has always been close with his parents and older brother, Bill, now retired after owning an independent supermarket in Central Pennsylvania for 40 years. Dave calls himself “the radical one” — moving away from home to New Jersey when opportunity knocked — but he remains close to his family.
In fact, he and his dad have been working on a rebuilding project together since Fisher was 14. When his parents bought a second home on the Jersey shore, refurbishing it became a source of bonding time for the duo. Fisher says he’s learned a lot from his dad over the years. “My dad is my friend and No. 1 mentor; I love spending time with him,” he says. “He instilled my values of integrity and humility, as well as my work ethic. He taught me many life skills, starting with the basics of construction and home repairs. Everything I’ve learned from him has helped me in my life and career.”
The J.C. Ehrlich Days
That career began in 1983 when Fisher was hired as a technician at J.C. Ehrlich.
“I had worked an internship with Western Pest Control in Parsippany, N.J., when I was a student at the University of Delaware. I found that applying my scientific knowledge to solving people’s pest management problems was an incredible way to make a living,” Fisher recalls. He went on to earn an applied ecology and entomology degree, and then set his sights on J.C. Ehrlich. “In Lancaster, J.C. Ehrlich was the Kleenex of the industry: Anyone who needed pest control used Ehrlich. It was the only company I wanted to work for,” he says.
At the time, Fisher was a professional Boy Scout — he rose to district executive of the Scouts in Lancaster — but he kept watching for help wanted ads with the J.C. Ehrlich logo. “I got turned down four times before landing a technician position there in 1983. I still keep one of the rejection letters from Victor Hammel,” he says with a grin.
While Fisher had been intent on taking a sales position with Ehrlich, Victor Hammel and Richard Yashek (then co-owners with Arthur Hammel, Davy Goldsmith and Bobby Hammel) convinced him that starting as a technician would give him a stronger foundation. “I loved that job, having my own route in Central Pennsylvania,” he says. “But today I recognize this experience as much more: It was truly the most valuable step in my career.”
Yashek and the Hammels became cherished mentors to Fisher, showing him the ropes and helping him develop capabilities and confidence that enabled him to take on roles of increasing responsibility at J.C. Ehrlich — operations manager in Harrisburg, Pa.; district manager in Vineland, N.J.; regional manager of New Jersey and New York; and North America technical director — and then vice president of Emerging Markets and senior vice president of Operations at Rentokil North America.
Bobby and Victor Hammel both recognized Fisher’s potential early on. Says Bobby, “I met Dave on a roof while we were helping as laborers on a fumigation. He was impressive even then: In addition to his innate desire to do the work in a manner of highest integrity, the quality of his character was evident in everything he did. He brought these strengths to each of the many positions he went on to hold at our company, as well as with the New Jersey Pest Control Association, NPMA and other industry organizations.”
Victor adds, “When I first interviewed Dave, I was immediately impressed with his character and work ethic. I was also impressed that he was willing to start working for us as a technician, despite being a graduate entomologist. I followed his performance in our Lancaster office and found that he was functioning superbly, as he would in each of the many positions he was assigned. We promoted him to operations manager of our Harrisburg office and then, when an acquisition in Vineland, N.J., created a challenge for us, we selected Dave to serve as district manager. Subsequently, he became the corporate director of Technical Services and a member of our senior leadership team.”
That move into leadership was predicated by a bold move by Fisher in 2000, when he suggested the company was growing so quickly they may have lost sight of service quality and the customer experience. “Victor challenged me to develop a proposal addressing these issues, which resulted in my appointment to technical director and our initiatives to establish strong training programs, move from paper to electronic training and create quality, performance and development programs for all of our technicians,” he recounts. Fisher says he loved this role (as he says of every position he has held), working on processes, programs and quality control under the leadership of John Tercha, whom he considers an important mentor and “one of the humblest leaders I have ever worked with.”
“He is a natural leader. As chair of the Copesan Development Committee, he brought all of our competing companies together to find common ground and work toward a common purpose. The committee became an open forum where we worked together to improve the bottom line for each of our companies.” Bryan Cooksey III, CEO, McCall Service
During his time as technical director at J.C. Ehrlich, Fisher became a very active member of the Copesan Development Committee, as he recognized a great opportunity to share best practices in this broader forum. In fact, he has gravitated toward industry collaborations throughout his career, serving on various boards and committees of NPMA and the New Jersey Pest Control Association (now NJPMA), where he served as president from 1996 to 1998. Today he is a pivotal member of the board of QualityPro, a position he has held for five years.
“Dave doesn’t just sit on a board thinking about how his company can benefit; he’s always looking at how things might benefit everyone in the industry,” says Andy Architect, chief of staff, NPMA Industry Relations. “He doesn’t come into a situation opinionated. He listens to all sides and builds consensus. He is the anchor in the room.”
Ward Combs, acquisitions consultant with Rentokil North America, worked with Fisher on committees within Copesan and NPMA. He says, “Dave can contribute to any conversation; you always know he has the knowledge and experience to back his ideas. He’s an operations guy who has been there/done that, from making high-level business decisions to doing attic and crawlspace inspections. He shares it all if it means making the industry better.”
Horizon Termite and Pest Control owner Bernie Holst agrees. “Dave gives to the industry with his heart and soul. He recognizes that it’s an industry like no other, and he’s proud to be a part of it,” he says. “As a leader, and in particular when he was president of NJPMA, he was quick to get a handle on what needed to be done, consider everyone’s ideas and move the initiative forward. He stood strongly behind the decisions made by the association, even when he wasn’t in 100-percent agreement.”
Having served as NJPMA president for six years himself, Ed Bradbury, founder of Viking Pest Control and now a consultant to Viking and Anticimex, recognized Fisher’s potential for filling the state association’s top spot. “We got him on the board and helped him move up the ladder to president,” he says. “Traditionally, most of our presidents had been from smaller companies, so Dave brought a fresh perspective, sharing ideas from his larger company to help any business leader who could benefit. He was a leader with heart and the compassion to listen to everyone. People knew they could call on him any time they faced challenges in their businesses.”
“He is a natural leader,” adds Bryan Cooksey III, CEO of McCall Service. “As chair of the Copesan Development Committee, he brought all of our competing companies together to find common ground and work toward a common purpose. The committee became an open forum where we worked together to improve the bottom line for each of our companies. He made us feel comfortable discussing our respective challenges and learning from one another’s experiences and insights.”
When Rentokil Initial acquired J.C. Ehrlich in 2006, Fisher knew his career and life were about to change quickly. “I was in shock,” he says. “J.C. Ehrlich had been my life and passion, and now I had a vision in my head that a busload of suits would be coming in to take over our business. I remember seeing our new business card and saying, ‘It’s not right; the colors aren’t right.’ Then I had an epiphany: It wasn’t a question of company logo or colors. It was a question of values, whether Rentokil North America upheld the same high standards of quality and integrity J.C. Ehrlich had. Once I looked objectively, I saw complete alignment and realized that something exciting was happening. I had a chance at new global opportunities I would not have otherwise experienced.”
Fisher credits Victor Hammel for easing his transition into Rentokil North America. Hammel shares, “When J.C. Ehrlich became part of Rentokil North America, I told the head of the pest control division that they were receiving some very valuable assets that were not on the balance sheet: our management team. At the top of the list, I identified Dave Fisher. He has since proven himself to be invaluable as a key leader of Rentokil North America.”
As Hammel handed the reins over to successor John Myers, who became president and CEO of Rentokil North America 10 years ago, Fisher continued to learn and grow with Myers’ support. “When you join a new company, you look around the room for where your experts are sitting. Dave’s expertise, passion and institutional knowledge of the business were apparent. He stood out as a leader,” says Myers.
Today, Myers appreciates Fisher even more, lauding his successful leadership of Rentokil North America’s new vector management and lake management businesses in addition to his core responsibilities of overseeing several of the core support departments; health and safety, technical services and the supervision of line-of-business managers all fall within Fisher’s purview. Fisher is also “the keeper of the cultural flame of our business,” says Myers, helping employees maintain focus on Rentokil North America’s core values: service, relationships and teamwork.
In addition to his dedication to developing and implementing processes that drive consistency across the organization, Fisher is passionate about championing the success of all of Rentokil North America’s front-line employees, developing new leaders and ensuring the safety of every employee. “When you have 7,000 colleagues across North America, health and safety concerns keep you up at night. Our people drive 135 million miles a year, work with pesticides, go up and down ladders all day long, and work and drive in snow, rain and other inclement weather. Throw in the threat of hurricanes, floods and wildfires, and our health and safety team needs to be relentlessly diligent,” Fisher says. “I have tremendous faith in this team, but I still find myself often thinking, ‘Are our people OK?’”It’s all about the people to Fisher, as he genuinely values and respects the contributions of every employee. When new companies come into the mix as the result of acquisition, his own experience helps him empathize. “We approach every person and group of people with respect and humility,” he explains. “We communicate honestly and transparently, work to resolve any issues and help the new employees see the opportunities for their development. We also value what they bring to the organization. I can’t think of a single acquisition where we haven’t adopted some of the acquired company’s best practices.”
Fisher doesn’t hesitate to credit others for the roles they have played in shaping his development into an industry leader. “For the most part, I have reported directly to a Crown Leadership honoree through my entire career,” he says. “I am endlessly appreciative for the experience of having so many respected mentors, coaches and role models. In addition, I would not have been able to achieve successes in the business without the tremendous efforts of all of the J.C. Ehrlich and Rentokil North America colleagues I’ve worked with over the past 35 years.”
Victor Hammel says that appreciation goes both ways, sharing this sentiment: “The word ‘unique’ is often misused. It means ‘one of a kind’ or ‘having no like or equal.’ So you can’t say something is ‘pretty unique.’ It’s either unique or it’s not. For his in-depth talent and experience on both the technical and business sides of the pest control business, Dave Fisher is unique. He made a major contribution to the success of J.C. Ehrlich. I am proud and grateful to have worked with him.”