The chief marketing officer at Rollins Inc. took a circuitous route to the pest management industry, but each of his previous positions at global brands like Coca-Cola and the NFL prepared him for his current leadership role.
As the eldest son of a Marine fighter pilot who had a successful second career beginning as an advertising and marketing executive during the Mad Men era of the 1960s, Kevin Smith probably was destined to enter the fast-paced world of Madison Avenue marketing. After all, it was in his DNA.
Smith’s story begins in Muskegon, Mich., where his parents were high school sweethearts before marrying and starting a family. His mother, Nancy, was a homemaker who spent most of her time “corralling” Kevin and his two younger brothers, Stephen and Scott. Smith’s father, Philip, had a successful military career before reinventing himself as a Madison Avenue executive, “which probably spawned my interest in the ad agency business,” Kevin says.
Smith and his siblings spent their formative years in the New York metropolitan area, enjoying the fruits of an upper middle-class lifestyle. “We used to love going into New York as kids, visiting FAO Schwarz and checking out other parts of the city,” he recalls. “I had the good fortune to be born into a great family.”
Writing His Own Story
When it came time to chart his own course, Smith headed off to the University of New Hampshire, where he majored in civil engineering before discovering he wasn’t cut out for a career in construction. “I looked at the people who did well in calculus and I had one of those seminal moments,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should study things I’m good at,’” which eventually led Smith to change his major to psychology. “I loved the study of people and the way they behave,” he says, an interest that would serve him well as a marketing executive.
Smith’s first job out of college was as a junior salesperson at one of the country’s iconic brands – the Campbell Soup Company, working in the Frozen Foods Division selling Pepperidge Farm pastries and Swanson TV dinners. “My first sales territory was in the Bronx, so I was tested right out of the box to see how well I would do,” he recalls of those early days. In addition to honing his sales skills, “I got really good at parallel parking,” he says with a laugh.
It wasn’t long before Smith was on the fast track to success, tapped by an executive who saw something special in the engaging young salesperson to join the company’s Marketing Department, which is where Smith says he enjoyed one of his career highlights.
At the time, Campbell’s Soup had a significant marketing relationship with the National Football League (NFL), but its ad program had been disrupted by a player’s strike and work stoppage. “As we were looking at our marketing plans for the following year, we decided we should talk to them about getting some of our money back, so we drove to NFL headquarters in New York City. We didn’t get everything we asked for, but a couple of weeks later we got a call back from the NFL for an interview that led to an invitation to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Eight weeks later I was attending the largest sporting event in the U.S.,” attending the Commissioner’s Party, hobnobbing with Fortune 500 executives, and meeting high-profile athletes. “For a 25-year-old kid it was an incredible experience!”
It also provided yet another career opportunity. Not long after attending the Washington Football Team’s 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins, Smith was offered a marketing position with the sports league, where his tenure was short, but productive.
It was during this time Smith says he “made one of the most mature decisions in my life,” leaving what many would consider a “dream job” to enhance his long-term career prospects. “I felt like I needed to learn more, particularly in the area of product management, and I wouldn’t be able to acquire those skills with the NFL,” so he approached a former colleague at the Campbell Soup Company about returning to the firm. “They said they’d love to have me back if I stayed this time,” he says. “I got chewed out pretty good by the HR guy,” who called Smith a day-and-a-half later with a job offer.
“My second stint with Campbell’s Soup was a great thing because this time I understood the importance of the sales organization and how it contributes to the success of the marketing team,” he says. “I now had insights I never had before, which made me a better marketing executive.”
It was also during this time that Smith learned about the complexities of new product introductions, specifically ramen instant noodles, which Campbell’s began test marketing in 1988. “How do you bring a new product from concept, to the kitchen, to manufacturing, to marketing, to the retail shelves? It’s quite a complex process,” he says, but it can be quite gratifying if you’re successful, which Campbell’s was, which led to his next position at Marriott International.
Yet Another Chapter
While at Marriott, Smith worked on the Roy Rogers account, a restaurant chain owned by the global brand best known for its hotel properties. It proved to be one of the most demanding, fast-paced marketing positions in Smith’s career. “You’re promoting something new every month,” he says, whether that be a roast beef sandwich, chicken entrée or some other offering.
Unfortunately, when Marriott abruptly got out of the restaurant business and Smith was “left high and dry,” he decided to approach another iconic brand – Coca-Cola – for his next career adventure, moving his family to Atlanta to work in the company’s fountain beverage business.
“That’s where I built my B2B skills,” he says. “Like pest control, selling fountain drinks is much more of a conceptual sale. You’re solving a problem for a customer, but how you achieve the result isn’t always apparent.”
Smith eventually oversaw marketing strategy for Coke’s entire fast-food business. “It was a big job,” he says. So big, in fact, that Smith’s family life began to suffer. “This is where my family history began to play a role in my decision-making,” he says. “Family was always very important to my mom and dad. We went skiing together. We spent summers together. I wanted the same thing for my family, but my job made it difficult.”
So, Smith left Coke in early 2000 to join a start-up, taking what he learned from years of managing sales and marketing organizations to build an Internet business, while at the same time attempting to take control of his own destiny and embrace a healthier work-life balance. “I thought I too could be an Internet millionaire. Needless to say, that didn’t happen,” he says with a laugh.
Life at a Crossroads
The start-up was eventually purchased by a company in Detroit, but Smith wasn’t interested in relocating his family to the Motor City, particularly since his oldest daughter was about to head off to college, with a second daughter still in high school. “I promised our youngest daughter we would stay in Atlanta for her high school years and we did,” he says.
That meant his latest job search would be limited to the Atlanta metro area, which is where he was introduced to the Rollins family. “I didn’t know much about pest control, but having worked in Atlanta for a number of years, I did know about the Rollins family’s business and philanthropic activities.”
Although he didn’t know what to expect when interviewing for the vice president of sales and marketing position at Rollins, it wasn’t long before he realized it would be a good fit. “What didn’t occur to me going into the interview was the public service aspect of the job,” he says. “I quickly learned the industry was doing something good for humanity, which appealed to me.”
“When Kevin first came to work here he had a great track record in marketing jobs of increasing responsibility with some terrific names – the NFL, Campbell’s Soup, Coca-Cola and others, but they were all fairly short in tenure,” Vice-Chairman John Wilson recalls. “I told him it sounded like he had trouble holding onto a job! Twenty years on he has certainly proven me wrong on that issue.”
Smith said he felt right at home leading the marketing department from the very beginning. “I felt like I had trained for the job my entire career. I had the opportunity to apply all the skills I had learned over the years to Rollins, which was very exciting.”
He was also impressed by the family-friendly nature of the Rollins organization. “Right before I started, my wife and I were invited to attend a family barbeque,” he recalls. “As soon as we arrived, CEO Gary Rollins, who I had met once, separated from a crowd and greeted us. That’s when I felt that I made a good decision. It had a really nice family feel and I could identify with that.”
Eighteen years later, it’s a relationship that has paid dividends for both parties. “I love the fact that Kevin puts his all into everything he does,” Wilson says. “He balances a strong commitment to his family with responsibilities at work and never lets one go for the other.”
Smith’s commitment to giving his best to both work and family has not gone unnoticed by his industry colleagues. Cindy Mannes, executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA), says Smith’s love of family is readily apparent in every interaction.
“Kevin just became a grandfather for the first time,” she says, and whenever he talks about his granddaughter “he is glowing. Sometimes at the level where he is in his career, as the chief marketing officer for a billion-dollar corporation those attributes can be lost. Not so in his case.”
Wilson says Smith’s greatest contribution to Rollins Inc. has been his ability to build a strong marketing team devoted to data-driven decision-making. “Since Kevin’s arrival nearly all marketing decisions are made based on what provides the greatest return,” he says. “We talk about failing fast, and in order to do that you have to have data ready to aid in those quick decisions.”
Wilson also admires Smith’s ability to relate to everyone in the organization, including those on the front lines of the industry. “He understands innately that the best marketing idea ever will fail badly without support from the people that have to make that idea happen in the field,” he says.
“Kevin has been a great asset to Rollins during his 18 years with the company,” says Chairman and CEO Gary W. Rollins. “He has done an excellent job helping us move Orkin and our other brands into the future, while maintaining our core values and strengths. He’s been instrumental in helping us grow the business,” which Smith finds incredibly gratifying.
“You want to know you’re contributing to the success of an organization and making a difference,” Smith says. “That’s the main reason I’ve been here for 18 years.” And through it all, Smith has never lost sight of who is responsible for the success of the company. “Those front-line service techs are delivering our brand every day,” he says. “Our marketing wouldn’t make any difference if those techs weren’t delivering on our brand promise every day.