“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” — Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur
Rohn could be describing 2014 Crown Leadership Award winner Laura Simpson in this quote. Simpson is owner/president and primary licensee of Dugas Pest Control, Baton Rouge, La. Through her years of leadership service to the pest control industry, she has exemplified each of the qualities described in Rohn’s quote.
Simpson knows the pest control industry very well but it wasn’t always that way. Her first memory of the pest control industry happened in the fourth grade when her teacher asked, “Whose dad is an entomologist?” No hands went up. Simpson had never heard the word before and never thought of her dad as a scientist, but rather as a businessman. “When I think about it, though, as a child, my sisters and I constantly went to dad with captured bugs and asked him what they were,” she recalled.
As one of the largest family-owned pest control companies in Louisiana, Dugas employs 26 people out of its Baton Rouge headquarters.
Key Career Moments
Simpson’s formal training came from Louisiana State University (LSU), where she was an accounting major. After college, she went to work for her father helping with payroll. It was several years later that she made the commitment to lead the company and pursue the pest control industry as a career. She cites this decision as a key moment. “I changed my mindset from, ‘This is a convenient job for me to have,’ to ‘I can run this company and I want to run this company,’” Simpson said.
Unlike some family-owned companies where a son or daughter of the owner assumes a leadership role, Simpson’s father, Doug MacPherson — an iconic figure in the industry — did not micromanage and allowed her to become the leader of Dugas. “He would give me a project to do — like rework our training or redo an employee manual, or rebid our health insurance. We just did a few steps at a time, so I would learn how the process worked,” Simpson recalled. “He let me run with it. He was very good about letting me do what I thought was best.”
MacPherson also encouraged his daughter to get involved in the industry through state and national association work and educational conferences — and get involved she did. Throughout the years, Simpson has served as NPMA president; on the executive committee, finance and audit committee and nominating committee; Pest Management Foundation board; and various state level leadership roles.
Another key moment happened at PestWorld 2012 in Boston, when Simpson, NPMA president at the time, addressed members just six weeks after its executive vice president resigned. Kevin Pass, president of Action Pest Control, Evansville, Ind., who served on NPMA’s Board during this time, said Simpson was a steady presence. “I like to think of Laura Simpson as the ‘Iron Lady’ of pest control,” he said. “She is a Southern lady with the manners, taste and appearance that goes with it. She is charming and patient, but was able to keep things steady during a rather uncertain time at NPMA.”
A third key moment for Simpson occurred when her dad stepped away from the business on a daily basis, allowing her to stand on her own as the company’s leader.
And finally, a key moment occurred when her oldest son, Jeremy, decided to join the firm with the goal of taking it over some day. He is now the GM and sales manager. Simpson said she has tried to transition Jeremy using a similar hands-off approach her dad used with her. “Jeremy’s done a little bit of everything but sales is his great love. So now he is handling the sales manager role but he also is GM.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio, while her father was working on his master’s degree at The Ohio State University, Laura Simpson’s family moved to Baton Rouge when she was 7. She has two younger sisters, is the mother of three boys and grandmother to five.
Laura’s husband Floyd actually came from another side of the industry — regulatory. He was Louisiana’s chief pesticide enforcement officer and the two met while Laura was president of the Louisiana Pest Management Association in 2001. The couple was married in 2004. Because of conflict-of-interest concerns, Floyd was forced to move to a different position within the Louisiana Department of Agriculture. Floyd eventually retired and came to work for Dugas, where he serves as executive vice president and handles special projects.
Besides her passion for seeing Dugas Pest Control succeed, Simpson does sorority recruitment for Delta Gamma at LSU where she attended. Her children and grandchildren also add a passionate element to her life.
Simpson characterizes her leadership style in three words: Lead By Example. “I don’t ask others to do something I wouldn’t do myself but I expect people to do what they say they will. I don’t micromanage and pride myself on my ability to see the big picture and keep everything on a positive level,” says Simpson. “I learned from dad to see the big picture. He was good at both the big picture and the details.”
Simpson’s husband, Floyd, who works with Laura, says, “Her leadership style is quite unique in that she asks questions like, ‘What do you think you should do?’ and then listens to the answer. She has the ability to accept critical issues and let things play out with her guidance.”
Laura Simpson added, “Having a positive atmosphere and having fun in the office is very important. We try to not get too stressed when we face new situations such as our recent association with Copesan.”
Goal setting and celebrating when goals are achieved also are important at Dugas. For example, the sales team enjoyed a “night out on the company” because they exceeded the highest sales goal ever set at the company. Dugas presents awards, selects an employee of the quarter and uses motivational game formats for training.
Simpson says Dugas Pest Control also supports several non-profit organizations through fundraisers for Heritage Ranch, Dress for Success, Susan Komen Breast Cancer awareness, and others.
All this involvement has come while Dugas is still growing. The company has enjoyed double-digit growth the last three years and is looking at a 30 percent growth mark this year thanks to its Copesan association.
A Fried in Congress
Laura Simpson counts as one of her good friends a fellow LSU Delta Gamma sorority sister who also has made a name for herself in a traditionally male-dominated arena (politics) — Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). As Simpson recounted to PCT Editor Jodi Dorsch in the 2012 PCT Convention Extra, Landrieu, whose father Moon Landrieu was mayor of New Orleans, was not interested in politics in college, but she “always had a strong will and drive to help people and she is a very, very compassionate person.”
Simpson said Landrieu is part of a group of about 12 to 15 of her close friends in college that she is still in touch with, and the pair try to meet up during NPMA Legislative Day. “Mary has been a great friend to the small business person and to our industry,” Simpson says. “She understands the value of pest control and understands that there are a lot of things in place with EPA that keep us safe. She understands that the judicious use of pesticides helps us greatly.”
But that’s not to say the two always see “eye to eye” on politics. “There are issues that we don’t agree on and that is OK,” she said. “When we’re together socially, we don’t usually discuss politics.”
The Industry's Future
When asked for the advice she would give to someone thinking of entering the pest control industry, Simpson advises them to figure out how to remove themselves from the day-to-day operations as fast as possible. Concentrate on the big picture and find key metrics you want to concentrate on and limit the number of those metrics to no more than five. Then, if you don’t have the self-discipline to keep on that path, consider hiring a business coach to keep you on track.
As to the pest control industry’s future, Simpson is very optimistic. “The level of professionalism that we see in the young people coming up in the industry is truly inspiring,” she said. “There is a definite positive change in the perception of the industry and these young leaders certainly support and enhance the industry’s image.”