When Suzanne Graham established American Pest Control Management with her husband Jim in 1992, no one was more surprised than her.
“My passion was for interior design — definitely not bugs! I had helped with my parents’ decorating business since I was 13, and then earned a degree in interior design,” she shares. “I met Jim a year after receiving my degree, in 1986, and the economy started to tank shortly after. When a friend told him there was money in pest control, he got into the business and ultimately decided to start his own company. I joined him in spite of my aversion to bugs and got swept up in the excitement as the business grew. That company became my baby.”
The Grahams built American Pest Control Management largely on new construction treatments. “In his previous work, Jim had built relationships with a handful of builders; that’s what really got us started,” Graham recalls. “We differentiated ourselves by providing liquid termite treatments. There weren’t a lot of mom-and-pop operations doing that in Southwest Florida in the early ’90s, and the builders and concrete finishers liked working with mom-and-pops. We took full advantage of that opportunity, catering to the industry’s needs and getting to know every customer really well.”
When a legislation issue surfaces within our industry, Suzanne provides recommendations backed by facts. She does a great job of providing the scientific detail behind an issue to help others make good decisions.”
— TONY MASSEY, PRESIDENT & CEO, MASSEY SERVICES
Their focus on construction led to Graham’s engagement with her local and state home builders associations, where she quickly rose to committee and organization-wide leadership roles. She began to realize the impact she could have on industry policies and regulations, and her government affairs career started to take shape.
Connecting With Massey
By 2011, American Pest Control Management was an attractive acquisition target, and Graham was ready to sell. “We wanted to make sure our 26 employees were taken care of, and once we started the conversations with Massey Services, we knew they were the best fit. In addition to better benefits, Massey offered more training and development opportunities, with the potential for greater advancement than other companies could offer our team members,” she says.
Massey executives recognized the merits of the business right away and quickly realized the value of Graham’s diverse expertise and knowledge.
“When I first met Suzanne during the acquisition of American Pest Control Management, she was actively involved with home builders, and in the local and state government. I recognized that her leadership strength and political acumen represented a true opportunity for our company,” says Massey Services President and CEO Tony Massey. “With her knowledge, experience and ability to understand disparate views of the political issues affecting businesses, we knew she would become a key influencer for our company and the industry.”
Adds Adam Jones, vice president and director of Quality Assurance at Massey Services, “At the time we acquired American Pest Control, Florida had become a hotbed of regulatory activity, especially for lawn care, and there was a growing need for our engagement in each of the three states we served [today, Massey serves seven states]. I quickly realized that Suzanne could step right into that role. She had built a remarkable network of political contacts and was well-known in the government relations arena as a result of her work with the Florida Home Builders Association and Charlotte-DeSoto Building Industry Association. It was clear she could help us improve our effectiveness in the regulatory arena.”
That is exactly what Graham has done. In the years since joining the Massey team as director of Government Affairs, she has addressed regulatory issues related to water management (particularly irrigation), general pest and termite management, lawn care, home building and other issues of great importance to Massey, as well as their respective industries.
Jeff Buhler, senior vice president of Customer Service at Massey, says, “When you think about threats to the company or the industry, our thought process is, ‘What are the rules of the game from a legal standpoint? What can/can’t we do? If something is going to change tomorrow or next year or in 10 years, how do we need to prepare for that as a company and an industry?’ This is where Suzanne’s focus and expertise lie. She leads our involvement in these conversations for mutually beneficial outcomes.”
Those conversations require interactions with politicians and other decision-makers who may have broad influence but little firsthand knowledge of the topic at hand. Graham’s decades of building strong, nonpartisan relationships on the local, state and national levels uniquely position her to effectively steer these discussions.
“When you have just five minutes with a congressional aide, a state senator or another individual who is helping carve out the rules of the game, you need to understand their perspective so you can share the relevant information in the manner that will be best received and understood,” explains Buhler. “Suzanne is gifted in connecting the dots for people, whether their priority is the environment, the economy or their own re-election.”
According to Massey, “When a legislation issue surfaces within our industry, Suzanne provides recommendations backed by facts. She does a great job of providing the scientific detail behind an issue to help others make good decisions.”
A Respected Industry Leader
Graham began emerging as a leader in the early 2000s, as her association involvement deepened. Her impact on these traditionally male-dominated industries took on added significance as she made notable strides for women.
Her achievements included being named the first female president of the Charlotte-DeSoto Building Industry Association in 2005, and the second female president of the Florida Home Builders Association in 2012. Now serving her second term as president of the Florida Pest Management Association (FPMA), Graham is also an associate director and a public policy committee member with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), and she serves on the government affairs committee of NALP, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. She also has earned a variety of prestigious awards, including the 2019 NPMA Women of Excellence Award and 2020 NPMA Public Policy Person of the Year.
“It’s important for all of us to encourage women to become part of our industries — to feel welcomed and supported,” Graham says. “Anyone who sets their mind to it can excel and lead in these fields. I hope to serve as an example of what women can achieve here.” Graham notes that she is particularly proud of her appointment by former Florida Governor Rick Scott to the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.
“Suzanne’s reputation across the industries she serves is nothing short of stellar,” says Leslie Herren, executive vice president of FPMA. “In pest management, she has a tremendous amount of credibility. Having established, grown and ultimately sold a pest management company, she understands the important issues and is an amazing industry liaison.”
But FPMA and other organizations value much more than Graham’s profound industry knowledge. “When we had a gap in our executive committee, Suzanne’s experience in leading an association — namely the Florida Home Builders Association — was an important reason she was selected to step up,” Herren shares. “You need someone who is open to new ideas, strong enough to make the tough calls, agile enough to pivot quickly and diplomatic in hearing all sides of a discussion and coming out with a win-win. That’s Suzanne.”