By Brad Harbison

Bryan Cooksey, CEO of McCall Service, Jacksonville, Fla., took over as NPMA president this summer.

The motto for the Cooksey family, longtime owners of Jacksonville, Fla.-based McCall Service, might be “The company that works together, stays together.” While the company is led by CEO Bryan Cooksey III, it truly is a family affair that includes Bryan’s younger brothers — CFO Colonel David Cooksey and COO/Entomologist John Cooksey. The family patriarch is Bryan Cooksey Jr., chairman of the board.

Bryan Cooksey III was the first of the Cooksey brothers to join McCall Service full-time. A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Bryan didn’t have plans on rejoining McCall Service. But in 1988, he found himself at a crossroads in his military career and began to rethink returning to the family business. He started in McCall’s fledgling water softener start-up and after that didn’t pan out he had a brief stint with the Florida National Guard before deciding to return to pest control on a permanent basis.

Upon returning to McCall full-time, he headed up the company’s commercial sales division and continued learning all facets of the business. As CEO of McCall Service, Bryan leads an $11 million business with more than 100 employees.

Throughout his tenure at McCall, Bryan has been active with the Florida Pest Management Association and the National Pest Management Association — especially with regulatory work. He has served as chairman of FPMA’s Government Affairs Committee and is a very active member of NPMA’s Public Policy team.

In addition, Cooksey also serves on the Pest Control Enforcement Advisory Council for the state of Florida. The council advises the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs on public policy and enforcement guidelines for the industry. In the following Q&A, PCT Managing Editor Brad Harbison talks to Cooksey about new developments at McCall and some of his goals as NPMA president.

Brad Harbison: You and your two brothers own and operate McCall Service. That sounds challenging. How do you make it work?

Bryan Cooksey: When the younger brothers came into the business they agreed to work for the older brothers. We had this industrial psychiatrist give us an evaluation and he said that fits with everybody’s talents. But we are all pretty interchangeable.

The Cooksey brothers, (left to right) John, Bryan and David, are the second- generation leaders of McCall Service.

The second part of this formula is an unwritten rule that any time a big, important decision is to be made the three brothers will vote on it. It’s really hard to break a strand of three. Sometimes you are happy with the outcome, sometimes you are upset, but at all times you have that agreement in principle.

BH: A lot of PCOs we speak with are spending significant time on succession planning. What are the Cookseys doing?

BC: We recently held a three-day bug camp for the younger generations potentially coming into the business. It was something suggested to us by a family business adviser out of Chicago we’ve been working with. So, for three days we exposed them to the business side of McCall — it was just to plant the seeds to see if they are interested. Our goal is to pass off the business to the next generation of Cookseys, so this was to sort of whet their appetite at a young age.

BH: You recently opened a new technical training facility in Newberry, Fla. (see related story, page 26). Why did you decide to centralize training?

BC: We’ve had a lot of new employees come on board and this new generation is looking for different things and we wanted a better way to communicate with them. We want to set new employee expectations and let them know that pest control is not just a job — it may be a career. We also wanted to take the upfront training responsibilities off the day-to-day managers. So, all new employees will go there, and we are also calling the more seasoned employees back to go through it as a refresher. Our training director, Cory [Goeltzenleuchter] has done a great job transitioning everything to the new facility. Cory also is in charge of safety as well, so it’s sort of a blended thing. The goal of safety training, obviously, is to reduce on-the-job accidents, which leads to better insurance premiums in the future.

BH: Why was the Gainesville area chosen?

BC: It is centrally located to all of our branch offices. Also, we are very close with [UF Entomologist] Dr. Phil Koehler and his program and there are a lot of resources there. Throughout the years he’s encouraged students into internship positions with us and assisted with training in the company. We have recruited six of his former students to our company, and probably 20 different students have come through either as interns or training helpers.

BH: What are some of the benefits you’ve already observed?

BC: It gives you a more professional feel. For new employees that whole process is a lot more organized. Standardization has improved. Before, each branch might have had a slightly different approach to training.

BH: You’ve held leadership positions within FPMA and NPMA. What’s the significance to you of becoming NPMA president?

BC: It really expands your perspective. I have always been focused on Florida, but the needs of the industry are much wider and broader than they are in a single state. However, Florida does have very diverse needs and it does have about 20% of the market, they say, so it provides a good sampling of the industry. As NPMA president, you are providing members throughout the country what they need to be successful. It is a lot different than just focusing on one state. It’s an honor. It’s also a little bit overwhelming at first because I definitely have a stronger state perspective. But, I have also been on the [NPMA] board for about nine years. It's an interesting time right now because of all the [PCO level] consolidation.

BH: There are a lot of new faces and positions within the NPMA staff. How has the new structure worked to ensure continuity?

BC: When Bob Rosenberg was CEO, restructuring was one of his big changes. He knew there was going to be a vacuum on the lobbyist side of NPMA. What I saw him doing was really ramping up the public policy side to make sure that all the gaps were filled — and that’s because that is where he put most of his time and energy.

At the same time, [now NPMA CEO] Dominique Stumpf was his number two, and she handled the administrative side of things, which was not Bob’s strong suit, so to speak. So when Bob left, he did so with both a strong public policy and administrative team in place, so it’s been a pretty seamless transition.

NPMA staff has a lot of people who are very talented in their areas of responsibilities. The more time I spend with the NPMA staff, the more I think that every time I walk away after having a meeting with them.

BH: One of the initiatives that was just getting off the ground last year was the NPMA Executive Leadership Program [an initiative designed to identify and engage “emerging leaders” from various parts of the country who want to enhance NPMA and the membership experience]. Can you give us an update on this program?

BC: It’s been exciting. As with any type of venture like this, that first class is the most interesting because it’s a new idea coming to life. I believe everyone participating in it has been very satisfied with their experience. One of the benefits of this program for participants is NPMA funds their trips to Academy and PestWorld. I can tell you that in a recent board meeting two [emerging leaders] from the Executive Leadership Program volunteered to provide us with bullet points to communicate about the value of NPMA membership.

What that showed me was that in heat of the moment when everybody else froze the ELP members stepped up for the future of the industry because they saw an opportunity and jumped on it. I think NPMA will end up with much more competent leaders coming from that resource investment.

BH: What are some other benefits you’ve observed?

BC: I think they are seeing value in being mentored. They will call and ask for some advice — questions like: What type of programs should I become involved with? What committees could I serve on? How do I get the most out of my NPMA experience? I think it’s a good program and we are going to continue to see good things coming from it.

BH: With the Trump administration in place for several months now, what are some of your observations about what it means to the pest management industry?

BC: It’s a more pro-business environment. A lot of the Presidential mandates or letters or opinions from the previous administration that might not have been pro-business have been put on hold or delayed or stalled. Some of the bigger items like lower taxes, health care reform, they [the Trump administration] are trying, so we’ll see. But, what we do see happening is EPA is more science-friendly. I see more considerations being given to science-based debates or positions as far as processes. I think there are opportunities for us with EPA. For example, NPMA has been supporting efforts to increase funding levels for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. [NPMA and other groups believe that adequately funding EPA’s OPP will lead to a more timely, deliberate, and predictable registration and registration-review process. It was one of the issues NPMA members lobbied for during the congressional visits at March’s Legislative Day].

BH: What are some other issues the public policy team is working on?

BC: I think we may see some developments with the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permits issue that NPMA has been working on for years. [Despite the fact that pesticides applied in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) have already undergone a thorough review during the EPA registration and reregistration processes, NPDES permits are required under the Clean Water Act any time chemical pesticides are used in, over or near Waters of the United States.] We are hopeful that that definition of “bodies of water” will be redefined so that it is not so broad and does not include locations like storm water drains. This is shaping up as one of the most important and impactful Legislative Days in recent history due to the convergence of many factors: The Republicans control the Executive and Legislative branches; the Farm Bill reauthorization is in 2018; and the 2018 mid-term elections are right around the corner. The Farm Bill is the perfect vehicle to insert needed legislation to protect and promote the structural pest management industry. NPMA will need your voice, not only at Legislative Day but throughout the remainder of the 115th Congress.

BH: How has NPMA been affected by all of this consolidation at the PCO level?

BC: Well you’ve got some very wealthy former PCOs now that are hitting the slopes in Wyoming and Montana [laughing]. Selling is a great retirement option for people who have put their whole lives into building their businesses. Then the other perspective is it has eaten away the medium-sized companies that have historically been NPMA’s resource for volunteers and involvement, and it has also taken away from some of the association’s income from dues. That has forced us to do some rethinking on how we make NPMA sustainable for future generations.

BH: Can you talk about the dues restructuring?

BC: Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Home & Commercial Services, Austin, Texas, is chairing a committee on this. It is geographically diverse and made up of small, medium and large companies. The committee has met and looked at the dues structure and we have looked at many different angles and aspects of it. The first phase we are addressing is the large group state program that came out in 2002. After reviewing it we noticed a couple things. One is, there is a general sense we haven’t had a dues increase since 2010, I believe, so it has been a long time. Just this year we passed a 5% across the board increase on all dues.

We’ve also gone to the larger states and begun dialogue with them to transition members away from the joint-state discount option that provided large package deals for large member states. The joint-state program has been a great program. We were looking for more member participation and it had some early success, but it has drifted away from the original intent.

Before that plan was rolled out, the way it worked for years was the NPMA member paid separate dues to each organization [their state association and NPMA]. Under the joint-state plan, once you joined the state association you also became a national member. The states that agreed to it viewed it as two different dues coming in and one organization collecting the dues for the other. Over time that changed. New boards came in, new people came in. So the same amount got paid into national, but how they collected it and communicated it on the invoice to the individual changed. Every state went a different direction — and all for good reasons — and they all had the authority to make those changes. But when you go back and try to really look at it you realize, wow, it’s a little confusing. So now we’re having to first figure out how each state is treating dues collections uniquely and then how can we collectively reboot. So you have to do sort of a data dump and reboot. So the joint program was a great program but it’s usefulness has faded. With all the acquisitions in the industry we have to return to fair and equitable dues across the board and make it more transparent and equal for all.

BH: What are some other initiatives NPMA is working on?

BC: We’re excited about a new training program. The board recently saw a presentation from [NPMA Director of Training and Education] Mike Bentley and the stuff that he was presenting was very cutting edge, very interactive and user-friendly. It’s going to be available to members and to non-members and to supervisors to use for large groups of people. It covers anything from individual training to sales training to business management training. It's all accessible and includes individual tracing system CEUs approved by multiple states through the back-end system of NPMA. It's very impressive. There will be individual classes that you can purchase directly — swipe the card and you are in. This was one of the areas NPMA targeted as an area of need when it comes to training. So you can use the classes for groups or for individuals. They can be taken at the office or at home. It has different sections. If you are just looking for basic level technician training it is available and accessible to all. If you are a QualityPro company there are sections in there for QualityPro only companies. It's more advanced training and it's a benefit of being a QualityPro company. Even if you are not an NPMA member, this also is available to you. So there is no restriction to access except for the price point. You pay a little more if you are not a due’s payer or your company is not a dues-paying member company.

BH: Is the pest control industry undergoing a generational shift. How is NPMA meeting the needs of these younger generation leaders that are coming up?

BC: The Academy is one way. When I look at who signed up and who is participating, it’s a much younger crowd than any other group you see at NPMA events. If you look at the programming for Academy, there are speakers and topics that appeal to their interests and in a format they like.

BH: For people who aren’t involved or are minimally involved in NPMA what would you say to them?

BC: I would say, you get a lot more out of it than what you put into it. I have learned so much about how to deal with difficult problems, and learned innovative ideas from networking with my peers. Things that have led me to making good decisions and minimizing bad decisions.

BH: How do you think the industry through the work of NPMA, and also PPMA, is perceived today compared to when you started in the industry?

BC: Good question. As I recall back in the day when I first joined McCall as a summer helper, the attitude of the consumer was “If I can’t smell it, you didn’t do a good job." Today, we are much more aware of what we are putting out, how it impacts not only the location where we are putting it, but the environment around the application area.

IPM has evolved fully as a concept and into research and development as well. The products manufacturers are bringing to market are much more targeted to specific species of insects instead of these broad application labels. They are more specifically designed for what you are trying to resolve — they provide for more surgical, targeted applications. And they provide a more friendly posture with the environment than we had over the years. It’s a more of a positive experience and the whole market has grown from around $2 or $3 billion when I started to around what it is now, which is closing in on $9 billion. That’s pretty impressive.

What that tells me is more of the population is using our services. The commercial side always has because of regulations, but the residential side is growing. More and more people are willing to allow others to do that service than to try to do it themselves. And pest control has become a better career for people. With mobile technology, it’s as much about communication as it is science, as far as dealing with customers, especially on the residential side. The industry is much more focused on finding curative solutions, anticipating pest problems and getting ahead of the curve.

BH: Is it a good time to be a pest control owner/operator?

BC: It’s never been better. Now you have a choice. You can sell out and retire and make a lot of money or you can continue to work and make a lot of money. But the only reason these other companies are buying is because they realize pest control businesses have a lot of value. The greatest challenge now is with the low unemployment. Recessions are actually good for us because it makes it easy to find really talented people. Now you are having to work really hard to find those same people and keep them interested in what they are doing. But because we have advanced so much in the way we approach things, pest control has become a high-level occupation that it was. We have moved from a blue collar type of profession. Maybe not white collar, but light blue collar.

BH: Is there one single issue, or a couple of issues, that you really want to focus on during your presidency?

BC: My biggest opportunity is to transition these large group states into NPMA members and to try to maintain the same number of members that we have. I see every member as equal: large, medium and small operators. When we started out we were the owner/ operators of the company and we actually acquired the company from the [previous] owner. So we have lived through the employee side of it as well as the operating side of it. My perspective, I think, is unique in that and we are second generation. We worked in the business with the first generation before we acquired the company. And we are transitioning the next generation that has always owned it. So their perspective will be a little different. For me, my goal is to have as many members of NPMA who want to be involved, be able to do it.