If you ask Steve Warren how he became a pest control operator, he will tell you it was by mistake. During his junior year at Northern Illinois University, Warren was introduced to a friend of a friend, Joe, who took a huge career leap: he dropped out of Northwestern University’s engineering program to become an exterminator.
“I thought he was nuts,” Warren said. “What, a degree in engineering from Northwestern or an exterminator?”
Warren and Joe kept in touch, however, and the more Joe expressed his love for his new job, the more curious Warren became about pest control. With school coming to an end for the summer, Joe promised Warren he could help him get a job at his pest control company for the next three months. At first, Warren was reluctant. He already had a summer job that he enjoyed and that paid well. But the pest control job offered something that Warren said was too much for a college student to resist.
“I was a college kid without a car. The pest control job came with a company car, which I could take home and use for my personal car,” Warren said. “Gas, insurance, etc., was free. Well, I could put up with anything for three months to get a car, even if it did have the name of the exterminating company on it.”
So, Warren took the job — and fell in love with it. He decided not to return to school in the fall. Warren now owns Barrington Exterminating, a small pest control company that Warren operates out of Barrington, Ill., with one other technician.
ANOTHER PASSION. Pest control was not the only passion Warren discovered in college. Ever since junior high, Warren loved to play volleyball. In college, he played on a co-ed team but soon found out it was not as easy as it looked. After being called out repeatedly for violations like lifts, throws and carries, Warren found a fellow student who lived in his dorm and played in a college league to teach him how to play.
“Not many guys knew how to play volleyball in 1966, but I lucked out big time. Dale was from a volleyball-playing family,” said Warren. “We — they — won the university championship. I sat on the bench and learned. But I was on the court when I practiced with them.”
After college, Warren continued to teach himself how to play volleyball by reading books, joining leagues and traveling down to Chicago’s Navy Pier to watch “real volleyball players play,” he said. He even applied his business knowledge to grow his volleyball career by networking within the volleyball community.
While Warren continued to become a better player personally, he began planning to coach his own USA Open Nationals team. Nationals is the sport’s highest level of competition, with teams comprised of the top college volleyball players, as well as professional players.
After watching men’s and women’s Nationals teams compete for more than 10 years, Warren formed an official National women’s team in Chicago in 1992. The next couple years were a learning process. Warren developed a coaching strategy and began recruiting volleyball players from all over the country. He expanded the roster to 14-15 players and added two additional high-level coaches. He also self-financed his players’ travel expenses.
Warren’s hard work, dedication and financial sacrifice paid off. His team won its first Nationals title in 1998, and subsequent teams captured National titles in 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2017.
FROM PCO TO COACH. Warren considers himself more of a volleyball coach than a pest management professional who coaches volleyball. He said he began thinking this way when he added five-time Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda to his coaching staff.
“She had a great time, the girls loved her and she them,” Warren said. “A real down-to-earth sweetheart and more knowledgeable than my limited vocabulary can explain.”
Warren and Scott-Arruda met on several occasions through various volleyball Nationals events. After Warren asked Scott-Arruda to join his team on a few occasions, she finally agreed and has been coaching with him the past three years.
Since joining the team Scott-Arruda has been impressed by Warren’s coaching style.
“I think you have to be a student of the game, if you will. And I think Steve definitely is always trying to learn and grow,” said Scott-Arruda. “He is very open to listening to the players so that we are really a team. And I imagine that’s how he runs his business as well.”
Warren’s coaching style led his team to the silver medal in the National Championship in 2018. And after pulling his first all-nighter since college and traveling between states for about two weeks during the championship, Warren returned home to “a mountain of work, both pest control and still many volleyball details.”
Yet Warren always maintains a positive outlook on his sometimes chaotic schedule of balancing pest control and coaching volleyball. Recalling the busy weeks of the National Championship, Warren asked, “Wait, is that an adventure?”
The author is a New York City-based writer.