Headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., Truly Nolen, one of the largest family-owned pest control companies in the United States and #10 on this year’s Top 100 list, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. The company was founded in 1938 by Truly Wheatfield Nolen in Miami, Fla. Truly Wheatfield’s son, Truly David Nolen, started his own pest control company in 1955, purchased his father’s company in 1966, and then worked to lead, innovate and franchise the business in the U.S. and internationally over the next five decades. With more than 80 offices located in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah, Truly Nolen now services more than 250,000 customers, employs more than 1,100 partners, and has domestic franchises throughout the United States and international franchises in more than 60 countries. Truly David Nolen passed away in April 2017 at age 89.
President and CEO Scott Nolen, who is Truly David’s son, was named president in the 1990s. He worked alongside his father through the years and continues today to further the company’s growth and innovation, while focusing on research and development in industry technology, as well as the importance of the company’s fiber: its people. With the recent passing of Truly David Nolen, PCT caught up with Scott Nolen; Matt Wild, director of finance and business strategies; and Michelle Nolen Senner, director of public relations, to discuss the importance of succession planning, current success and the future direction of the company.
PLANNING AHEAD. “A company should begin succession planning on day one,” Wild says, since eventual succession goes beyond merely transferring authority. Tomorrow’s leaders shape the development of people, culture, expectations and direction of the company. Today’s leaders need to determine “how to make it interesting for the next generation — not an entitled, but an interested next generation,” explains Scott Nolen. Nolen says at Truly Nolen, “Nobody gets a free ride. And, nobody really wants a free ride; they want to be valued.” In order to be valued and happy, people need to make unique contributions, he says.
“What’s nice is that we’re a large enough company, we have lots of opportunities for people to contribute,” says Nolen. He explains further by acknowledging that the number one goal for people at work is to contribute and feel proud of their unique contributions. For instance, one of Nolen’s nephews who works at the company has a passion for weight lifting. Max began his work at the company by managing the exercise room that was created for Truly Nolen employees at the Tucson, Ariz., office. Eventually, he became more interested in the company. He began taking pest management classes, and then started teaching kids. Little by little, his involvement in the company expanded, as well as his personal growth.
Another example is Scarlett Sahara Nolen Jallad, Nolen’s sister, who obtained a master’s degree in psychology in order to be a counselor. Several years ago, Nolen encouraged his sister by saying, “So many people at Truly Nolen could use your guidance. Work here and see if helping people satisfies your soul.” Nolen shares that his sister now views working at the company as her lifelong career, and will probably be “running the company” someday. Senner, the director of public relations, and also Scott’s sister, shares her brother’s thoughts on employee development and adds that Truly Nolen is “fundamentally a people business more than an insect business, and understanding people is a key to being successful.”
Another element of success in future planning for this family business is that even though there are 10 family members that work for Truly Nolen, each person works in an area that speaks to his or her own skill sets. “We’re not all competing for one chair, and that’s a perception in other family businesses,” explains Senner. The family members are passionate and can channel that passion, without having to compete in the same space at work. Senner started in IT and migrated to marketing and PR, while being allowed to develop her passion for community work. Other members of the family shine in the R&D area by passionately pursuing better and smarter ways to manage pest control. “We try to step out of the way when people take on what role they should. Our ego is in how the company performs, not in our individual roles in the company,” Senner says.
In addition, Nolen says the unique role that a family member plays in the business is by taking pride in family ownership, and making decisions based on pride rather than money. “That holds everything in the company together,” he says. “The more we have family involved, the more we’ve actually grown in a healthy way,” Senner adds.
CURRENT SUCCESS. Scott said his father “did a very good job of making his vision simple and magical” and he saw the business — both employees and customers — as extended family. “When you see your customers like family, you get pest control right because pest control is a personal service,” says Nolen.
Focusing on training has played a large role in the Truly Nolen success story. “Training is really big for us. We are true knowledge workers,” states Nolen. The company offers schooling and hands-on training at two training centers in Tucson, Ariz., and Orlando, Fla. “Not only do we have to deal with the most complicated thing in the universe, the human being, but the next most complicated thing is the insect population. We are the mediators between these two incredible worlds. You have to have a passion and love for both worlds,” Nolen says. In addition, the company’s mission and core values are communicated regularly to employees, as well as in “all of our training, ranging from structured new employee training classes to our advanced technical classes, our comprehensive management-training program, and weeklong leadership-training course,” Wild says.
TOWARDS TOMORROW. In thinking about what lies ahead for Truly Nolen, “Hopefully it’s constant metamorphosis,” says Scott Nolen, who believes that innovation is key. The company needs “to always be looking at new ways of doing things” because “the world is changing too fast,” he says. Nolen admits that the company might not always rely on an ROI calculation for all of its innovative decisions. “When we do R&D, sometimes it might not make money on paper,” explains Nolen, but by adding in the company’s employee “involvement, pride and enthusiasm, it’s a really good investment.”
Truly Nolen will continue to be a unique and standout company. “We really own our identity. The colloquial term is that we let our ‘freak flag’ fly,” says Senner. The company embraces its mouse cars, mouse trucks, three mouse limos, a blimp and an in-development mouse car-like double-decker bus. “We know (the mouse car is) our icon and something that makes people smile,” adds Senner.
Most importantly, the company knows pests. “We actually really love insects and we have an understanding of them,” says Senner. The company has taken that love and developed a Good Bug/Bad Bug education class for schools all over the country. Coupled with the company’s exclusion techniques, employees work with children to look at engineering as a form of problem-solving, and how that knowledge is used to keep bugs out of homes. Senner explains that with regard to children, “It’s a great dialogue to have with our future customers and future employees, hopefully.”