A lifelong willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done has been the foundation of John Myers’ success as a businessman. It was true of his first job, when he joined the American Can Company as a young management trainee following graduation from the University of Vermont, moving six times in 18 years as he climbed the corporate ladder.
It was true when Myers was recruited to lead a start-up, BioQuest, that failed to achieve its corporate objectives and eventually was sold, resulting in one of the greatest disappointments of his 38-year career.
And it was true when he uprooted his family from Chicago and moved to Cincinnati, accepting a job at Cintas, the corporate identity uniform company with a track record of developing successful business executives. It proved to be a prudent decision, despite Myers’ initial reservations.
“I joined Cintas in a job I didn’t want, but when you get on a quality team if you work for the greater good you eventually get the job you want,” he says. “I sometimes advise college kids about job hunting, and whenever I speak with them about it, I tell them three things. First, I tell them to go with a really good company. Second, be sure to work for a really good boss.”
And third? “If you get with the right company or the right boss, the job will work out and you don’t have to worry about number three,” he says with a laugh.
And that’s exactly what Myers did at Cintas, finding a lifelong mentor — veteran executive Bob Kohlhepp — who nurtured his career as Myers took on increasingly important job responsibilities at the Global 2000 company: group vice president, vice president of business strategy and senior vice president of sales, just to name a few.
Those leadership positions laid the foundation for Myers’ future success at Rentokil Steritech, where he has built the company’s North American pest control operations into a major industry player through a combination of strategic acquisitions and organic growth, rising to #3 on PCT’s Top 100 List with more than $600 million in annual revenues.
A PASSION TO SUCCEED
To what does Myers attribute his success? “Whenever one of my bosses asked who would like to be considered for a new opportunity, I always raised my hand,” he says simply. “It’s what I’ve always done and it has always worked out,” even when Myers didn’t feel particularly well-equipped to take on a new assignment.
Case in point, as a 29-year-old shift supervisor at the American Can Company with limited practical experience, Myers ran a 24/7 production facility. “I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing, but as long as I could gradually build my skills I knew intuitively I could do it,” he says. “And once you acquire certain skills, it gives you the confidence to attempt — and succeed — at other things.
“I’ve discovered there’s no real secret to success other than getting up every morning and trying to improve,” he adds. “You just have to be willing to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and be willing to do the hard work to get the job done.”
It also helps to have a supportive partner. “I have a spouse (Susie) who has always had confidence in me, lending balance to my life,” he says. “We’ve been married 35 years and throughout those years she’s always said, ‘Don’t worry, it will work out.’ Such unequivocal support gives you the courage to fail.”
NO GAME PLAYING
It also gives you the courage to be yourself. That’s why despite his highly competitive nature, Myers never engaged in office politics, choosing instead to let his job performance do the talking, earning a reputation as a “straight shooter” colleagues could trust.
“Throughout my career, I was just a good guy who tried to treat people fairly,” he says. “I’ve always felt that despite conventional wisdom, ultimately the good guy wins in the end.”
It’s a quality that was top of mind when Rentokil began looking for someone to succeed Victor Hammel, the legendary CEO who led the company’s North American operations following the sale of his family’s business (J.C. Ehrlich Co.) to the global pest control giant in 2006.
“As part of the sale of J.C. Ehrlich to Rentokil,” Hammel recalls, “I agreed to serve three years as Rentokil’s CEO of North American pest control operations.” At the end of that three-year period, Rentokil insisted the company’s three-person search committee, led by Hammel, look for someone outside the two organizations to fill the position. It proved to be a long and arduous exercise.
“We used a search firm that presented us with about 25 candidates of which we interviewed six,” unanimously agreeing that none of them were satisfactory, Hammel recalls. “So, we started over and were given another 15 resumes from which we selected four.” Every member of the search committee interviewed each of the final candidates individually. “At the end of the long day, once again we were unanimous,” Hammel says, with everyone agreeing John Myers was the man for the job.
“While John had many of the specific attributes we were looking for (in a CEO)” — a track record of success, organizational skills, sales and marketing experience, and an understanding of route-based service businesses — “it was his character and personality that impressed all of us most,” Hammel says.
And neither Hammel nor the rest of the search team have experienced a moment of buyer’s regret, he says. “Not only were we unanimous in 2008, but our instincts have proven right nine years later.”
Hammel has been particularly impressed by Myers’ work ethic, which is legendary. “I think I was viewed as someone with a substantial work ethic,” he says, “and I’m exhausted just thinking about John’s work schedule, both in hours and in miles.”
Myers’ single most important attribute, according to Hammel, is his integrity, which has been evident during negotiations with various family-owned businesses throughout the industry as Rentokil Steritech has ramped up its acquisition activity in recent years. “John has kept his word in every one of those transactions,” Hammel says admiringly.
It’s a quality Eric Rimiller, vice president of Rentokil Steritech’s western region, has seen manifest itself both at executive team meetings and in the field. “In the business environment we are in, with acquisition growth being such a strong component of our strategy,” he says, Myers’ listening skills and emotional intelligence have played a key role in the company’s success.
“Regardless if it is an executive colleague airing out some grievance, or a front-line colleague discussing what is occurring in their personal life, John’s attention and connection in these settings is world class,” Rimiller says. “As a result, he makes everyone feel important in our organization.”
That personal commitment also extends to the industry at large, particularly when it comes to Rentokil Steritech’s support of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA). During his time at the company, Myers has become more involved in industry leadership activities, serving on the NPMA Board of Directors, P3 Steering Committee, and Professional Pest Management Alliance Board of Directors.
“His insights during our strategic planning session helped drive the conversation to a positive outcome for our industry,” observes NPMA Chief Executive Officer Dominique Stumpf. “What’s impressed me most is his ability to connect with all of our members, both large and small business owners.”
When not negotiating deals or on the road visiting Rentokil Steritech’s far-flung field offices, Myers enjoys spending time with his family, which includes Susie, his wife of 35 years, and three grown children — Kate, Sally and Jack.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of free time,” Myers says. Therefore, he chooses to use it “judiciously,” focusing on his family whenever possible. “If the phone rang right now, if it’s one of my kids or my wife, I would answer it. I wouldn’t initiate a call, because this is work, but If they’re calling me at work I know it’s important.”
Acknowledging his workaholic tendencies, Myers readily admits “getting this work-life balance thing right is difficult,” particularly when charged with the task of expanding Rentokil Steritech’s footprint across North America, which at times can seem all-consuming.
“I’m a little paranoid about ensuring I added value today at work,” he says. “I love being super busy,” but Myers readily admits it comes at a cost. Nonetheless, it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make because he genuinely cares about providing a better life for his work colleagues.
“I want them to have health care and save for retirement, to sit at the dinner table telling their kids what they did and how they make a difference in people’s lives,” he says. “I want them to be safe and I want them to understand our three values — Service, Relationships and Teamwork.”
By providing these employee benefits and reinforcing the company’s values every day, Myers hopes to continue driving Rentokil North America’s growth, making a positive difference in even more people’s lives.
“Colleagues come first,” he says. “In a service business if you get the colleague thing right the customer thing is easier to do. That doesn’t mean everybody is happy all the time, but we should strive to make everyone happy. That’s a noble goal.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Once his pest control career is over, Myers says he’d like to get more involved in the community, following the example of his predecessor at Rentokil, Victor Hammel, a member of the Leadership Class of 2002. “Now I’m contributing financially to the causes I think are important, but not in my actions,” he says. “In the future, I’d like to do both.”
Since selling J.C. Ehrlich to Rentokil, Hammel has served on the board of directors of his local hospital and volunteered in various community capacities, nurturing a side of himself that was forced to take a back seat when leading a multi-million-dollar pest control business with more than 1,200 employees. That’s no longer the case today. “I’d like to be that guy some day,” Myers says admiringly.
At the moment, however, that chapter of his yet-to-be-written life story will have to wait. John Myers still has work to do if Rentokil Steritech is to become the dominant player in the North American pest control market its parent company — Rentokil Initial — wants it to become. Until that time, you can bet that Myers will wake up every morning ready to “raise his hand” and do whatever it takes to make Rentokil Steritech and its employees successful.