Twenty-five years ago, Stuart Aust parked his new pickup truck in front of a Palisades Park, N.J., deli and walked inside. His freshly pressed shirt and spotless cap sporting his hot-off-the-press “Bug Doctor” logo clued the owner in on his intentions.
“I introduced myself and asked for the opportunity to write him a proposal for pest control,” Aust recalls. “He said yes, so I walked through the deli and then handed him my estimate. He signed on the spot. ‘When would you like me to start?’ I asked. ‘Right now,’ he said.”
And there it was. In that brief yet momentous exchange, Stuart Aust’s lifelong dream of starting his own business became reality. As years passed, he pushed that reality higher and higher by leveraging his positive nature and mastery of the cold call into blockbuster accounts including Yankee Stadium, the United Nations headquarters, Madison Square Garden and the USS Intrepid. Fast forward to today, and Bug Doctor is among the PCT Top 100 and the Inc. 5000, as all seven of its divisions — Bug Doctor Nationwide, Bird Doctor Worldwide, Animal Doctor, Bedbug Doctor, Mosquito Doctor, Restoration Doctor and Tree Doctor — continue to thrive.
In July 2016, Aust opted to sell Bug Doctor to Anticimex, offering the global, 83-year-old corporation entry into the U.S. pest control market. He continues to lead the company as president and CEO, however, and has accepted an additional role with Anticimex North America: vice president of Business Development specializing in mergers and acquisitions. He has already orchestrated the acquisition of R&K Pest Control in New Rochelle, N.Y., and has several other deals under way.
“Stuart is passionate about the company and the industry, and he thinks big,” says Nancy Madrid, vice president of Administration and Human Resources at Bug Doctor. “He’s always anticipating what’s next, how we can make the company better and continue to expand. Anticimex saw his drive and positive attitude, and chose us. We’re excited to see what the future will bring.”
FAMILY GOES ALL IN
Like a lot of kids, Aust ran a paper route, stuffing the daily news into the basket of his bike and riding around the neighborhood before most people were up. When a second route opened up, his dad, Herb Aust, encouraged him to take it on. Stuart resisted. Those Sunday morning papers were awfully thick, and his bike didn’t offer much cargo space.
Without missing a beat, Herb offered to drive his son. Every Sunday, they loaded up the white Volkswagen and spent the morning together, delivering papers. “My dad and my mom, Gladys, always encouraged me to be entrepreneurial,” says Aust.
Years later, Aust’s friend Lincoln Dowdie, now owner of 1st Choice Pest Management Systems in Westwood, N.J., introduced him to pest control at Terminix, where he was working. Aust became a service manager and then took a job at Western Pest Services as a commercial account executive. With knowledge and sales skills under his belt, he felt confident it was time to launch Bug Doctor. His parents and in-laws felt differently, though, as Aust and his wife, Donna, were about to have their first child. (Although they had attended the same high school, Stuart and Donna formally met at college on Donna’s first day there. After this first encounter, Stuart turned to his high school buddy, Jack Peterson, and said, “I’m going to marry that girl!” He did, in 1985.)
Donna never doubted that the timing was right for starting the family business. “I always knew Stuart would succeed, so when he hesitated, saying, ‘Let’s wait for just one more commission check,’ I challenged him by saying there would always be more commission checks, and that we should just start, right away.” And so they did.
Encourager-in-chief Donna left her corporate management training position to become co-owner of Bug Doctor, which opened its doors one month before Daniel’s birth. “At first, we ran the business from our two-bedroom condo. At night, we would have papers strewn across the bed, and we each had a desk at our side. Once we opened our first office, in Ramsey, I would take Daniel with me. Those were exciting times,” Donna shares. “As the company and our family grew, my role evolved into behind-the-scenes business consultant, confidant and encourager.” Donna’s corporate management experience played an integral role in many of the company’s hiring, staffing and organizational development decisions.
As Daniel and his three younger brothers, Nick, Chris and Mike, grew, Aust coached their teams, took them to ball games and, of course, shared his love of the business. “Sometimes they’d get excited, like when I actually cold-called, and then landed, the Yankees after Nick cajoled me into it (he was only 6!). Other times, when I drove them around town, pointing out some of our big customers, for example, they seemed less than impressed,” Aust says. So imagine his surprise when Daniel called him two weeks before graduating from Taylor University (Ind.) to ask about the open account executive position at Bug Doctor. “It’s every parent’s dream for their children to join their company,” Aust says.
“I had considered law school, but my fiancée — now my wife, Lauren Anderson — was serious about going to dental school. I didn’t think we should both be in graduate school at the same time, so I decided to get a job,” says Daniel. “I made the right choice. Thanks to my dad’s support as a teacher and role model, I’ve moved into a role I love, working with the sales team, managing some of our largest accounts [he closed $1.3 million in new business last year] and overseeing our marketing initiatives.”
In fact, all of the boys are part of the business today: Nick, a recent Furman University (S.C.) graduate, is an account executive; Chris, a senior at High Point University (N.C.), manages the company’s social media and website presence; and Mike, a freshman at Fairfield University (Conn.), works part-time and summers.
“I could not ask for a greater blessing than to have our entire family involved in the business,” says Donna. “It’s wonderful to see them all working together; they are closer than ever before.”
Daniel agrees, adding, “As kids, we were competitive, but the company has transformed us from rivals to teammates. We’ve grown in respect for one another as we work together toward the same goals.”
It’s camaraderie that would have made their grandmother, Gladys, proud. Gladys worked at Bug Doctor for many years, backing her son’s efforts at every turn. Aust shares, “She would say, ‘Stuart, there’s nothing you can’t do.’ I overheard her telling my dad in the early days of the business, ‘You can’t believe what your son has built. Bug Doctor is a real company!’”
She had no idea what an understatement that was.
A LEGACY OF LEADERSHIP
Bug Doctor has grown aggressively since its early days, due to not only Aust’s salesmanship and work ethic but also his foundation of faith. Friends and peers know him as a man of honor and character, as he challenges himself to leave his family a legacy of integrity. “We have only so many days here,” Aust says. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘When I look in the mirror, am I happy with what I see?’”
Sean Bergmann of United Pest Solutions in Seattle, Wash., says that Aust has helped him stay true to his own Christian values: “Stuart is proof that you can build a successful business without sacrificing your ideals, morals and faith. He is such a genuine, caring person that people are drawn to him, and trust him to be honest and fair.”
Adds Craig Thomas, president of Thomas Pest Services in Albany, N.Y., “Stuart is the perfect example of ‘If you do the right thing, good things will happen to you.’”
Aust has not only done the right things; he has also done smart things with his business — like recognizing the value of branding each division. This strategy has paid off tremendously for the company — with Bird Doctor, for example, which Aust launched when he realized that few PMPs were offering bird services. This division grew so much that Bird Doctor became Bird Doctor Nationwide and then Bird Doctor Worldwide.
He’s also a shrewd marketer. The white Volkswagen Bugs his sales team drives, and technicians’ trucks with raised cabs touting “Bug Doctor” in big bold letters, feature the corporate “Bug Doctor” logo on one side and a division logo — Bird, Animal, Bedbug, Mosquito, Restoration or Tree Doctor — on the other, plus maybe one more logo on the back of the vehicle for good measure. Aust also carries logoed merchandise with him everywhere so he has a little something to share with everyone he meets.
“Stuart is the consummate salesman, always selling the value of not only his own business but the pest management industry as a whole,” says Cindy Mannes, executive director of PPMA and vice president of Public Affairs at NPMA.
To the 50 employees who work for him, Aust is also the consummate leader. His commitment to their development and success never wanes. “When I applied to Bug Doctor, I was looking for an accounting position but certainly nothing in management,” says Madrid. “After my interviews, though, Stuart was convinced he wanted me to become the accounting manager. He pledged to support me through training, night school — whatever I needed. Today, I oversee Administration and HR, all because Stuart believed and invested in me.”
At quarterly and annual employee reviews, Madrid says she inevitably hears the same comments: People love coming to work. They like their co-workers, and the supportive culture empowers them to take on any challenge. “We show appreciation for their efforts and do all we can to help them achieve their goals,” she says.
The Bug Doctor culture also embraces great diversity and cross-generational collaboration, as those with tenure share their wisdom while the younger generation shares new ideas plus insights into technology. Aust calls this the “infusion of millennial spirit.”
INDUSTRY GIVE AND TAKE
Mannes, who met Aust about 15 years ago while she was recruiting PMPs for an ad campaign, says that he was humbled when she asked him to be part of this group of “rock stars” because he considered himself the new kid on the block.
“I recognized traits in him — tenacity, creativity, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge — that represented the best of small business owners,” she says. “Since then, Stuart has grown, by working hard, networking relentlessly and understanding the importance of learning from others’ knowledge and sharing his own.”
Aust recalls the first time he was invited to speak to NPMA members: “I was asked to speak about mosquito control at a convention. I looked out over the audience and thought, Oh my gosh. These are the people I read about. Why in the world do they have ME speaking?”
Since then, Aust has been an active participant in NPMA, including serving on its board. “When you put all of our minds together in one room, the brainstorming is awesome,” he says. “I learned how to be a better leader thanks to these meetings.”
He also learned from NPMA mentors Judy Dold of Rose Pest Solutions, and Gene Chafe of Senske Pest Control. “Judy was there during our early years, and was incredibly generous with her knowledge and insights. I still ask her for advice,” he says. “Gene became my mentor many years later, at a time when I wanted to build profitability. I couldn’t believe how much time he spent with me, detailing the steps I needed to take. I’m very grateful to them both.”
Now Aust gives back by mentoring others, like Bergmann, who took over his family’s business in 2001. “My partner and I wanted to grow United Pest Solutions, so I asked Stuart if I could visit his company,” he says. “He graciously took me in and showed me every aspect of his business, freely sharing his insights and business acumen. With Stuart’s help, we’ve been able to grow from two employees to 20.”
THE TOUGHEST DECISION
Selling the company was a family decision. “We had been getting letters for several years from companies wanting to buy our business, and I could see that the multiples were at a record high, but I wanted to be sure before making that move,” says Aust. “I asked my friend Craig Thomas, who sold his business in 2012, for advice.”
“Stuart and I have been friends and referred each other business for years (now our children do the same!), so of course I was happy to help,” says Thomas. “I sold just before the M&A domino effect started, so I had a lot to share about the process and the due diligence it takes to prepare your business to sell.”
After much family discussion, the Austs decided to sell. Stuart believes they got it right. “Cashing in gives us a lot of options,” he says. “Most importantly, Donna and I have given our boys the option to stay with the company or pursue other paths. I never wanted them to feel obligated to take over the business. Now they have choices and we have more freedom to support them in those choices.”
The decision to sell is also consistent with Aust’s belief that material possessions should be loosely held. “Building a company has been both financially and personally rewarding,” he says. “However, with the many options available to me now, I can expand my sphere of influence beyond my family, staff and business associates, to being more intentional about where and how I spend my time and resources. The legacy I want to leave and how I want to be remembered is not that I was just a great businessman, but that I was a man of God who made a difference in the lives of many.”