At a time when the pest management industry has again been called to protect food, property and people from pests and pathogens, its leaders have stepped up and delivered.
Darren Van Steenwyk, director of learning and technical services for Clark Pest Control in Lodi, Calif., has done just that.
A 14-year veteran of Clark Pest Control, one of California’s most well-respected and recognizable companies, Van Steenwyk has seen and experienced a lot while digging deep to identify new treatment techniques, solve a client’s pest issue or train technicians on the finer points of pest control. It’s a job he loves and one that has required a new measure of flexibility and creativity in 2020.
When Clark moved the bulk of its in-person training to virtual platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, a creative approach was needed, and it was needed fast. Adding to the challenge for Van Steenwyk was the launch of Essential Clean, Clark’s disinfection services division, amidst the crisis.
With a full plate in front of them, Van Steenwyk and his team put together a series of videos and online comprehension tests for the disinfection services training. While some of the training required an in-person component, the service teams were able to tackle much of the pretraining virtually and reduce the amount of in-person time that was required.
“There was no way we could eliminate the in-person component because of the specialized nature of the training but we were able to get a lot work done in advance and still meet our high standards,” says Van Steenwyk.
Going forward Van Steenwyk feels the shift to virtual learning will force i
ndustry educators and trainers be more efficient in their instructional time. “Having an all-day seminar for sake of having one won’t be part of the formula,” says Van Steenwyk. “There will be more virtual work done ahead of in-person training events to maximize the time allotted.”
He feels technicians must be more active participants in multi-platform training efforts and not just wait for the information to be shared.
“There will be greater focus on preparation and that will play to the strengths of high-performing technicians who go above and beyond,” says Van Steenwyk. “They already understand how what they are learning can be applied for the benefit of customers and have a sense of empathy of what the customer sees and feels.”
Focus on Education
It should come as no surprise Van Steenwyk developed an innate sense of curiosity and passion for learning. His father, Bob, was an extension entomologist at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in production agriculture.
During summers in high school and college Van Steenwyk worked as a research assistant with his dad and that led to an internship with Dow AgroSciences and extended hours working in the research labs at the University of California, Davis where he earned his undergraduate degree.
Following graduation, Van Steenwyk took a sales position with Univar in the Bay Area selling to specialty markets including pest control. His debut in the industry coincided with the widely used pesticide, Dursban, being exited out of the market. This forced customers to shift course and Van Steenwyk dove headfirst into identifying alternatives.
“It was a crash course on products, labels and active ingredients, and working with clients to identify new chemistries that allowed them to continue to eliminate pests and protect people and property,” recalls Van Steenwyk.
During this time Van Steenwyk gained a deeper appreciation and interest in the problem-solving side of the business versus the sales side. This led the Northern California native to join Clark Pest Control as the company’s technical director in 2006.
Clark Pest Control President Robert Baker noticed his drive and energy and thought he would be a good fit to grow and diversify the company’s technical efforts.
“I met Darren when he first started in the industry working at Univar,” says Baker. “His passion and intelligence have always been evident, and I knew he would grow into an asset not only for our company but the industry as well. I am proud of the many years we have shared developing Clark’s technical offerings and supporting the pest control industry.”
During his tenure at Clark, Van Steenwyk’s focused leadership has continually identified new application techniques and best practices while developing broader, more detailed training programs for its technicians.
“Darren’s driven to do what’s right and find the solution that is best for the customer, company and industry,” says Nicole Kirwan Keefe, vice president of strategic growth for Clark. “He believes we can always do better when it comes to elevating training and professionalism and building equity in industry.”
In 2019, Van Steenwyk added the company’s learning services responsibilities to his duties and that paired well with his technical background. Clark has focused on building a deep well of internal technical expertise through programs like the Associate Certified Entomologist (A.C.E.) accreditation program and Van Steenwyk is leading the charge.
His work the last two years as president of the California Structural Pest Control Board gave Van Steenwyk a look into a segment of the pest management industry that bares no resemblance to the work performed at Clark or by the majority of companies in the Golden State.
“The board deals with licensing issues and in that capacity, you see some of the industry’s bad actors,” says Van Steenwyk. “To see the negative impact the actions of a few can have on the entire industry drives me to do what I do for Clark and for the industry and that is working to make it the best it can be.”
A Lifetime of Support
Aiming to be the best and not shying away from hard work are lessons he learned from his mentors. His dad was the first to teach him the value of a strong work ethic. Van Steenwyk also credits Robert Baker and the late John Charleston from his time at Univar for imparting lessons of loyalty and how to work with and read people.
“My mentors have blessed me with knowledge that has helped build my career and shape me as an individual,” says Van Steenwyk. “They each saw the potential in me and for that I am grateful.”
Away from work Van Steenwyk and his wife, Jennifer, and children, Madeline and Luke, enjoy outdoor adventures from skiing to hiking. They also spend time at their church volunteering to feed the homeless through a weekly meal.
“Working with the meal ministry reminds me to appreciate the people and position I have,” says Van Steenwyk. “And that no one is above being one or two decisions away from needing help.”