Eric Benson: The pest control industry has never been more important and never more needed to protect human health and properties.
Paul Giannamore: Cassie, welcome back to The Boardroom Buzz. It's good to see you.
Cassie Krejci: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.
Paul Giannamore: Cassie, you look like you're rather dressed up but you also appear to be working at home. I'm trying to understand what's going on over here.
Cassie Krejci: I appreciate that, for one, you noticed. I would be the only person on camera if I have a meeting. I like that far much communication, which is the platform we have right now. I will wake up and get dressed every day for work whether I go in or not, it's part of my in all. Thank you.
Paul Giannamore: Cassie, I would love to ask you a lot of questions that you can't answer and I appreciate the Rentokil-Terminix crew allowing you to join us here on The Buzz. I want to talk to you about all sorts of cool stuff but I know that your handlers would be disappointed with me so I will not. We'll save that for another time.
Cassie Krejci: Maybe one day. John, Andy, and Brett are proud of all the work that we're doing and they'll be excited to share that with everyone as we progress.
Paul Giannamore: Can you make an official statement that Rentokil-Terminix will exceed 300 million in synergies over the next 24 months?
Cassie Krejci: I like to tell people I don't know how much things cost. From my position, I have no idea but that's going to be good.
Patrick Baldwin: What a safe answer.
Paul Giannamore: You know the value of everything but the price of nothing and that's better than the reverse.
Cassie Krejci: That's a great statement.
Paul Giannamore: Today is somewhat unusual and we're going to be talking about entomology once again but we're going to frame this up differently. Mr. PB, why are we doing this?
Patrick Baldwin: Because we have a conversation with Clemson. Dr. Eric Benson has been the longtime chair of the Urban Entomology Department. Even phoned a couple of friends there. Scott Fortson, who runs the largest Terminix franchise, and then also Craig Heath from Aiken Pest joining the conversation. Paul, you and I had this conversation. It's been a few weeks since we had this. Last time, Cassie was on episode 101 as a guest. This time, it was like, “Cassie, help me wrap my head around what's going on here. What do you know about endowed chairs and entomology?” You're like, “You couldn't have called a better person.” You said it in the most humble way. The last time you were a guest, you phoned in. This time, I was phoning a friend to say, “Help me out. Help me understand this.” Thank you for stepping in. I know this is something you're extremely passionate about. Clemson's at risk, they got to keep the chair.
Cassie Krejci: They do. That's one of the functional examples of a larger issue within our industry. When I said I wanted to contribute to this episode, it was from a passionate perspective. Also, when I listened to Eric talk about his career and what he wants to do with Clemson before he goes off into the mountains, I got emotional because I care about this industry. Many of the roles I play and many of the hats that I play in this industry are in the pursuit of the same thing that he's trying to solidify with Clemson. I appreciate you letting me be a part of this with Eric, Scott, and Craig. I appreciate all of the contexts you put into the conversation that we're about to have.
Paul Giannamore: Before we get into this brief discussion, this is not a normal Buzz interview, this is a clip from a discussion we had with these guys that we recorded. The reason why we're doing that is I had some conversations with Scott, David Clark, who didn't join us, and Craig Heath, who runs Aiken Pest down there with his brother, Scott, in South Carolina. All these folks as well as the South Carolina Pest Control Association have been raising funds for this endowed chair of entomology at Clemson.
In the recording, a little bit of the detail of what's going on, should you desire, Mr. Fat Pat himself will put a link in today's show notes as to how you can participate if you would like to give a donation to help these guys further on the cause. That would be outstanding. At the end of the day, we got Cassie on here because, quite frankly, I don't know anything about urban entomology as you know from my last episode with her. This is an important issue and we wanted to talk to her a little bit about why that is important. Guys, should we play this clip and then come back and get Cassie's thoughts on why this is an important issue for the pest control industry?
Cassie Krejci: That sounds great. Patrick and Paul, would you like to step into The Boardroom?
Paul Giannamore: Let's do this, Cassie.
Paul Giannamore: Eric Benson, Scott Fortson, and Craig Heath, welcome to The Boardroom Buzz. A quick introduction here. Scott, you are running the largest Terminix franchise on the planet down in South Carolina, is that right?
Scott Fortson: That's correct.
Paul Giannamore: Craig, you and your brother run a business in South Carolina as well. That's a little bit smaller than the Terminix franchise, maybe not much.
Craig Heath: They're just a little bigger than us but we like swimming in their wake.
Paul Giannamore: We have a special guest with us, Professor Eric Benson at Clemson University. What we wanted to talk about is what you all got going on down in South Carolina with regard to the entomology department at Clemson. Who wants to give us a quick rundown on what you guys are doing?
Eric Benson: We're trying to create a $5 million endowment for urban entomology to keep urban entomology at Clemson University into perpetuity. Since 1982, Clemson has had a formal urban entomology program and presence with Dr. Patricia Zungoli and myself. Pat retired in 2017. I retired in 2019 and continued to work part-time. Part of my goal right now besides doing a lot of training for the pest control industry in South Carolina is trying to make this endowment happen so that when we're long gone, urban entomology at Clemson remains.
Paul Giannamore: How long has it been around, Eric?
Eric Benson: In the 1950s pest control operators in South Carolina, 31 of them, wanted to form an association. They came to their land-grant school, Clemson, and Clemson helped them. In ‘58, they had their first annual meeting and Clemson and the industry has been together ever since. It's been going since the late ‘50s. We had different professors involved with the pest control industry throughout the decades. Formally, since 1982, when they hired Pat, who was one of the first female urban entomology professors in the country, fortunately, it was in South Carolina.
Paul Giannamore: This whole thing first came to my attention from David Clark, a former client of ours. Having Scott and Craig on here who are operating pest control businesses there in South Carolina, why is this important to guys like you?
Craig Heath: From our standpoint, my father restored our company back in the late ‘60s, he saw value in it from an educational standpoint not just for himself or our employees but also as a networking opportunity. He met way back then Mr. Fortson, Scott's dad. Over the years, Scott and I became friends. From an educational standpoint, relevancy to our industry is as far as that education and what Clemson has done in their entomology program.
I'm a graduate and numerous other people that are graduates are in the industry not just in the state of South Carolina but in many other states. It's a big value from education, which helps us create value for our customers in the end. Also, it helps us with our regulatory people. Their motto is, “Regulation through education.” I feel that Clemson's been integral in facilitating that.
Scott Fortson: As Craig said, we got multi-generational family companies that have been around forever. This is our 75th anniversary. Through the decades, this has been integral as far as Craig said, the educational part. To me, the equal part is the regulation. It's been an amicable relationship. It's been a helpful relationship. It's been almost a friendship, helping each other, and policing each other. They've helped us be better with education, control, and regulation.
Patrick Baldwin: You said the R-word, way to start off the day with regulation. How is Clemson involved to make sure that people like Craig and Scott stay out of hot water with the state?
Eric Benson: Clemson is unusual and it's a land-grant school, a university. The regulatory armed for the state is part of Clemson University. In most states, the regulatory is separate, it’s usually with the department of agriculture. One of the few states where regulatory and then the side that I'm on, which is an extension, which is outreach and teaching, work for the same institution.
For example, I got back from a two-day training program training what we call Master Termite Technician Program that we were the first in the country to have and have been doing since 1990 or 1991. We work closely with regulatory officials. I was part of the training and regulatory was part of the training. It helps provide the information needed to do a good job. Also, participants understand what's required of them and what the regulations are to do a good job.
Patrick Baldwin: Eric, I'm curious. The regulations, the red flags, the ebb and flow could be termite pretreats and bedbug work. What's the hot button right now that you're hearing from the regulation side that then you have to turn around on the education side and make sure that the operators are doing the right work there?
Eric Benson: That's a good question. Termites are always at the forefront just because of the nature of the possibility of damage, liability, and the chemicals being used, especially with our liquid treatments, things bubble up. Of course, bed bugs bubbled up and have been a hot-button issue. Cockroaches are still at the forefront. We do a lot of cockroach testing here for new products in our lab. Ants are always prevalent. Ants certainly get into manufacturing, which is huge in South Carolina. Filth flies are huge. That path covers the waterfront as to what we're involved in and trying to help the industry through education, outreach, and research, providing that research-based information.
Paul Giannamore: If you guys are not successful in your efforts to raise the endowment fund and, Dr. Benson, you ultimately retire completely, the entomology department will disappear at Clemson.
Eric Benson: Paul, not the entire entomology department but the urban entomology program as we know it would disappear. Doing much of the training we do, I'm not sure how that would take place in the future. What's behind the scenes? Pest control is behind the scenes, it's a lot of the research we do. I figured that we've probably tested, in our lab, over 80 of the products on the market, and other labs do too. We're not that unique. It gives us firsthand knowledge of what the operators in our state are using.
We're weird. We're off campus because we have a rearing room full of cockroaches and bedbugs. We have termites, mosquitoes, and ants. That's why they kicked us off campus. We're rearing all that stuff and it takes time and money to rear all that. We have staff that does that and provides that. If there's not an urban entomology program, I'm pretty sure all of that would go away and that's why we're working so hard to make this endowment in South Carolina with Clemson happen as they are in other states.
Paul Giannamore: Where do you guys stand on fundraising at present?
Eric Benson: Thanks to Terminix Service and Craig, Phil Gregory, and others. We have about $2.9 million pledged. We've handed over about $1 million so far with Clemson. Many individuals are donating over a five-year period. We formed a South Carolina urban entomology charitable alliance with a lot of smaller operators. We probably have about over 30 people donating and the alliance has pledged $1 billion. We're a little more than halfway. COVID and the pandemic didn't do us any favors in our outreach and we're continuing to try to get that other half as soon as we can.
Paul Giannamore: What timeline are you guys working on?
Eric Benson: I'm laughing because I am trying to retire and disappear into the mountains with my dog, my lovely wife, and my grandkids. Most pledges are over a five-year period. We're two years into it now. We had a donor join and they are starting their five-year clock now. The point of the alliance is we get to the goal and we're done. I know the alliance and some of the other companies want to continue to support the pest control industry in South Carolina because it is important.
In other states where they have endowments and they have pretty decent funding, those programs tend to be strong and focused on what they're doing, especially as far as research goes. All of their research may be directed to termites, ants, cockroaches, and flies, including mosquitoes, and so on and so forth. In the past, because of chasing funding to keep the lab going, I've had to do side projects that are not related to pest control. The university does not pay our staff. They don't pay for the gas we put in our trucks or our equipment. I have to come up with that so I have to generate revenue. Endowed programs that are well-funded can be focused programs.
Patrick Baldwin: Have you all been able to get any press releases put out so far?
Eric Benson: We haven't had a broad press release to date, Fat Pat.
Patrick Baldwin: I love that he calls me Fab Pat.
Paul Giannamore: I do too.
Patrick Baldwin: This makes me so happy.
Eric Benson: Dan Moreland, in the October issue of PCT, wrote a nice article on the case of the disappearing urban entomologists. It’s well-researched. I'm quoted in it. You go through all the different states where urban entomologists have retired. It's significant. There have been some replacements, especially where they have endowed programs but where they don't, a lot of those positions are gone.
At the end of Dan's article, they did a survey and there are different statistics that you could look at. Of those surveyed and over 100 respondents, 65% said that urban entomology programs play an essential role in the success of the pest control industry. It would be not good to lose urban entomology programs not only at Clemson but across the country. Because we are on the precipice right now with me only working part-time, we're working hard to make this endowment happen.
Paul Giannamore: Dr. Benson, I'm a little bit behind in my reading so I haven't read that PCT piece but I do remember that was the cover story, right? I remember seeing that on a cover.
Eric Benson: It was the cover story and he's going to have a follow-up article with some of the newer entomologists. My guess is Zach DeVries will be one with Kentucky who took over Mike Potter's position because they have better funding than we do. I sent him one of the best undergraduate students we've ever had in our lab and she's now cruising through her Master's degree. We'll probably get her PhD with him. That's the reciprocity, if that's the right word, that we've had to it.
We're a small community across the country. California, Nebraska, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Kentucky are all linked. We all know one another. We all work together. We all do community projects. I'm about to join the regional project with all the land-grant schools in the southeast. I'm getting off-topic here but it's exciting. Delusional parasitosis, I don't know if you've ever covered that topic but it's a huge issue and we're finally getting funding. We're going to have people from Florida up through Tennessee up to Virginia over to Texas working on this jointly to try to come up with ways to help people suffering from this situation.
There’s a lot to be lost with the loss of urban entomology at universities and there's so much more to be gained if we can keep it. It's funny because we were more enlightened in the late ‘70s, ‘80s, and even ‘90s and little do we know that would be the golden age of urban entomology than we are today. Yet, the pest control industry has never been more important and never more needed to protect human health and property.
Paul Giannamore: Dr. Benson, why do you think urban entomologists are disappearing? God knows there are billions of dollars per year spent in the United States on higher education and we end up with tens of millions of morons graduating every year. Are they all studying poetry? What's going on here?
Eric Benson: The average student is not going to go to college wanting to be an urban entomologist let alone an entomologist. That's still pretty unique and rare. Most people, including myself, discover this world in college and if it's not there, then they're not going to discover it. As an industry, we haven't promoted ourselves as well as we could.
I like to call ourselves the silent service. It’s not to take anything away from our submariners but we're behind the scenes. We're doing pest control, protecting human health and property. We have not had the industry apply the pressure and the resources on universities that commodity groups have. The beef councils out there, the peach councils out there, the soybean growers, and all that, all of which is wonderful and all of which is important. Those industries tend to put money into the land-grant schools and thus the land-grant schools respond with research programs, endowed chairs, and so on and so forth.
Other than a select few universities across the country, we haven't done that. When an administrator sees Pat Zungoli or Eric Benson retire, they take that position usually back. There's funding for that position. They take that position back and they'll often put it into another area that they deemed is more important.
A lot of our entomology positions have gone to molecular genetics and things like that that are also important. We're losing the view of how important the pest control industry is and that's why I'm on a crusade before I do disappear into the mountains with my dog, my lovely wife, and my grandkids to educate as many as I can to see urban entomology in perpetuity not only at Clemson University but especially at Clemson University but across the country.
Paul Giannamore: We clearly have a specific issue here. We’re raising funds to support urban entemology at Clemson. Outside of that, how can folks in the industry get involved in furthering the study of entomology and do these types of things like the other industries do?
Eric Benson: The advocacy is huge. I know the pocketbooks can be tight right now. With the pandemic and the current economic situation, it's tough to fork over those dollars. Educating, advocating for entomology, and advocating the importance of the pest control industry is important, and staying involved and informed. When I do training, I always put out different resources like The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control. I show how much of that information is all research-based, which came from urban entomology programs over the decades around this country. The National Pest Management field guide, Truman’s Scientific Guide, and all the field guides.
I also talk about board-certified entomologists and also how pest control operators who don't have a PhD in entomology but have been working in the industry for years could join the ACE program, the Associate Certified Entomology program. You can get credentials and when you get credentials, you enlighten yourself and then, in turn, you can enlighten others as to how important our industry is.
Patrick Baldwin: Anyone else curious why Eric is listed as retiring to the mountains with his dog and wife in that order? I picked up on that.
Paul Giannamore: Grandkids and no children.
Eric Benson: My wife tells everyone I have two wives, one has 4 legs and one has 2. She's probably right.
Paul Giannamore: We appreciate you guys coming into The Boardroom with us.
Eric Benson: Thank you. I appreciate.
Paul Giannamore: Absolutely, fellas. We'll talk soon.
Cassie Krejci: Can I tell you what my favorite part of this episode was?
Paul Giannamore: Please do. That's a great starting point.
Cassie Krejci: It's the fact that, seamlessly, Dr. Benson called you Fat Pat the whole time. It was Fat Pat. That was your government name.
Patrick Baldwin: Maybe he's another longtime listener and first-time caller.
Cassie Krejci: He might be.
Paul Giannamore: Fat Pat, that was your first conversation with him, right?
Patrick Baldwin: Yeah, 100%.
Paul Giannamore: He just launched right into it, he’s like, “What’s up, Fat Pat?”
Patrick Baldwin: He owned it. If Dr. Benson can call me Fat Pat, I feel everyone could call me Fat Pat. Speaking of entomological schools or maybe urban entomology departments, I think of Florida. I don't think the Mexican went there at least entomology.
Paul Giannamore: He did not.
Patrick Baldwin: Kentucky, Clemson, Anaheim, and Purdue. Cassie, help me fill in the blanks. I don't mean to offend anyone. It feels like an award ceremony when you're like, “And everybody else.”
Cassie Krejci: Cornell, North Carolina, NC State, and UGA. Wisconsin has a nice entomology program. Oklahoma State, New Mexico State, and UC Riverside. Arizona has a great program. Most entomology programs are associated with land-grant universities so you can follow the trail there. If I'm not loud enough about it, I came from the Texas A&M Urban Entomology Program. Paul, are you on board yet?
Patrick Baldwin: Say it after us, repeat.
Paul Giannamore: I'm just listening.
Patrick Baldwin: You should come to a football game.
Paul Giannamore: Although I did go to Cornell. Jim McHale went to Cornell's ag school, which was a land grant to Cornell.
Cassie Krejci: I came from Texas A&M University. During my PhD, I worked for Dr. Roger Gold. I was the first PhD student to graduate from the Rollins Urban and Structural Entomology facility through that endowment. I got to see the endowed funds raised. Our attempt was to raise $4 million through inflation. Eric's goal is at $5 million. It was such a great experience. At the time, I didn't understand what an endowment was or what it meant to education specifically in the entomology side of things or even pest management. That's where I got a lot of the kinship or what Dr. Benson was talking about.
Patrick Baldwin: You were the first PhD.
Cassie Krejci: I was the first student. Dr. Roger Gold was with Texas A&M from 1989 until 2015. I was one of the last students he graduated. The endowed urban entomology facility opened on January 1st, 2015. I defended my PhD at the end of January 2015. I was the first student to graduate from that building, which was pretty cool. The students play a huge role in raising funds for the endowment. What research are you funding when you contribute to an endowment means a lot to donors. That was cool.
The chair of that endowed fund is Ed Vargo, formerly of NC State. He came over to Texas A&M in 2015. One of the things about the Texas A&M program that I look back at is bridging the gap between a university and the industry. Many great entomologists have come out of urban entomology labs that now contribute very heavily to our industry. Within the lab that I graduated with, Dr. Reed was one of my mentors and friends. Danny McDonald, Dr. Chris Swain, and Dr. Ryan Neff are great researchers in this industry that came from Texas A&M.
I know everyone throughout this industry has similar experiences. You got people that came out of great urban entomology programs and have continued to do good work. I bring up those names specifically because we are seeing quite a bit of changing of the guard where your old researchers are retiring as they should. I don't know that I'll ever retire but that's happening. Sometimes that’s a university saying, “You're done.” Also, bringing in new researchers. We want those new researchers to be focused on the applied side of entomology. Patrick and Paul, what does urban entomology mean to you?
Patrick Baldwin: I've always thought of structural pest control and not necessarily urban pest control. If I'm qualifying entomology as urban, I'm thinking of non-rules. I'm thinking it's not agricultural and not crops. It’s not out in the field. I could be wrong here but I'm thinking about what needs to happen in cities and towns and around residential and commercial. That's what I'm thinking.
Cassie Krejci: You're not wrong.
Patrick Baldwin: I love being not wrong.
Cassie Krejci: Let me clarify it a little further. The Entomology Society of America has several arms and they classify entomologists into a bunch of different groups. If you're in pest control, you see a focused look at what entomology is. There are some offshoots of what we do in pest control but there are many other things.
I and everyone in this industry are what we call MUV entomologists, Medical Urban Veterinarian entomologists. We all fall into the same group. That classification is the study of pests that affect humans, companion animals, and the environment we live in. It sounds massive. You're like, “How is there anything else?”
You have other groups of entomologists that exist and study things like insect physiology, not the economic impacts but literally how a grasshopper gets from one place to the other. Plate and horticultural entomology. You mentioned agriculture. I avoided plants like the plague. I didn't want anything to do with agricultural entomology. Systematics, those are the guys that rename insects to keep us on our toes. Termites cease to not be related to cockroaches but now they are.
Patrick Baldwin: Do you agree with them? I still can't wrap my head around that.
Cassie Krejci: I don't think they care about my opinion. I will still teach it because that's where my roots are. As an urban entomologist, this to me is the applied side of all those other parts of science. You can have a great understanding of why a termite moves and the physiology of how a termite moves. If you can't communicate why that is important to somebody, you're not going to make any money. That's always been my economic reason for urban medical and veterinary entomology. What does this mean to someone who's going to spend money on a service to control that? Butterflies are beautiful but how are you going to make money on butterflies?
Patrick Baldwin: Urban entomology is making money from entomology. Is that a better answer?
Cassie Krejci: No, that's the cut-and-dry answer. Why does this matter to me? It is the applicable side of why this matter, for sure. I mentioned all those offshoots. All those offshoots also play a role in urban entomology. You have urban structural pests that generally fall into the ant, cockroach, termite, bed bugs, pests, and wood-destroying organisms. Those are the general pests that we deal with in urban entomology.
When it comes to a program around entomology, it's more than science. You will also have arms of extension and teaching that play a crucial role in urban entomology. Along with understanding everything about an ant that you may be focused on, it's also important to focus on distribution or maybe a special project around the genetics of that ant population or monitoring, inspection, and communication of how we're going to tell people about these ants. It's all the other things around these urban pests that almost make up the bulk of urban entomology. We understand the ant but what about that ant is important to the environment we live in or the human population?
Patrick Baldwin: Clemson is at risk of losing their urban entomology department. Clemson is a different beast than what I'm used to. They do research and development and training but they also are the regulatory body. What happens here if they don't get this chair and all this money raised?
Cassie Krejci: That is a different part of Clemson, the regulatory arm. They don't have a ton of experience with that being in-house. A lot of things are at stake for the community within South Carolina. You lose the unbiased resource of a university saying, “We tested this product and this is how we felt about it or how it performed. We did this novel research.” You don't have to worry about bias because it came from a university system.
From a teaching perspective, one of the hardest things I have is how do I get out and speak to all of my team members. As an organization within South Carolina, you should consider, “Do I have time to train everybody myself if the position at South Carolina dissolves?” From a regulatory perspective, I can speak to this from my position within NPMA with the public policy position with Terminix working on regulatory initiatives.
If you don't have a stakeholder on the other side of the conversation that understands the issues, it's hard to have a good conversation about the regulation of urban pest management. What that means is if the entity at Clemson dissolves and it falls upon the State Department and not the university, it can become more difficult to have conversations with the state if you don't have specific dedicated resources that understand urban pest management. It’s the easiest way to say that.
Paul Giannamore: Cassie, as I listened to those gentlemen chat and then I listened to you, I start to think that if I'm not in South Carolina, why does this matter to me? I'm in the pest control industry but why should I be concerned about Clemson's endowed chair of entomology?
Cassie Krejci: Clemson is representative of the industry support as a whole. It is an example of what could happen across the country in all of our universities. If we don't focus on Clemson right now, we may begin to see the fallout in other universities. Over the last 10 or 15 years, we've seen a lot of entomology departments become absorbed by other agricultural colleges. It's hard to get an entomology degree.
For example, when I was looking for a PhD program, there are a couple of universities that looked great but when it came to graduation, I wasn't going to receive a degree that said entomology on it. That was important to me. I didn't want to play a pathology degree. I wanted an entomology degree. That led me to choose a program dedicated to what I wanted to do, which is this medical urban veterinary entomology.
If we don't commit our resources to Clemson now or the next university after Clemson, we will begin to see a lack of support from the universities because they won’t see the investment from the industry and they won't see the funds that this industry is willing to put towards applied entomology. They may choose to absolve the urban entomology programs.
What does that mean functionally? That means fewer entomologists graduate. You're going to have more generalists that come out of a program, undergrad, Master's, PhD, or whatever it is, with maybe an understanding of what insects are or the genetic makeup of a specific insect, or maybe the toxicology behind active ingredients related to pest management. You're not going to have students, true researchers come out and say, “I understand both applied pest management and entomology. I want to be the person to marry them together.”
I use the word translating a lot but you have to have people that are skilled in the science behind pest management to translate to every part of our industry, a technician, an owner, a distribution partner, or a manufacturing partner to say, “This is what we need. This is how a tool is used.” Without a university to graduate students that are focused on urban pest management, you're going to end up with a second phase of teaching a highly educated person pest management again.
Paul Giannamore: Now that you're part of an extremely large global organization with more rest-of-world exposure, what's entomology like in the rest of the world?
Cassie Krejci: Entomology in the rest of the world is applied. You still have collaborations occurring from North America to Europe to Asia where you do have the sharing of information. Ultimately, the applied side of all of this information sharing is what continues the research. I would say that most of that happens in the agricultural realm. How do we protect crops across the world because we do have to feed the world? Secondarily, in urban pest management, we now begin to talk about termite control in different parts of the world and the technologies that we can share between North America and Africa or North America and London. Where can we share technological information?
Patrick Baldwin: I didn't realize, when I called you about this, you're super passionate about it. In the rear-view mirror, you have some history of being a PhD student, helping raise money, and getting the endowed chair. There is an endowed chair at Texas A&M, right? You're a subject matter expert as far as raising funds and the importance of this. Even looking forward, you mentioned something about Rentokil-Terminix working closer with these urban entomology departments or chairs or did I misunderstand that?
Cassie Krejci: Regardless of what organization you work for, you should always strive to have a strong relationship with researchers. A lot of times, they are the go-between between what the students are discovering. I love to research. I don't have a ton of time to do it. I luckily live right outside of Texas A&M University and I drop by for a cup of coffee or drop donuts off all the time to say, “What are you working on? What can we talk about? Tell me all the cool stuff that I don't get to do anymore because I don't have a lab.”
I love to research but time-wise, I can't afford it. Regardless of what organization you're in, you should always strive to maintain relationships with the extension arm of research in the cooperative teaching arm of universities. Looking forward, now I'm in this cool position with Pi Chi Omega, the national fraternity of pest control that is full of people that came from research universities, people that are functional entomologists, technicians, and everybody in between.
Our goal at Pi Chi Omega is to further the science of pest control. Over the last few years, we've begun to see this ourselves. We've always partnered with Purdue University, for example, Clemson University, and Texas A&M to have these big meetings at big pest control conferences. We're beginning to see a lot less emphasis from the universities. Specifically, Pi Chi Omega gives $13,000 in scholarships to students at urban entomology programs every year and that is all endowed funds that we've raised through Pi Chi Omega.
We're beginning to see a lot less departments to give those funds because you're seeing a lot less urban entomologists that are focusing on things related to pest control. That is a huge initiative within Pi Chi Omega, the national fraternity. Also, within my own position at Rentokil-Terminix, I created a position called a technical specialist. I've probably said this to you before but we, as a pest management community, do a terrible job of communicating the value of pest management to people outside.
We have a hard time drawing people out of academia. In fact, when I was a PhD student, I thought I was crazy for leaving academia. I’m like, “Why couldn't I stay in this safe place where I could do research and my funds were guaranteed?” It was easy, slow, and methodical. When I got into the industry, I was like, “I'm never leaving.” It was the best thing I could have ever done. I looked out now within the pest management industry and said, “Join us. This is the best thing you could ever do.” I created this position. I said, “This position is for university students.”
I want you to be wet behind the ears entomologists. I want you to come in and let me teach you pest control. If you have a mosquito research background, I'm going to teach you quality assurance, compliance, and safety. I'm going to teach you technical services and what it means to teach technicians. I want to keep pulling people out of universities and saying, “You did a good job of entomology research or pest management research. Now, let's put it in pest control.” That is my forward-thinking position for my little seat at Rentokil-Terminix.
As a whole, it's our job beyond the endowment even to make science cool again. It got lost a little bit along the way. I'll blame a little bit of that on universities from the consolidation of programs, honestly. I didn't know there was an entomologist. I told you all my story. On the first day of university, I'm sitting around and someone says, “I'm an entomologist.” I was like, “What is wrong with your parents?” I had no idea.
Nobody goes to school to be an entomologist anymore. It is a job of this community to make bugs cool again, to teach insects to high school kids, and to teach the trade to high school kids, more importantly, you don't necessarily have to go to college to be a part of pest management. If you do go to college, consider what you think you want to do in the realm of pest management.
If you want to be a biologist, that's great. If you want to work on genetics, awesome. What about doing that in pest management? You can make this great footprint for yourself doing both things that you'll learn about in entomology or rodent behavior but also this other thing you think you care about like genetics or toxicology or whatever it may be.
Patrick Baldwin: I would feel out of place if I grabbed donuts or milk bottle cookies and I walked down to Texas A&M and said, “Tell me what you're researching.” I don't know if we do a group field trip or something but is there something for me coming from a non-technical background like you? Is there value in me walking in, kicking the door, and being like, “Can I come and see what you're doing?”
Cassie Krejci: Regarding the universities we've talked about, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Perdue, Texas A&M, or any other ones that we've talked about that have great extension programs. Specifically at Texas A&M, Robert Puckett would love for you to walk into his office and put your boots up on the table and be like, “Tell me what you're doing.” He's another great example of the cooperative extension arm of the entomology program in the urban site.
For context, Ed Vargo is the research chair and Robert Puckett is the extension specialist. Often, in any one of those programs we're talking about, you have somebody that is committed to communication and committed to teaching technicians. While I'm highly technical and, Patrick, I would argue that you're highly technical as well but if anyone wants information, that is the purpose of these urban entomology programs to teach technicians and teach pest control companies how to provide a better service to understand laws and regulations and to ultimately grow their business. It's free.
Patrick Baldwin: Today, I'm highly technical. This is the best episode ever.
Cassie Krejci: It's almost Christmas.
Patrick Baldwin: You've ruined the moment, Cassie.
Paul Giannamore: A couple of more weeks and we don't have to be nice.
Cassie Krejci: The making bugs cool again aspect and communicating pest control and the importance of this is where a lot of my brand comes from. The socks and sandals entomologist is a joke but anybody can be a part of this industry. Using urban entomology programs to teach is an integral part. Communicating pest control is the most important part of everything we do. It would sorely hurt our industry if we lost the urban entomology programs.
Paul Giannamore: Cassie, in closing, if folks want to donate to the Clemson efforts, they can do that. What are some other things that we can do to support the growth and advancement of endowed urban entomology departments?
Cassie Krejci: I hope that this episode does support Dr. Benson and entomology in South Carolina. That is our first endeavor. Outside of that, hiring entomologists and promoting entomologists from those endowed programs is important to show them that they have a place in the applied pest management industry. Coming up here in March, we have legislative days. Even in your state and local government, lobbying for research that comes from unbiased sources like universities can help those programs receive the funding that they need to stay alive.
Using extension and knowing that it exists, extension programs are part of each one of these land-grant universities that have urban entomology programs. Think outside of the box. You may have your internal training program but how about spending some time with the extension programs in your state and saying, “What's this other information they may have?” It's going to be cutting edge from whatever programs or research that they're running at that time. Reach out to them.
Patrick, you joked about walking in and propping your feet up on the desk but there's no joke to that. I work with a few university programs now through my role to create research that is applicable to this industry. I go into those meetings and they may say, “We have this great idea. We may want to test these different control methods.” As a pest control company, you can go in and say, “That's not applicable to our business anymore. It’s maybe relevant and lines up the research that you've done in the past but the industry moves at a super speed. Let me tell you what the industry does and how it's going to help a pest control company.”
All of a sudden that turns into a collaborative effort between an urban entomology program and a pest control company. That shows the university the financial benefits of this industry but also the support that they have outside of doing research that it means something. Those are my first steps toward helping the program as a whole. Go to Clemson’s website, check out the research that they've done, and read up on anything that Dr. Benson has done in the past. He's been an asset to this industry and a titan to this. I hope that even if it's the final thing that he does in his career that we're able to help find this endowed chair position.
Paul Giannamore: Those are some great homework assignments for us all.
Cassie Krejci: I hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas. I've enjoyed this year listening to The Boardroom Buzz and participating in The Boardroom buzz.
Patrick Baldwin: Thanks, Cassie. Merry Christmas and happy one-year anniversary with Terminix and now Rentokil-Terminix.
Cassie Krejci: Thank you so much.
Paul Giannamore: Merry Christmas, Cassie, Patrick, and all of our friends and colleagues in the industry.
Dylan Seals: I want to remind you to go ahead and subscribe to The Boardroom Buzz. We have got some incredible episodes coming up that you're not going to want to miss. Also, if you've enjoyed the podcast, please go to the Apple Podcast app and leave us a short review. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks so much again for reading and we'll see you next episode.
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