This month’s Corner Office spotlight shines on Martyn Hopper, executive vice president and CEO of the 1,600 member Pest Control Operators of California (PCOC), one of the nation’s largest regional pest control associations.
Association Adviser: Tell us a little about the pest control industry and the PCOC.
Martyn Hopper: Like the pest control industry overall, we’re growing steadily and have about 1,600 members, including 900 companies. You should understand that we’re mostly entrepreneurs and small businesses. Our members have more in common with other California small businesses than they do with large national pest control companies. It’s an interesting dynamic. Our members compete with each other during the day, but they come together [through the PCOC] to network, help each other out and “break bread.”
AA: We understand that PCOC is among the few trade associations with a strictly enforced code of ethics.
MH: Yes. Back in the 1930s, we created the Structured Pest Control Association to protect consumers from unscrupulous operators. Since we’re in California, one of the most highly taxed, highly regulated states in the nation, our members have to do their jobs better and more effectively than operators in most other states—and so do we. As a result of the association’s lobbying in 1935, the California Legislature passed the nation’s first structural pest control act and set up rigorous examinations for admission to the pest control field, licensing, reporting and strict work criteria. We’ve always been held to higher standards than other contractors and small businesses.
AA: Your industry seems pretty recession-proof. That must be nice.
MH: Actually, it’s not. During an economic downturn, that’s when people tend to forego their regular maintenance and inspections—an important source of revenue for our members.
AA: What are some of the other biggest issues for your members?
MH: It’s got to be environmental—making sure we’re not using the most toxic chemicals and compounds to do our jobs. Also, industry consolidation and succession planning is a big factor. We serve many family-owned businesses. Oftentimes the owner isn’t in a position to turn the business over to the next generation when he or she is ready to retire. Consolidation isn’t good for our membership and it’s not good for the consumer, as they have fewer choices to serve them.
AA: Martyn, you have a legal background. How did you get into the pest control industry?
MH: My background is in lobbying and advocacy. I’m from the U.K., but I spent more than 25 years as California State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)—the largest small business organization in the U.S. with more than 36,000 members in California. I was chief advocate for small business in California and helped draft many of the small business bills that have become law in the state including The RegFlex Act, The Equal Access to Justice Act and the Treble Damages Bad Check Law.
AA: Tell us more about the RegFlex Act?
MH: Sure. It refers to the Regulator Flexibility Act (RFA). It’s something I started and helped push through when I was chair of the California Small Business Board under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger starting in 2007. Basically it says that federal agencies must analyze the impact of their regulatory actions on small entities (small businesses, small non-profit organizations and small jurisdictions of government), and they must seek less burdensome alternatives.
AA: How so?
MH: “It comes into play when the impact of a regulation is likely to be “significant” and makes it difficult for a “substantial number” of small entities to comply. In a litigious and environmentally conscious state such as California, we have to bend over backwards to use the safest, most environmentally friendly chemicals we can. That is until one of the legislators has a rat problem at home. Then they want the strongest stuff we’ve got! [laughing]
AA: What was it like working for a high profile figure such as Gov. Schwarzenneger, aka The Governator?
MH: He has a strong, hands-on personality, just like his onscreen persona. He was a tremendous influence on my own leadership style. He’s a great listener. He empowers people to make decisions, and he gives them the freedom to create without fear of retribution if things don’t work out exactly as you planned. He is a great recruiter of talent. He taught me that you have to choose the right people for your team and then let them go. Don’t micromanage them. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “All men make mistakes, but wise men learn from their mistakes.” In other words, the more mistakes you make, the more you learn and the more you grow.
AA: What did he teach you about motivating staff and volunteers?
MH: Whether it’s a staff person or a volunteer, the key is to find out what people are really interested in and put them in the right place to be happiest and most productive. Match their interests to their role. I like what [AHA’s Stephanie Drake] said in your newsletter last month, “Manage the talent, not the job description.”
AA: How about fostering innovation?
MH: You have to think in terms of long-term development and vision five to 15 years out. You constantly have to refresh your vision. Keep looking at your business the way a competitor would. Where are your weaknesses? Is the website up to date and doing all the marketing it needs to do for you? Are your member benefits offering real tangible value?
AA: How does that translate into the member value proposition?
MH: My emphasis at PCOC has not necessarily been on growing membership, but growing value for the members we have. One of our biggest benefits is insurance for our members. Twenty years ago, at the height of the liability crisis in California (everyone was suing each other), it was very hard for our small business members to get insurance. So we created our own (“captive”) insurance program for members.
AA: Do you have any specific initiatives for the next generation?
MH: Industry up-and-comers are very important to us. That’s the future leadership. A lot of young people are not joiners. They don’t like meetings or face-to-face networking. Our members are very mobile, especially the younger ones, so we’re putting more and more of our resources and compliance guides on the iPad. We’ll be introducing video soon when our new website comes out. And we’re slowly building out our social media channels—it’s just very time intensive, and there are a lot of regulatory concerns in our type of industry.
AA: Social media would probably help your lobbying and advocacy efforts, right?
MH: Actually, no. We’ve found that elected official like faxes the most. So that’s how we’ll continue to get our message through.
AA: Membership is growing and you seem to be winning consistently at the State Capitol. What’s weighing on you late at night?
MH: Are we doing enough to educate our members and the public? Suppose a homeowner has an infestation and doesn’t want to pay for a professional to get rid of it. They go to Home Depot and use 4 ounces of pesticide when the dosage calls for only 2 ounces. The consumer’s thinking if they use double the amount, then they’ll get double the effect. Well, what happens when things go badly for the “do-it-yourselfer” and all kinds of chemicals are running off into the water supply. Guess who’s on the hook for not educating the public about pesticides? We are. Pretty ironic. We were started 75 years ago by upstanding pest-control professionals to protect consumers from the unscrupulous ones—now we’re protecting consumers from themselves.