Bob Russell is a brass tacks sort of guy. He’s one of Pest Control magazine’s inaugural Hall of Fame winners, and when he tells his story, he simply tells it like it is. From his military start, to taming the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Russell has weeded his way through the ranks, and given back to the industry that helped him along the way.
Russell was recently promoted to senior vice president, technical services of Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta, Ga., and before that he was the company’s technical and training director. Before that, well, that’s a long story, which is best told by going back to the beginning.
Russell, who was born and raised in Macon, Ga., started in pest control during World War II. In 1944, he was assigned to the sanitary core of the medical department at Camp Gordon, which is now Fort Gordon, in Augusta, Ga. At the time, this particular branch of the Army handled insect and rodent control. Then in 1946, with his experience from his military service, Russell started Georgia Exterminating.
His business was aligned with Red Tindol in Atlanta, and both companies used the same name. Tindol sold his company to Orkin in 1947, and Russell was given the choice to either change the company name and continue in business for himself or become a part of the sale. So, consequently, on May 1, 1947, he went to work for Orkin, first as a salesman, and soon becoming manager of the pest control department in Atlanta. Once there, Russell spent 39 years with Orkin.
In 1948, Russell decided to go back to school, but continued to work for Orkin as a purchasing agent during that time. He obtained a B.S. degree in sanitary engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, finishing in 1950.
After school, Russell went back to Orkin full-time, working in the technical department. Here he was responsible for devising means of insect and termite control and supervising training.
Around 1958, he became Orkin’s technical director, but just a few years later (around 1962), he left the company and went to work for Delk Pest Control in Fresno, Calif. He worked at Delk as general manager and stayed there one year.
Next, he moved to Getz Pest Control as technical director and sales manager. He spent three years there before returning to Orkin as a district manager in North Texas. Russell spent three years in Texas and then headed back to Atlanta as Orkin’s technical director, which is where he hung his hat for the better part of his career.
Then There Was FIFRA
After a lot of moving around and moving through the ranks, Russell was promoted to vice president of training and standards in 1972. He finally found himself semi-permanently grounded, but only for a while. The passage of FIFRA spurred Russell’s interest in government and kept him on the move.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formulating directions for the pest control industry. It became pertinent for somebody to do something about it!” he exclaims.
FIFRA was the first federal control in the pest control industry, and at the time, the EPA wasn’t really asking for help from the pest control industry in determining legislation.
However, Russell says, he volunteered it, and worked very closely with Charlie Hromada of Terminix and Dick Sameth of Western Termite and Pest Control and immediate past president of the National Pest Control Association (NPCA).
So, once again, the tides of change swept across Russell’s career path, and in direct response to FIFRA, he became Orkin’s president of government relations in 1975.
At first, FIFRA required that everybody in the industry including owners, technicians and managers, be licensed. However, because of the turnover rate in the industry at the technician level, Orkin and Terminix decided that they couldn’t handle that. So, Hromada and Russell worked toward, and achieved, the licensing or certification of only the managers and owners.
“We were always trying to minimize the strength of that regulation, and probably the most significant thing that we accomplished was state primacy,” Russell notes. “Initially, both the federal and the state governments were regulating pest control operators (PCOs), so we were getting fined on both the state and federal levels.”
The intent of Russell, Hromada and, later on, the NPCA was to slow down and reduce the severity of government regulations. Then, they got a break. According to Russell, Representative Floyd Fithian from Indiana, who was on the Agriculture committee, inquired about the problems of FIFRA.
“Fithian said, ‘What’s your case? Lay it out for me.’ So, I wrote him a letter explaining how there had been cases where we were regulated by the state and the EPA would also penalize us for the same infraction. This meant we were actually suffering double jeopardy,” Russell says.
Russell’s communication with Fithian was to the pest control industry’s advantage.
“Fithian had it written into the law that the state had primacy of regulation, and the EPA served as a back-up in case the state failed to carry out its responsibility,” Russell notes.
So, what does Russell think about FIFRA today?
“At the time, we resented the introduction of a new regulation, but overall, FIFRA probably raised the standards of the industry,” he declares.
Russell played a major role in getting the EPA to take notice of the pest control industry and to recognize its needs regarding regulations.
He Doesn’t Stop There
Russell retired from Orkin in 1989, but acted as a consultant to the company for approximately two years. Then in 1992 he went to work for his old friend Starkey Thomas at his company, Arrow Exterminators.
When Russell started at Orkin, the company’s Atlanta office was split up into two departments including termite and pest control. Thomas handled the termite division, while Russell handled the pest control side.
At Arrow, Russell is responsible for on-going training, and he still keeps abreast of legislative affairs that affect the industry. In his recognition, Arrow has even named its new training office in Tucker, Ga., the Robert M. Russell Training Facility. The building is able to support 150 attendees and is used for training of every facet of Arrow, including management, sales representatives and technicians.
His employer and friend Joe Thomas, president of Arrow and Starkey’s son, proclaims, “The pest control industry today would not be where it is without the efforts of Bob Russell. Though fame and recognition have not been sought by this humble man, our Pest Control Hall of Fame would not be complete without his inclusion.”
Thus, Arrow’s dedication of the new facility in Russell’s recognition.
In addition to his role at Arrow, Russell has been on the Georgia Structural Pest Control Commission since 1976, and says “It’s put-back time, because this industry has been very good to me.”
The commission consists of seven members, including three PCOs, one member from the Department of Agriculture, one member from the University of Georgia, one from the state health department and one consumer representative. Primarily, the commission writes and advises the Department of Agriculture about potential regulations, and, in addition, administers the pest control certification exam, according to Russell.
“The law permits us to advise the Dept. of Agriculture, which actually regulates the industry,” he explains.
He cautions that sometimes it’s difficult, because his role with the commission is not for the pest control industry, but primarily to protect the people of Georgia.
“The greatest contribution is assuring that regulations being originated are fair to the people of Georgia, and hopefully, to the industry as well, but your first master is the people of Georgia,” he stresses.
In other roles, Russell has also served as president of the NPCA in 1986-87, correspondent for its government affairs committee and chairman of the Georgia Pest Control Association government affairs committee. He was also a Pest Control magazine government affairs columnist for approximately eight years.
“That was a great job. I really enjoyed it because I was able to take information, share it with others and editorialize a bit,” he muses.
Russell recommends good communication as the key to good relations with regulators. He says it’s so basic. “When you communicate with each other you can usually work out your differences or at least reduce them.”
He suggests that PCOs get to know state and federal legislators.
“If you don’t know them personally, write a one-page letter. Tell them what you do. Ask to be kept advised of any legislation that might affect the use of pesticides. Ask for their response. You have to establish a personal name,” he explains.
He says it like it is when he suggests making contributions to legislators.
“Legislators will pay some attention to what you write, but they will pay more attention to you if you contribute to their campaign. A small contribution of $25 to $50 may be lost in the shuffle, but big contributions get noticed,” he concludes.