On May 17, 2000, our industry lost a good friend. Over the last 50 years, Clayton “Bud” Wright built, from the ground up, what has become the largest distributorship dedicated primarily to pest management professionals (PMPs) in the Southwest. Seven offices, scattered throughout Texas and Oklahoma, enable B&G Chemicals and Equipment Co. to serve its customers effectively.
More importantly, though, is the fact that B&G’s customers have learned much of the science of their trade at workshops sponsored by the company. In fact, B&G is responsible for more Texas continuing education units (CEUs) than all of its competitors put together. I believe that it’s because Wright always hired the best speakers and employees he could find in order to give his customers the best product possible. He always put the needs of his customers first—a practice still followed by B&G’s management today.
Wright was a true Texas and Oklahoma character and legend. To understand how B&G prospered and rose to be the dominant supplier in this area, it is necessary to study not just Clayton Wright, but the entire family. In the age of the giant national and multi-national corporations, this has always been a family-owned and -operated business. Wright’s goal was to serve a relatively small area, but to do so with excellence.
A Good Foundation
Wright’s education and experience prepared him to achieve his goals. He was part of the famed group who graduated with the first degrees in urban entomology from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. His professor, Dr. John Osmun, a 1997 Hall of Fame alum, remembers that Wright was the only student in the group who did not come from a pest management family. He had to learn the chemicals and procedures that were practically second nature to others in his class.
Wright was a classmate and close friend of Bill Brehm (a 1998 Hall of Fame inductee) and George Gilmore, whose class assignment would eventually become the B&G sprayer.
Wright got his first experience in pest management working for Brehm’s father at Hygienic Pest Control during the summer. He later owned and managed his own pest management firm, C. Wright Associates, for many years. So, he knew firsthand the problems that the service technicians in his area faced daily.
The road to achieving his goals was not easy. Like many others of his generation, Wright served in World War II. Though he rarely talked about his days as a Marine in the Pacific, he was in one of the earliest amphibious invasions of a Japanese island. In fact, his oldest son, William, is named for a buddy who was killed in this assault.
Upon his return from the Pacific, Wright took the opportunity of a three-day pass to marry his high school sweetheart, Anita Telenius. They were married February 19, 1945, and she became his partner and one-woman support team. Many of those who voted for Wright in the Hall of Fame, nominated Anita Wright as well.
It was Anita who encouraged Wright to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to get his college degree. During Wright’s first year at Purdue, Anita lived in a chicken house on his family’s farm in Terre Haute, Ind. During the week, she worked for a local publisher to make ends meet. On weekends, Wright would hitchhike the 90 miles from West Lafayette to home. Anita frequently quizzed him for upcoming tests as they sat together in an old cemetery.
Later, Anita and William moved to Lafayette so that the family could be together. Their home soon became a study area for his classmates. Anita even audited one of Wright’s English classes to be better able to help him with his papers. She was always his chief typist, editor and source of inspiration.
After graduation, Wright considered working for other companies, but his college experience and own vision made him believe that there were better ways of doing pest management. He made a handshake agreement with Brehm to sell sprayers in order to pay for his family’s needs. Then he, Anita and young Bill set out across the country.
It was their intent to evaluate and make a choice between Texas and California as locations to build their business and their lives. The decision became clear when they ran out of money in Dallas, around Christmas 1950. Once again, Anita played a key role. She got a job as a secretary to pay the bills, while Wright began to build the business.
Wright ran a branch of B&G Co. while establishing three companies of his own. The first of these was a sole proprietorship pest management firm, C. Wright Associates. He had turned to an old friend from Purdue, Milton Caroline. Caroline, who was with the Fish & Wildlife Service, gave Wright some much-needed advice and a rat bait formula.
In 1951, a new enterprise began. Wright, with the help of his family, would mix and package a batch of bait at night, then sell it to customers during the day. Bill Wright remembers the early days when the rat bait was mixed by hand in an old bathtub, before they earned enough money to buy an electric cement mixer. This was the inception of Wright Rodent and Pest Control Laboratories.
However, the ambitious Wright was not through. Before 1951 was over, he had established a third company, Wright Distributing. Anita’s mother soon moved in with them, doing the cooking, cleaning and taking care of Bill.
The pattern was beginning to develop of an entire family working together with the common goal of establishing growing businesses. The companies grew largely by referrals. Larger businesses found that they could depend of these small companies managed by a graduate entomologist who was determined to do only the best work.
In 1953, Wright’s younger brother Dick came home from the Air Force and worked with him for a year-and-a-half. He did pest management without salary before moving to Purdue to pursue a degree in entomology.
A Real Challenge
It was around this time that Anita faced a personal challenge. She was out selling pest management services door-to-door on a hot summer afternoon. She began to have trouble walking, and ultimately, her legs just would not keep moving. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and spent six weeks in the hospital. This, however, did not stop Anita. She shared her husband’s determination to make the businesses succeed, and was soon back at work.
In 1958, they found what they thought was the perfect piece of property in northwest Dallas. Its size provided more opportunities for growth. So, they moved both their home and three small businesses to 10539 Maybank. About a year later, they happily welcomed son Thomas to the family.
Anita stayed healthy enough to work even after Tom was born. She was the chief purchasing agent and bookkeeper for the companies until her illness forced her to turn over her duties to C.L. Atwell in the late 1960s.
In 1963, the decision was made by Wright and Brehm to incorporate their businesses. Brehm established B&G Equipment Co., Inc. in Plumsteadville, Pa., and Wright established B&G Chemicals & Equipment Co., Inc. in Dallas as a separate corporation. In 1964, Wright sold C. Wright Associates because he did not want to compete with his distribution customers.
A Lasting Legacy
Wright believed that the most important part of his job was developing management. This included finding first menial, then more important, work for his sons. Bill’s early jobs included crawling under houses and pulling out debris before he was old enough to handle the chemical applications. He later helped run the printing operation that produced company catalogs and mailing pieces.
After college graduation and service in the Air Force, Bill came back to help manage the company from 1972 to 1986. These were key years in the development of the company, and “Augie,” as his father called him, can be credited with much of the success during those years. Today, Bill has shifted gears and works in management at a medical lab for a regional hospital.
Wright’s contribution to Texas and Oklahoma covered more than just his work with PMPs. He loved working with young people, and spent 25 years working in the Boy Scouts. In 1969, he was awarded the extremely high honor of the Silver Beaver award.
During Wright’s years as a scoutmaster, one of his scouts, Fred Meyer, lost both his parents. The Wrights took him in and raised him as their son, seeing him through college, marriage and establishment as a geologist in Grants, N.M.
Wright’s greatest contribution to the industry is in the area of education. He worked with some of the large chemical companies, doing product tests both on his property and in the field.
He learned not only which new products would work well, but also the slight differences in application that made a difference in pest management. Wright began to share some of his knowledge with a few close friends, and there was soon demand from many others for similar training.
It started with just a few talks and demonstrations at his warehouse. This expanded so much that a nominal fee finally had to be charged to help cover the cost of expert speakers and larger meeting facilities. As other offices in other cities were opened, workshops were made available to these customers as well.
Wright was always a supporter of the universities that support our industry. Dr. Phil Hamman of the Texas A&M University entomology department in College Station, Texas, remembers the time that his boss, Dr. Gaines, suggested he seek advice from Wright on how to plan and produce an effective workshop.
Wright took Hamman on a tour of Texas, meeting the leading PMPs. In his often-brusque manner, Wright showed the younger man exactly what the PMPs needed. Wright was also instrumental in the success of the endowed chair at Texas A&M. Today, the Clayton Wright Scholarship is named in his honor at that university.
Over the years, Wright hired good managers, including his sons. He often stepped back to let them learn their own lessons, but always kept a firm hand on the overall direction of B&G. He never lost sight of the goal of seeing that the customers were properly served. Tom Wright graduated with a business degree and has done an excellent job of carrying on the business and traditions established by his parents.
When he started full-time with the company in 1982, Tom began to use his knowledge of accounting and finance to evaluate the company’s direction and suggest possible new avenues of opportunity. In 1987, he was made vice president and in 1991, became president of the company. Clayton Wright would remain chairman of the board until his death, but Tom’s efficient management allowed him to relax during his final years.
Until her death in 1992, Anita served on the board of directors and continued to be an important part of all major business decisions.
Then in 1994, Wright married a long-time friend and fellow scientist, Patricia Chamberlain. They later bought a farm near Seguin, Texas. Wright was able to enjoy living there for the last few years of his life.
In early 1999, Wright was diagnosed with cancer, and by December of that year was quite weak. However, through sheer determination, he attended the 50th anniversary party for B&G in January 2000. Although Wright had to greet his customers and friends largely from a wheelchair, he was bright, alert and grateful to all who attended.
Although few knew it at the time, this was his way of saying goodbye to his friends and customers, who had been so much a part of his life. His sons, several grandchildren and Pat were all by his side. Once again, Wright proved that with determination and the support of his family, he could do the impossible.