Without any formal business training, Malcolm Stack has become one of the most successful and respected leaders in the pest management industry.
As founder of Bell Laboratories in Madison, Wis., Stack has been a driving force in rodent control research. Many who nominated him for inclusion in the Pest Control Hall of Fame say that he helped transform the rodent industry from mere rat-catchers to professional problem solvers with his passion for research and training.
Stack was born and raised in Manchester, England. At 16, he left home and joined the Royal Canadian Navy, passing himself off as 18 years old to the authorities. He chalks up his independence at such an early age to “the adventurer in me.”
Upon receiving an honorable discharge for two years’ service, Stack worked a number of jobs, including a summer spent digging ditches. He found his true calling, however, while working at Roberts Laboratories in Toronto.
Stack’s head for business and people-pleasing manner quickly brought him over to the sales side for the animal health company. His first brush with pest control was when Roberts acquired St. Louis-based Crown Chemicals, which sent him stateside as national sales manager.
Stack credits Crown for showing him the ropes in the pest control business, but he gleaned a lot of business knowledge from books and from networking alliances, like the one he forged with the Montreal Jaycees. He even became national chairman of Brotherhood Week in Canada. The life experience he gained helped him with public speaking and good decision-making.
Bell on the Ball
By 1974, Stack was in an executive position with a pharmaceutical company in Madison, Wis. He was tired of the corporate grind and decided to forge his own path. That decision proved to be fortuitous.
A pest management professional in Iowa making his own rodenticide contacted him. In the wake of the then-newly formed Environmental Protection Agency and the stringent regulations that permeated the pesticide industry, the PMP wanted to unload his invention.
“This came at an opportune time,” he recalls. “I flew out there, met him, made the arrangements and I wrote him a check. We did it all on an 8-1/2 by 11 notepad. We didn’t use attorneys — it was all based on a handshake.”
The PMP manufactured the Rodent Cake for four months until Stack secured a 1,600-square-foot processing facility in Madison.
Stack named his fledgling company Bell Laboratories for no other reason except it made it sound impressive and established.
His laboratory was his basement, often with oldest daughter Linda at his side as technician. He still relies on his daughter, Linda Hughes, for both technical and creative input. He considers Hughes, who owns Bell’s marketing firm, Dunlop Associates, to be his best friend.
“We did a lot of work on the original Rodent Cake formula to bring it into compliance with EPA requirements,” he says. “Otherwise, the product would have been lost.”
After championing Rodent Cake, Stack expanded his horizons with another pest management professional. Wil-Kil Pest Control was in a similar situation to the Iowa firm, with an effective product they had created. They too were facing a barrage of EPA regulations.
Stack offered to take over production, and in 1976, Bell added PCQ Place Pacs to its product line.
In the decades since, Bell has introduced several products to the pest control market, including the Contrac, Protecta, Fastrac, Trapper, Ditrac, Detex, Quintox and ZP lines, and the new Talpirid mole bait.
The manufacturing process has evolved considerably — Bell’s Madison headquarters, laboratory and 50,000-square-foot warehouse are nestled on more than five acres, with another five acres a few blocks away. In addition, an international sales office thrives in Sudbury, England.
Stack prefers a low profile and admits he is a shy, retiring type, but when it’s for a good cause he demonstrates remarkable leadership skills. Early on, he served on several committees and even as a board member in the mid-1990s for the National Pest Management Association. He also joined the United Producers, Formulators & Distributors Association.
Shortly after Stack’s UPF&DA presidency term ended in 1996, Stack thought about a successor for Bell Labs. He found a worthy one in Steve Levy, who joined Bell in 2000 as general manager and became CEO two years later.
“It was difficult,” Stack admits. “When you grow a business from scratch, you learn every aspect of it out of necessity. Then you reach the point where you can’t grow it by yourself any longer. That’s when you have to do something about it.”
Stack is modest of his achievements, preferring to take pride “in the people who are running the company today.”
But Bell is still part of Stack’s life. He meets monthly with Levy, Hughes and a handful of other Bell officers to discuss strategic planning. He also takes part in an annual two-day retreat to reinforce and revisit company goals. He describes his position today as “freelance chairman.”
Mostly though, Stack spends his energy traveling with his wife, Debra, and pursuing passions like equestrian competitions, golfing and tending to his horse farms. He has already won several championships in the first two categories (including six times as Wisconsin father/daughter golf champions with Hughes). It would surprise no one if he kept up the winning streak.