Every year, the Pest Control staff selects a posthumous candidate to join the voted-in inductees for the industry Hall of Fame. This year’s pick, Robert Jenkins Sr., has the distinction of actually being voted by his peers as well as by the staff.
Although he died in 1997, his memory is kept very much alive today in the industry.
PMPs who are relatively new to the industry may know Bobby, Raleigh or Dennis Jenkins, owners of ABC Pest and Lawn (and in some cases, Pool) Services in Austin, Houston and Dallas, Texas, respectively. After all, “the Jenkins boys” seem to be at every industry meeting created — and their generous, caring spirit has earned them a reputation of being models for the industry.
But their father, Bob Sr., deserves much of the credit for the three men’s business sense and technical savvy. He dedicated his career to making good business decisions, sharing and learning experiences with colleagues, and enhancing the professional image of the industry.
Robert Williams Jenkins was born Dec. 1, 1936, in Honolulu. He was the younger of two sons of a military surgeon, who moved his family around the country for different base assignments. When Jenkins went to high school in San Antonio, he felt he had found his true home. From there, he went to Texas A&M University in College Station, which at that time was an all-male military school.
While at Texas A&M, he met and married Sandra Patterson, who also hailed from San Antonio. Robert Jenkins Jr. (Bobby to the industry) came along just a few months before Jenkins graduated in 1959 with his business degree.
Jenkins joined the Army as a captain and spent two years in service. Middle son Raleigh was born on the Fort Ord base in California in 1960. From there, the family moved back to San Antonio where Jenkins took a job with his in-laws’ business, B&M Mattress Co. with the hope of running it one day. In 1962, Dennis was born.
It was soon clear, however, that Jenkins’ mother-in-law, Frances Patterson, wasn’t thinking about retiring anytime soon. “She was a good entrepreneur herself, and she enjoyed running the business,” Bobby recalls today. “In fact, she ran it for another 20 years or so. Dad made a good move not waiting for that opportunity to change.”
By 1965, Jenkins was ready to strike out on his own. He had no previous experience with pest control, but he wanted a recession-proof service business, and his research indicated that pest control fit the bill. Jenkins approached the Stover family, who had been running ABC Pest Control in San Antonio since founding the company in 1949. It was the right time for them to sell — and the right time for Bob Jenkins Sr. to buy.
Jenkins hit the ground running, quickly joining the local association, and the state and national soon after.
“Dad recognized the value of association membership,” Bobby says. “He believed in giving back to the industry. To him, there were no secrets — telling what he did and how he did it was just a matter of sharing. He was always happy to do it.”
It was a natural progression for Jenkins to go from member to president of the Texas Pest Control Association in 1980. In 1983, he was installed as president of the National Pest Management (then Control/NPCA) Association.
Time for Change
It was during his NPCA presidency that Jenkins sold ABC’s headquarters and franchises in five cities to Waste Management, a Chicago-based company that was just entering the pest management industry and wanted to make a splash.
“They bought several (NPCA) past presidents’ companies and big regional companies because it netted them good companies as well as a lot of attention and notoriety within the industry,” Bobby points out. “Their model at that time was to buy the business and for that entrepreneur to continue to run the business. They didn’t have pest control experience, but they did have a lot of money.”
However, Waste Management didn’t purchase the entire ABC franchise. Jenkins sold the San Antonio headquarters and ABC’s Texas franchises in Seguin, El Paso, Cuverville, Victoria and Kerrville.
Jenkins kept the Austin office, where Bobby was his partner, and the new office in Houston, which Raleigh had expressed interest in running after managing a dude ranch in Bandera, Texas, for a few years. Jenkins also negotiated to “reserve” the Dallas market for Dennis to eventually open an ABC office once he graduated college and gained industry experience.
“Dad’s selling of the business allowed him to have his cake and eat it, too, in that he was able to sell and still give his sons a family business opportunity,” Bobby explains. “The way Dad structured it was a true stroke of genius because each ABC business is unto itself and unto its own. That’s been one of the real secrets of harmony in the family. You see so many family businesses implode because of (decision-making friction). This way, we have the best of both worlds: We can be a really big business when we want to or each of us can do exactly what he chooses.”
Bobby also points out that he and his brothers still operate on their father’s policy of focusing on organic, not acquired, growth. In fact, he says that his father did not do any acquisitions until he worked for Waste Management.
Bobby admires his father because he “always ran a well-organized, profitable business — but not too profitable because Dad was very generous with staff and employees. He knew that to get good people, you’ve got to keep good people.”
The Business of Family
After a few years with Waste Management, Jenkins retired and moved with Sandy to their ranch in Marble Falls, Texas. There they embarked on a new business of raising New Zealand red deer.
“Dad’s idea was that eventually red deer meat would be served at nice restaurants because it was lean, healthy, tasty and not gamey,” Bobby says. “There again, he was involved with the industry association and served on its board. Mom and Dad traveled and went to meetings.”
Jenkins remained committed to helping his sons with their respective pest control businesses. Twice a year, he and Sandy opened their home to their sons and their key managers for summit meetings.
“We still have summits today,” Bobby says. “But Dad was an important part of starting them, listening to us and giving his advice.”
Around 1990, however, Jenkins began having kidney trouble and went on dialysis. The family traces the problem back to thyroid medication he had used since his early 20s. All three sons got tested because an organ donation from a blood relative had the best chance for success — and Raleigh was a match.
“The operation went well and things looked great at first,” Bobby recalls. “But unfortunately, Dad contracted a rare cytomegalovirus virus, which attacked his optic nerves and he became blind.
“I still remember that last summit where Dad was sitting at the table,” Bobby recalls. “He couldn’t see a thing but he was listening to the banter, the passion and the ideas flowing from all of us as a group. I think about that day often, even now.”
Within two years of the operation, Jenkins died, but his legacy remains strong even among his grandchildren.
“In their yearbooks a few years ago, in all three cities, every one of the kids named their career goal as joining ABC,” Bobby says of the eight cousins, who range in age from 19 to 12. Some of the teens already have begun working summers at their fathers’ offices.
Bobby points out that the Jenkins clan puts God, family, Texas A&M (even all three daughters-in-law are Aggies) and business as their priorities, in that order. He says his parents never played favorites and gave each of their sons a loving environment that they have since developed for their own families.
As for the aspirations of the third generation for ABC, Bobby laughs and says, “Hopefully, we’ll figure that out when the time comes. But at this point, we feel we’ll be doing this for a long, long time.”