A little more than seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, killing many, destroying homes and disrupting businesses — including many Orkin franchises owned by its Atlanta-based parent company, Rollins Inc.
Gary Rollins, the president, CEO and COO of Rollins, was worried about his employees. The hurricane hit on a weekend, recalled John Wilson, Orkin’s president.
“By Tuesday, we convened meetings in the home office to discuss our operations,” Wilson said. “Those meetings started at 8:30 every morning, beginning the second day after the hurricane. Gary Rollins attended every one and never asked when we were going to be back in business, collecting revenue and servicing customers. He asked one question: ‘Have we heard from all our people?’ We’d put out the word that if any [employee] showed up elsewhere, to put him to work whether needed or not.”
The last employee forced out of the Gulf area was finally accounted for about two weeks after the storm. He showed up in Oklahoma and was offered work at a branch there.
“Once Gary was satisfied that all employees were OK and being looked after, he stopped coming to those meetings,” Wilson said. “He figured we would take care of the rest. That spoke volumes about the man.”
For his many contributions to the pest management industry, Rollins is being inducted into the Pest Management Professional (PMP) Hall of Fame.
“He’s never wanted to be in the limelight,” said Paul Hardy, a fellow PMP Hall of Famer and senior technical director for Orkin. “He doesn’t like to be singled out. He’d much rather hold your hand up than have somebody hold his hand up.”
The Technician’s Route
While Rollins might carry the name of the company, he didn’t trade on it to get to the top of the company.
He started like everyone else.
Rollins began working for Orkin in 1965, at a branch in Chattanooga, Tenn., while a junior at the University of Tennessee. This meant spending afternoons as a part-time utility service technician while going to school in the morning and evening.
“Although I had worked summers for other companies at Rollins, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed Orkin and the pest control business,” Rollins said.
Rollins worked his way up through the company taking on a number of positions before joining the management team. In 1978, he became president of Orkin. Those experiences, he said, shaped much of his success.
“My initial service experience was supplemented by being in pest control and termite control sales, one year each, and running two metro-Atlanta Orkin branches,” Rollins said. “This field experience enabled me to identify with employees and contribute to the decisions made about how we’d do business going forward. It also showed the employees that I knew about the work they did, which helped me earn their respect.”
In 1984, he was named president and chief operating officer of Rollins Inc. Four years later, Forbes named the company the “Nation’s Number One Service Company.” He added CEO to his title in 2001. Yet, even after he took over the highest ranks in the company, Rollins maintained the same values.
Orkin’s international technical and training director, Frank Meek, recalled a time in the early 1990s when the company began focusing on use of bait products. Meek, then several rungs down the corporate ladder, led a demonstration for Rollins explaining how the new product was used.
“As a technician on that particular job, I had to crawl on the floor of a filthy restaurant,” Meek recalled. “I wanted to pop up and explain to Mr. Rollins and the others what we were doing.
“I turned around and [Rollins] is on his hands and knees right beside me. That made an impression on me as a youngster in the company; he owns this place, and he’s down here on his hands and knees next to me in the grease. I felt a lot of respect.”
Meek said he doesn’t think Rollins’ attitude has changed much. “I think his commitment to making sure our customers are satisfied with the work we deliver would not preclude him going out and doing the job himself, if that was necessary,” Meek said. “If you’re in a leadership position and respect what your people do, it’s not beneath you to do it yourself.”
And while he might not be crawling around on the floor quite as often as he did a couple of decades ago, he still retains the respect of his workers. There are about 10,000 employees working for the Rollins and Orkin brand.
“He keeps the boat upright,” Hardy said. “That’s leadership.”
Under Rollins’ leadership, the company has done much for the community over the years. In 1993, the O. Orkin Insect Zoo opened at the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of Natural History (and the Orkin diamond became the first permanent logo inside the Smithsonian Institution). In 2002, the company donated, through the Gary W. & Ruth M. Rollins Foundation, $1.3 million to open the Orkin Children’s Zoo at Zoo Atlanta. Two years later, the company helped open the Outback Station at the Orkin Children’s Zoo at Zoo Atlanta. Also in 2004, the O. Wayne Rollins/Orkin Endowed Chair in Urban Entomology was established at Purdue University’s Department of Entomology. In 2005, the company donated funds to help establish the Orkin Termite Training Facility at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. In addition, in 2004 Orkin began partnering with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) on public education initiatives involving pest-related health risks.