That he would be a 2011 Pest Management Professional (PMP) Hall of Fame inductee is no surprise to anyone who’s heard of Victor Hammel — and that’s not even counting those who know him personally. After all, his career history is the stuff of which business iconography is made.
“The man is larger than life,” said Kevin Kordek, president of A-Active Termite & Pest Control Co. “I met him about 15 years ago at PestWorld — and he approached me. I was starstruck. He’s a brilliant business man.”
More than partially responsible for taking the third-generation, family-owned J.C. Ehrlich Co. and expanding it into the largest independent company in the industry, Hammel also was a key force behind the firm’s 2006 merger with Rentokil Initial. By selling J.C. Ehrlich to the British-owned Rentokil, Hammel proved he is much more than a dedicated industry achiever; he’s a savvy big businessman to boot.
Before that daunting transaction, there was no questioning Hammel’s ability to keep a large and growing family-owned business in the black. After the 2006 merger, a global pest control powerhouse gained a significant foothold in North America, instantly changing the competitive landscape.
An Early Start
Hammel’s ties to the pest management profession trail back three generations. He learned the ropes at 8 years old, bagging rodent bait to earn his allowance and learning the business by absorbing it. He grew up attending pest control seminars and learning the family profession from the inside out at the hands of unparalleled mentors: two uncles and his father, who had been working together for years. Each were different men with different strengths and different lessons to teach young Hammel.
His uncle, Arthur Hammel was in charge of J.C. Ehrlich’s daily operations and, by all accounts, his life revolved around it. His cousin, Alex Ehrlich, once a judge in Germany, escaped Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II to come to America where he became a chemist and entomologist.
But it was Hammel’s father, Simon, whose influence was most evident in the way he’d conduct business throughout his career.
“We’d be at the dinner table, and my father always emphasized for me how grateful we should be for the people who worked in the business,” he recalled. “He’d say, if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have this food to eat.”
It was this inherited value of coworkers that helped guide Hammel toward success in his early years.
“When I joined the company in 1971 after returning from the Army, it was a terrific company,” he said. “My father and his partners laid the foundation, but it was still pretty small. We were about 100 people doing about $1 million worth of business annually.”
Later though, under Hammel’s leadership, the business achieved greater success and continued to grow. By the time the business was sold in 2006, it employed 1,250 people and recorded $124 million in annual business. While Hammel takes great pride in the achievement, he’s careful to acknowledge he really owes family mentors who led the way and coworkers whose loyalty and support he considers every bit as important
as his own contributions.
“That kind of growth is important because it’s not a one-person achievement,” he said. “I’m proud of the people who joined our company, shared the vision and grew into new responsibilities. High on that list were my partners: Richard Yashek, a cousin, and my brother Bobby Hammel. Not only did they work with utmost devotion and made substantial contributions, but they also were selfless in encouraging me to serve as CEO.”
Many of those people are still with the company. In fact, the employee retention rate under Hammel’s leadership can be considered exceptional by any standards.
“He’s a humble giant — someone who’s available to anyone who seeks him,” Kordek said. “Not only is he good to his customers, he’s always willing to share what he knows with others in the business, and the way he treats his employees should be the template for anyone starting a pest management business.”
“We established a ‘Wall of Fame,’ Hammel said. “When we built our headquarters building [in the early ’90s], I had this vision of having a Wall of Fame that would feature a photo of everyone who’d been with the company for 25 years or more.”
There are hundreds of people who belong to that exclusive and enviable club — from technicians, to customer service representatives, to managers.
“We still are recognizing those who stood by us by having dinners for them,” he said. “These aren’t group dinners. They’re individual dinners for individual people because that’s the only way to do it.”
Client satisfaction comes second only to employee contentment and retention. Have one, and the other will follow.
“Developing and retaining relationships is important and something I learned from my family,” Hammel said. “Our mission statement included: ‘Above all else, develop long-lasting relationships with coworkers and customers.’ And the fact that ‘coworkers’ comes before ‘customers’ in that sentence isn’t an accident.
“In the first mission statement draft, the words were inverted,” Hammel noted. “They were changed — because one can’t possibly have satisfied customers without satisfying coworkers first.”
This Ehrlich/Hammel tradition continues with Jed Hammel, who is Division Manager of Bioremediation Services of Rentokil. Jed is the great-great Grandson of Julius Ehrlich, grandson of Simon Hammel and son of Victor Hammel.
Still Keeping Busy
Hammel is far from being all business, however. He described himself as semi-retired, a term of which he can’t help but stretch the definition. He’s still involved in many of the outside ventures not directly related to his role in Ehrlich/Rentokil North America.
“To the people who know me, I was pretty much a workaholic,” he said. “I worked many hours a week. There are many people who didn’t believe I could succeed at being semi-retired — and I was one of them.”
While Hammel admits it took him a year or two to get used to it, he now enjoys the flexibility of semi-retirement. However, he is also on the boards of two businesses outside of the pest control industry and on the boards of several non-profits.
“I’m deeply committed to a Youth Orphanage in Israel and am on its executive committee. I love those kids!” Hammel added. “However, the most challenging job I have is the vice chairmanship of The Reading Hospital board of directors, a 6,000-plus employee institution.”
Hammel continues to serve as longtime vice chairman of the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA), the industry’s organization established to raise awareness and appreciation for the structural pest control industry.
PestSure Insurance, which Hammel cofounded at age 34 for pest management professionals who historically had found it difficult to secure insurance, is one of his most treasured achievements.
With all his success, though, Hammel is most proud of his family. He’s been married to Dena for 44 years, and they have three children and six grandchildren.
“I give my wife credit for keeping me balanced and focused on the people side of things,” he said. “I had some of those instincts to start with, but when you’re trying to build a business and aggressively pursue your professional goals, you can sometimes lose sight of the fact you need all of the people around you. If I ever began to forget that, my wife will remind me.
“About a third of my time is personal now, and I’m enjoying that,” he added.
Victor Hammel: a career snapshot
1967 — Victor Hammel graduates from Penn State University with a degree in accounting. He receives The Outstanding Senior Award.
1970s — After serving in the U.S. Army as a military intelligence officer, Hammel rejoins J.C. Ehrlich Co., and along with partners Richard Yashek (a cousin) and Bobby Hammel (his brother), they built the business to $124 million in annual revenues with 1,250 coworkers.
1980 — At the age of 34, Hammel (along with Dick Keenan of Waltham Services and Bob Sameth of Western Pest Control) cofounds a captive insurance company operating in the U.S. as PestSure Insurance. Since its inception, Hammel served as its first treasurer and then president. It’s the first insurance company run exclusively by pest management professionals.
1992 — Hammel begins service on The Reading Hospital and Medical Center Board of Directors, of which he is now Vice Chairman.
1997 — The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) establishes the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA). Hammel becomes a long-serving member of the PPMA’s executive staff. As vice chairman responsible for fundraising, he earns the nickname “The Hammer” for his relentless efforts.
2000s — J.C. Ehrlich is named one of the best 25 places to work in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
2006 — J.C. Ehrlich merges with Rentokil Initial to become the North American base for that company’s pest control operations. Hammel serves as CEO.
2007 – 2009 — Rentokil acquires Presto-X, Watch All and 14 other companies.
2009 — With annual revenues exceeding $210 million, Hammel steps down as CEO of Rentokil North America and transitions into semi-retirement, while serving as Chairman of Rentokil North America.
2011 — Hammel and wife, Dena, announce the creation of the Dena and Victor Hammel Trustee Scholarship at Penn State Berks to assist students with financial need.