Women in pest management: Mary Vongas

|  December 19, 2017

PMP interviews seven professionals about their journey so far, and what’s next in 2018.

What do a pest management firm owner, an industry federation president, two industry association executives, an industry product manufacturer, a pest researcher, and the 2017 National Pest Management Association Woman of Excellence winner have in common? They’re all profiled in our December issue. They’re all successful women in their respective fields, and they’ve all graciously shared insights about how they got here. In addition, they also offer advice to other women in professional pest management.

Every woman profiled for our series this year noted that the industry has changed — for the better — since they began 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. As Mary Vongas, pictured on our cover, notes, “Change means a possibility of innovation, advancement and growth. If you are flexible, plan your path, and work toward managing change, you can get your organization moving in a growth direction.”
 

Mary Vongas educated herself inside and outside the classroom to grow her potential as a pest management leader.

Mary Vongas

In 2004, Mary Vongas was searching for something outside the cable TV industry, where she had been building her career. She came across a newspaper ad for a business manager position at ChemTec Pest Control, Saddle Brook, N.J., and was intrigued.

“At our first meeting, we realized that the two business operations were very similar,” Vongas, now president of the company, recalls. “Managing a pest control company just fit — same customer concerns, similar metrics to track, nearly identical employee concerns, common company focus and goals.”

Vongas notes that pest management reminds her of cable in its earlier days. “I often say ‘anyone can make an impact in our industry.’ That was taken away in cable once all of the big guys took over, but it is so true about our industry,” she says. “A tech in the field can find a new protocol for treating ants that is more effective, and boom, he just made a change in our industry.”
 

Learning by doing

Because she was an outsider who didn’t grow up “talking bugs and business over the dinner table” as many of her colleagues did, Vongas decided to learn by immersing herself in pest management. “I went to as many association meetings as I could, spoke to as many people as I could, and visited other pest management firms,” she says, noting that being a member of the first Leadership Class of the New Jersey Pest Management Association (NJPMA) was a big help.

When Vongas went back to school and received a master’s degree in change management, her thesis was a study of why it is difficult to hire into pest management. She admits that even a few years later, finding the right person for pest management is one of the harder aspects of her job, but one she is optimistic will change as the industry builds upon its message of public health protection.

“There have been so many overwhelmingly positive changes in our industry,” she says. “We’ve become so much more sophisticated. In part, the industry has initiated these changes with new and evolving materials, changes in methods and very thoughtful processes. Technology has also forced us to change, as consumers have ready access to information on the internet. We’ve been forced to become more creative and purposeful in our marketing, as we all feel our way around the new digital advertising.”

Yet the biggest positive impact, in Vongas’ opinion, is the bed bug resurgence.

“Not from a revenue standpoint,” she notes, “but because the public has looked to us for expert advice and solutions. I believe that the need for expertise on this one pest has elevated the awareness of our complexity as an industry.”

Going for her master’s degree while working in pest management gave Vongas new perspective on her career. “It gave me an opportunity to do some in-depth analysis of our company and industry, and compare it to other industries as well,” she says.

“What I have experienced in my journey is that the pest management industry is full of ‘givers’ — people who are passionate about what they do, people who are more than happy to provide information and help others succeed,” Vongas concludes. “This is one of those unique characteristics of our industry that made me want to put roots down, and certainly helped with my success.”

You can reach Editor Heather Gooch at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

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