Editor’s Note: This is an extended conversation with Emily Thomas Kendrick, CEO of Arrow Exterminators. An abridged version appears in PMP’s Anniversary issue.
Emily Thomas Kendrick is the CEO of Atlanta, Ga.-based Arrow Exterminators, the company her grandparents founded in 1964. As the daughter of Chairman and Pest Management Professional Hall of Famer Joe Thomas (Class of 2009), Kendrick represents the third generation of the family and began her career at Arrow in 1998 after graduating from Vanderbilt University. Over her 25-year career at Arrow, she has served in a variety of positions, including in residential and commercial operations and sales, information technology, and marketing. She was promoted to COO in 2003, president in 2008, and CEO in 2010.
Leading Arrow’s team of more than 3,300 employees, with 175 offices operating in 12 states and earning more than $385 million in revenue, Kendrick and her team are passionate about continuing to grow the business to create new opportunities for employees, and new jobs for the local communities they serve. They have aggressive plans to grow the business to $600 million in the next five years.
As a passionate industry advocate, Kendrick has served multiple terms on the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) board of directors and is active in the Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM) Council. She currently serves on the NPMA’s executive board of directors. She received the NPMA’s inaugural “Woman of Excellence” award, and accepted the Top USA Workplace Award in 2021, 2022 and 2023 on behalf of Arrow — as well as the No. 1 Woman-Led Workplace in the United States.
In addition, Kendrick served on the advisory board for Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta for more than a decade, and is still heavily involved in the organization. She also serves on the board of directors for the Bobby Jones Golf Foundation.
Kendrick and her husband, Hugh, live in Atlanta, where they love to do anything outdoors, travel and spend time with family.
Q. What drew you to the pest control business? Being a family business, it was natural for me to be at Arrow. In college, I was not focused on continuing the family legacy, but that changed when I really learned we were in the people business. I love solving problems. I also love people, and you won’t find any finer folks than the people in the pest control industry.
Q. Looking back, do you have a favorite job you held during your career? My favorite job by far was in operations as COO. I loved it. It wasn’t what I was best at, but I loved every minute of it!
Q. If you had to pick just one characteristic as to why you’ve been so successful, what is it and why? I can find common ground with almost anyone.
Q. Do you consider yourself in introvert or extrovert? Do others agree? Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m an extrovert — and I guess I am. However, there is a part of me that can be pretty introverted. No one believes me when I tell them that, though.
Q. Can you think of a time you handled a tricky customer or employee situation? What did you do? This is what we do every day. We solve problems at every level of the organization. The trickiest ones typically involve our people. We have so many good people that when we promote one team member, we may unintentionally disappoint another who is also qualified for that position. We make sure to talk to all who interview for the position, and give them honest and open feedback, regardless of whether they got the promotion. The great news is that with our growth comes plenty of new opportunities.
Q. Any rules you live by when dealing with customers and team members? No matter how much someone has screwed up, try and leave them whole so that you can move forward. Put yourself in their shoes, take a walk and bring some empathy to the conversation.
Q. What do you feel your role is in mentoring others into leadership roles in the company? This is one of my primary responsibilities.
Q. Have you ever been so afraid of success that you didn’t go for it? This is a really good and insightful question. My parents instilled in me a fair amount of self-confidence, and I’ve really never been afraid to fail. With 3,300 team members, I find myself more cautious in my leadership and decision-making with our team, but that’s more about making really good decisions for our folks and their families, as well as our customers.
Q. The fear of failure can cause people to stop trying. Is there a time you can recall failing at something, and if so, how did you move on? I fail all the time. In my 20s and 30s, failure would paralyze me. Nowadays, I just figure it goes with the territory; I try and learn something from it and move on.
Q. Have you ever had a big win, promotion or success that ultimately didn’t lead you where you expected? I never thought I would serve on the NPMA executive committee , yet here I am. I was literally in my office working one day when I got the call from a member of the nominating committee asking me to really consider becoming a board member, and ultimately in line to become NPMA president. I have been involved in various committees through the years but never thought the NPMA would want me to serve in this capacity. We are such staunch supporters of the industry that I had to say yes.
Q. Is there a specific time in your career when you were down, and if so, how did you battle back? Everyone I’ve ever met has down days and that’s OK. It’s part of life. It’s how you learn to handle those days that ultimately makes the difference. For me, it’s about all the folks around me, especially my family. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, or so it seems. We have such a positive attitude at work and all of us are always encouraging one another, so you wouldn’t be down for long!
Q. Have you had to work through a professional plateau? I have my own internal plateaus that I continue to work through. I truly am a life learner. When I hear something I’m not familiar with, I will read about it so I can be engaged in the topic next time it comes up in conversation. Technology is a great example.
Q. How have you managed to balance your personal life with work? This kind of happened over time by mistake. I was such a workaholic in my 20s and 30s. There was no way I could continue that pace. My husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2009 and I took time off to care for him. It was a big wake-up call on what’s important in life. When I came back to work, the balance kind of naturally happened. When things get busy, I try to remember that time and what’s most important to me. I also learned that “Workaholic Emily” isn’t the best I can be. I need balance to give my very best to our folks.
Q. What is your routine for self-care? I love to be outside and move, whether it’s walking, golfing, hiking, scuba diving or whatever. I gotta move, or I get super grouchy.
Q. What is your guilty pleasure? Watching “Real Housewives.” It’s so bad and so brain-draining that I can’t turn it off. I don’t care, though!
Q. Anything else you want to share? I’m married to my best friend and more, Hugh Kendrick. We’ve been together for over 16 years and I can’t imagine life without him. He picks me up when I fall down and throws me back in the game. He supports me 100 percent in everything I do. I’m extremely lucky!