Today in Leadership Voices, we're talking to Dave Burgess, who is the VP of Operations at Cooper Pest Control. Dave's vision of leadership centers on making sure his whole team has the resources they need to execute their roles.
KD: Could you tell me a little bit about your career and your journey to get you where you are now?
DB: Sure, so, never went to college, well actually I went to college but left after 8 months, worked in printing after that, was in the printing industry for about 10 years, printing was going the path of the dinosaurs and the payphone and things like that, and so they downsized and eventually closed the place I was working at. So, I found myself at the age of 31 or so, without a job and without any good skills. I applied just right to Cooper as an entry level position in pest control, as a technician and started with Cooper back in 1992.
KD: What took you from entry level technician in ’92 up to VP of Operations now?
DB: I can remember my first week here there were, they had 12 technicians, two people working in the office maybe including the Coopers’ 3, and one of the techs that had been there for a while told me that this was a great place to work but there wasn’t any room for advancement here, that it would always be [the two owners] running the organization and everyone else just being a customer service rep or a technician. I saw it a little differently, I saw two guys that were currently barely managing the company by themselves, it was growing, and that at some point in the near future they would have a need for a mid-level management team. And I didn’t see anybody really challenging for that position, so I thought that I could position myself to set myself up to create a service manager position and then become one. And it’s evolved from there.
KD: And what kind of leadership aspects were involved in the Service Manager position?
DB: To mentor and train new technicians, to perform quality assurance on their service, respond to service needs from clients if there was a service problem that wasn’t being handled by the technicians, and then we also were in a leadership group where we met monthly and made operational changes to the company and a lot of that came from the viewpoint from the technician as new managers becoming, they came from a technician team, we understood some of the things that weren’t necessarily being done correctly and were able to improve efficiencies and to improve the longevity of the technician staff.
KD: What does leadership mean to you?
DB: Let me put it a couple ways, in one way I consider myself a sweeper from curling – my job is to make sure that the front-line personnel, customer service reps, and the technicians can do their job and can do it well. So, I look at a corporate chart as an upside-down pyramid. It’s real important to understand that it’s the people at the front line are the important people and everyone else is support of those people.
One of the first things I train my new managers on is ‘Never let people forget that they are working for you, but you need to remember that you’re really working for them,’ which means that if someone needs something in the morning to get their job done, you can’t kind of roll your eyes and say you’re busy talking with another manager, your job is to help them do their job. That’s one of the most important things I find in leadership is helping other people do their job, helping them grow, helping them reach their potential and if you do that people will see that you really care about them and their needs and they’ll respond in a positive way.
KD: What kind of leadership skills or skill-sets do you think somebody needs to be in your position?
DB: You need to have a good network of other people in the business that you’re in, and even outside of the business so that you can either get feedback, bounce ideas off, help solve your problems with you. You can’t do it yourself. So, a good network I think is one of the most important things in my position to have. The second is just constant leadership training.
KD: So, as you think about some of those books or some of those speakers that you’ve encountered, you know, if you were going to give somebody two or three resources to grow their own leadership, what would you recommend?
DB: I love the 21 Laws of Leadership, I go back to that book constantly, especially if I’m struggling with an employee or a client and I’m not getting through or I’m not getting an issue resolved. It helps me identify what law am I not using to all of its possibilities and I can usually figure it out. And it also goes back to the networking. Without a network you hit that ceiling where you can’t do anymore because you’re just trying to do it all by yourself and that’s one of the areas that I see some managers struggle with, is not reaching out and finding other people to help them.
That's all for this edition of Leadership Voices. We thank Dave for his time and insights. Interested in participating? Know someone with wisdom to share? Let us know!