On Oct. 18, the JJC Business Club and Student Government held a session with keynote speaker, Rebecca Fyffe, who was named Small Business Person of the Year for 2018 this past April.
Fyffe owns and is the director of research for a local pest control company situated in Schaumburg called Landmark Pest Management. She spoke for an hour with prospering business majors, taking them through her journey from a struggling high school student to a successful, hard-working business owner.
From the time she knew she wanted a career in business, she focused on one thing: knowledge. Throughout the session, she told students that she volunteered whenever opportunities came up for her to learn about the art of owning a business.
She considers Hedy Ratner, the founder of the Women’s Business Development Center, as her mentor whom Fyffe met at a young age. She also cites her work with former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on the moratorium for the death penalty, which was abolished in 2011, where she feels she gained a lot more experience that would help further her career later in life.
During the one-hour session, she continued to mention other sources of inspiration for both her and her colleagues. She encouraged students to research as much as she did, also citing several self-help books such as Atul Gawande’s “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” and Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.”
In 2001, at age 25, Fyffe took over Landmark Pest Management and became the youngest CEO of a pest control company in the country. At the time, the company was struggling, with only 18 full-time employees, but six months ago, when she was named Small Business Person of the Year, their staff had increased to 70 full-time employees. Now, that number has reached 90.
Fyffe has also admitted that it was even harder as a woman to build herself up. Not only is the pest business primarily consisted of men, but she faced sexual harassment and belittling in the workplace before she started her own company. However, she herself is an example of why women should not be discouraged from pursuing their own business goals. Eventually, she found her own way around the male-dominated industry and subsequently took a separate path to prove herself.
“It’s impossible to replace her,” says her colleague, Matt Kostalek, who accompanied Fyffe to this session, because she not only has complete control and knowledge of the company but also possesses an unrelenting work ethic.
“You know how you’ll read about people who are able to balance their work and their lives? I [could never do that],” she jokes. “I have worked non-stop.”
She goes on to talk about her constant attempts to build her company even more and her efforts to collaborate with her employees of all positions and backgrounds. However, she has admitted to students that out of all of the challenges she has faced, her biggest one was merging her company with another of a very different culture. Every day, she works to turn her small business into a much larger one.
“[We’re] working for something greater than ourselves,” explains Fyffe. Even when asked about her own achievements, she rarely ever uses the word “I” when referring to her career. She considers the number of talented people who have supported her as part of the reason she is so successful because, in her words, “they care as much as I do.”
Despite a very impressive year for her, she is always looking toward the future.
“My fantasy is that someone will come in with [bags of money],” Fyffe says, laughing, when asked by an eager business student about her hopes for her company. “We want to expand, but we don’t really know how to do it… Dominating [our] marketplace is [the] #1 goal.”
Even though she is honest about these struggles, Landmark Pest Management has begun to do just that. They are currently offering internships to aspiring business owners or managers and according to the Chicago Sun-Times have recently expanded across the Midwest, establishing locations in Michigan, Indiana, and Missouri.
“We look for people who have [distinct] backgrounds,” she explains, regarding her process for hiring new employees. For example, that can include a similar level of experience as her colleague Kostalek, whose work with fungi and mushrooms has allowed him to understand pest control and who has major engineering experience as well through his work with AT&T.
She also says she is “committed to evening the plane” to include not only people who can do multiple jobs, but also people of all ages, genders, economic backgrounds, and more. Since facing severe misogyny in her industry, she has emphasized her desire to give women the chance that she could only create for herself.