Every year, Ernst and Young recognizes innovative business leaders through their Entrepreneur of the Year program. Of the 24 Utah region finalists, almost half of them are based in Utah County. This series highlights the nominated CEOs and company founders. The winner of the Utah regional Entrepreneur of the Year contest will be announced in June.
Vess Pearson, CEO, Aptive Environmental
When he was a sophomore at BYU, Vess Pearson thought selling pest control for the summer was a dumb idea. He distinctly remembers the summer of 2006, when his younger brother announced he was going to sell pest control door to door that summer.
“I still remember, he grabbed my laptop computer and started looking at BMWs. He’s like, ‘I’m going to make all this money,’ and I’m just like, you’re an idiot,” Pearson said.
Pearson’s plan was to stay at BYU and take summer classes. After his brother left to sell pest control, Pearson said he would call him every night to check in and see how things were going. Three weeks in, Pearson said his brother was upset because he had only made two sales. Pearson asked his brother what he had made, to which his brother replied, “$250.”
“I was thinking, hmm, I worked for eight hours at the ASB building at BYU and made $64 and he’s mad about making $250,” Pearson said. “So I dropped out of my class and I went and finished the summer selling.”
That year, Pearson became the top rookie salesperson for the company, Moxie Pest Control. The following year, he led a sales team, which became the top team at the company as well. At that point, Pearson said, Moxie’s owner, Dave Royce, let Pearson in on his business plan and encouraged Pearson to stick with him, instead of going to law school, as the president of sales. Pearson was 24 at the time.
Now, over a decade later, after being part of starting and selling three different companies, Pearson is CEO of the eighth largest pest control company in the U.S.
His wife attributes his success to his lifelong practice of goal setting and his work ethic.
“He’s set goals his entire life, basically,” Angie Pearson said. “And then he just grinds until it happens.”
Angie Pearson said Vess Pearson is also not afraid to do “grunt work,” even now, as CEO, and that he still will spend occasional late nights and weekends working.
“I think (it) makes ... the people who work for him respect him more, because they can see ... he’s still willing to be in there and involved on a personal level.”
What people likely don’t know about her husband, Angie Pearson said, is that when he’s with their three kids, age 7, 5 and one and a half, he can let pretty loose.
“I think people are always shocked when they see him with our kids, and he’s super playful and fun,” she said. “When he’s at work, it’s like, he’s just knocking down task after task, and ... I don’t think people envision Vess as being silly ever.”
Despite his personal drive, however, Vess Pearson’s employees wouldn’t describe him as an unforgiving task master.
Steve Eliason has worked with Aptive Environmental since the company first began three years ago, and also worked as part of the team throughout the various pest control companies through the years. He said he’s always felt Vess Pearson has his best interests at heart.
“He has a phenomenal leadership skill set,” Eliason said. “Vess has the ability to make you feel comfortable, and feel as though you belong right next to him.”
Eliason works as the senior vice president of finance, handling most of the finances and financial transactions the company does or makes. He said when he’s made mistakes, even mistakes that potentially cost the company money, Vess Pearson’s first reaction has never been to rebuke, rather, to comfort him, calm him and assure him everything will be all right.
“I just feel so grateful to be able to work for somebody like that,” Eliason said. “But he’s also very, very good about making sure the bottom line is where it needs to be.”
Eliason’s impression of Vess Pearson’s leadership skills is inline with what Vess Pearson himself said he tries to do.
“I try not to be reactionary. I try to be thoughtful,” Vess Pearson said. “I feel like we have a company culture where leadership in general praises a lot, cares about things other than work, cares about personal life, and because you’ve ... built up a certain amount of respect, when there does need to be some sort of correction, they can take it and know it’s coming from a good, pure, humble, helpful place and not from a place of anger or ego.”
Creating a positive work environment and “company culture” has been one of Vess Pearson’s priorities, and it shows in the Provo Aptive facility, which has a full-size basketball court, among other things, for employees to use and even bring families and friends to use. Product-wise, Vess Pearson said while the pest control product hasn’t changed much over the years, and they try to be as environmentally responsible as possible, one of the main focuses has been on providing a better customer experience through technology and employee training.
“We’re not only building our company, but we’re building people and we’re leaving people better than we found them,” he said.
For Eliason, the company culture and working with Vess Pearson is such that he said he’ll stay as long as Vess Pearson does.
“He has always exceeded or met my expectations,” Eliason said. “He is the main reason why it’s so exciting to work here. And if he wasn’t here, I know that it just wouldn’t be where I want to be.”
Brandon Rodman, CEO, Jared Rodman, COO, Clint Berry, CTO, Weave Communications LLC
Brandon Rodman and Jared Rodman are brothers who have worked together on startup companies several times before, which might make it seem like Clint Berry is the odd man out — but instead, the brothers explained, the three of them perfectly represent the company’s three core values: hungry, creative and caring.
Brandon, the older brother, is the “hungry” one, Jared Rodman said.
“He’s always been very hungry to learn, hungry to hire the right people,” Jared Rodman said. “(He’s) just super hungry and ambitious, to the point of, there’s always a goal and then as we get close, we’ll say OK, the goal needs to be a little higher.”
Jared is the caring one, Brandon Rodman said. When Weave was in its early stages of selling the product, an “integrated customer communication platform” meant to seamlessly unite all the communication tools a small business needs to communicate with customers effectively, the product wasn’t quite as functional as it is today. Jared Rodman was handling all of the customer support, his brother explained, and although a number of customers said they had some issues with the product, they were going to stick it out because they liked working with Jared.
“They believed in the vision (of the product), but they stayed because of Jared,” Brandon Rodman said. “That’s just one example of that deeply caring quality that not only helped the company but also balanced it out.”
Of course, that leaves Berry as the creative one. Jared Rodman explained his brother described Berry as “the MacGyver of programming.”
“Clint is somebody that will never say, ‘no, that can’t be done,’” Jared Rodman said. “It’s yeah, it can. It just may not look pretty ... (but) I can figure out a way.”
Beyond continually working to make their product better, however, Berry and the Rodmans have made caring for their employees one of the biggest aspects of their company.
“People have always been important to me,” Brandon Rodman said. “Early on, we would make (what were) poor business decisions, but were good decisions for people. And we will always lean that way.”
Brandon Rodman said his biggest fear isn’t that the company won’t succeed, but rather that it will succeed — and the employees won’t enjoy working there.
“I think we have a shot at creating a place that people really feel inspired by,” he said. “The fact that we spend more time at work than we do at home, with our families, with our kids, I don’t think there’s enough leaders that take that truly to heart, that the people that are helping build their company are spending more time with them than they are with the people they love.”
Brandon Rodman said he never wants working at Weave to be the reason an employee goes home too stressed out to play with their kid. Jared Rodman explained that he uses the analogy of a superhero cape to illustrate the company goal.
“I love when people come in here to work, and they put on their superhero cape, and they give it everything they’ve got,” he said. “But I also appreciate when they take it off, put it on the rack and go home ... we all want to be the superhero in our own lives, and how can we help fulfill that for each individual, even if it’s for just a little bit?”
One way the Weave co-founders have chosen to “walk the walk” is by instituting a progressive parental leave policy for both mothers and fathers, which not only includes several weeks off for parents (12 weeks for mothers, six weeks for fathers) with full pay, but also includes perks like free diapers, free meals and a free cleaning services for a limited time, all based on the experience of one of their employees.
Another company policy they plan to roll out soon is coaching. Brandon Rodman early on began training with a “CEO coach” and feels like he’s become a better CEO because of it — and the founders want to afford their 400 employees the same opportunity.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting social experience of sorts,” he said. “How much more effective will (people) be? And then how much quicker will they advance in their career?”
The emphasis on the people that helped build the company is something the founders returned to when asked how it feels to be nominated as Entrepreneurs of the Year.
“It’s super flattering, especially given the other people on the list,” Brandon Rodman said. “(But) it’s not for us. Because again, we can’t build Weave to where it is today. It’s really the company, it’s the employees. I think it’s a testament of everybody coming together to try to build this company and getting recognized for all their work.”
Jared Rodman added that it’s humbling to be nominated, but like his brother said — it couldn’t have happened without their employees.
“It’s more about them than it is anyone else,” he said.