Employee training, family culture set Arrow apart

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Nearly 3,000 companies were nominated or asked to participate in the 2020 Top Workplaces contest by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its partner, Energage. Employees across the metro area responded to print and online solicitations that began appearing in September. 

Using survey results, a list of 150 workplaces was compiled, consisting of 22 large companies (500 or more employees), 63 midsize companies (150-499 employees) and 65 small companies (149 or fewer employees). 

» See all the AJC Top Workplace winners for 2020 here

In the highly competitive pest control industry, the leaders of Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators say the company’s family culture is by far its biggest asset.

The company, ranked the No. 1 large Top Workplace for 2020 by The AJC, started more than 50 years ago as a family business and has stayed that way while expanding into 12 states, building a workforce of nearly 2,500 and generating annual revenue in excess of $200 million.

“We start with our family culture,” said Emily Thomas Kendrick, Arrow’s president and CEO, “and everything is built around that — whether it be our mission or our core values.”

Kendrick said several factors contribute to Arrow being the sixth largest pest control company in the nation and a place where multiple generations of families choose to work.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The company’s offices are purposely small, with an average of 20 team members and $2 million in sales revenue. Not only do the smaller offices help to maintain the family atmosphere, but they also create more opportunities for team members to advance into leadership positions as managers, office managers and supervisors, Kendrick said.

» Family culture a 'competitive advantage' for Arrow

Clear communication and transparency also are big priorities, she said. Once a month, Kendrick emails a monthly update to employees that gives a clear picture of the company’s finances, including the latest on revenue, sales and pretax profits.

Kendrick and other members of the leadership team hit the road every couple of years, visiting each of the company’s offices and soliciting employee feedback, some of which melds into new company policies.

In addition, the company has long put a big emphasis on training through Arrow University and regular Friday morning training sessions.

“Our family made an investment many years ago in training when most companies were making general operational cuts,” Kendrick said. “I would put our training up against anyone, anywhere, anytime, any industry.”

» Meet the remaining top five large companies

That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities for building on Arrow’s family atmosphere. On “fun Fridays,” for instance, staff members who aren’t out calling on customers are doing everything from dressing up as their favorite athletes to celebrating National Hot Chocolate Day and supporting charitable causes. Kendrick says she’s quick to hear about it if an employee welcomes a new baby and doesn’t quickly receive a onesie emblazoned with the company logo.

In its Atlanta market, Arrow has been a sponsor of the Children’s Healthcare Christmas Parade for 21 years. The company also supports Emory’s Winship Cancer Center, Folds of Honor, the Shepherd Center, Special Olympics, Atlanta Botanical Garden and Atlanta Ballet. In addition, employees participate in school programs on entomology, the pest control industry, and the science and math that support it.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Tim Pollard, senior vice president and chief operating officer, came to Arrow from one of its suppliers 11 years ago and says he stays because of the people.

“I genuinely like and love the people we work with,” he said.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Shay Runion, chief Human Resources officer and senior vice president of professional development, said she was drawn to Arrow because of its commitment to training. As her role has expanded and grown, she said, she has enjoyed the freedom to “be as creative as I wanted to be.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Mike Malone started out at Arrow on a termite truck and worked his way up to senior vice president of marketing. His dad retired from Arrow, and Malone said he still enjoys being part of the company’s family friendly atmosphere that was part of his childhood.

“It has just been a really good ride,” he said.

» Full list of large companies named Atlanta Top Workplaces for 2020

James S. “Starkey” Thomas, Kendrick’s grandfather and a native of Atlanta’s Fourth Ward, worked for nearly 30 years for Otto Orkin, founder of Orkin Pest Control, before venturing out on his own. In 1964, Thomas and his wife started Arrow in meager surroundings — first in their carport and then in the back of a beauty parlor.

At the time of her grandfather’s death in 1978, Arrow was doing about $300,000 a year in business. By 1998, when Kendrick signed on, the company — under the leadership of her father, Joe Thomas — was doing about $38 million a year in business and growing largely through acquisitions.

Today, the company is projected to surpass $300 million in revenue in two years, $400 millionin five years, and $500 million in eight years. Joe Thomas remains involved. He’s chairman of the board with an office adjoining his daughter’s.


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