SALINAS, Calif. — Norm Ehmann, former vice president of Van Waters & Rogers (now Univar) who was considered one of the pest control industry’s top goodwill ambassadors, died Monday from cancer. He was 84.
Ehmann was involved in the pest control industry for more than 50 years and just last year his book titled “Adventures Through The World of Entomology," was published. He described the book as a chronicle of “his 50 years observing urban pests – a 250-page book illustrated with 500 high-quality photos.”
Ehmann achieved business success at VW&R, but he also had a profound industry-wide impact through his efforts to raise the industry’s level of professionalism via education and training. Ehmann started his career as a pest control supplier in 1950 with the Neil A McLean Co. (NAMCO) Distribution Company. He was manager of NAMCO when the company was sold to Van Waters & Rogers in 1975. Ehmann helped take the distributor from a $3 million operation under NAMCO to a $200 million enterprise under Van Waters & Rogers’ ownership.
Ehmann developed a system of educational seminars to train the pest control industry, creating more than 8,000 insect slides and specimens in the process. Throughout the years, Ehmann imparted others in the industry with his spirit and knowledge through these seminars, inspiring them to give of themselves and make the industry a better place to work.
Dr. John Osmun, former head of the Department of Entomology at Purdue University, told PCT that Ehmann was one of the first suppliers to push education as the basis for pest control. “Norm had a great appreciation for professional quality and he advocated that strongly in the pest control industry. He’s a man who had a lot of drive and strong goals for the industry and he was able to convince others to work for these goals. He was a great contributor to the industry.”
Truly Nolen was one of those companies that benefitted from Ehmann’s training sessions throughout the years. Nolen told PCT he first met Ehmann in 1956, while Ehmann was working for NAMCO. “He didn’t just give sales talks. He said ‘I’ll train your people. I’ll put on classes. I’ll get in trucks and ride with your technicians – anything you want.’ For example, Norm helped us and many companies like us get out of this terrible rut we were in by sending a new employee out with an old one for a short period of time – and then letting them sink or swim.”
Industry consultant Lloyd Smigel met Ehmann 34 years ago while he was running his first branch office for Truly Nolen in Scottsdale, Ariz. Smigel said Ehmann was instrumental in keeping him in the industry during a time when he was considering leaving. Smigel said he was frustrated that many PCOs lacked the know-how and/or desire to grow their companies ethically and he didn’t want to be affiliated with that kind of industry. “Norm suggested that that is exactly why I should stay in this industry - to help raise professionalism and ethics one person at a time. He went on to suggest that if I truly am concerned about running a professional and ethical company or industry - I should act upon it and not just turn my back on it. That was the conversation that really began my career. His influence and friendship have guided my value system.”
Ehmann also served as a mentor to many industry professionals, including Univar Vice President John Bolanos, who worked with Ehmann from 1977 until 1994. The pair remained friends and spoke with each other several times a year following Ehmann’s retirement in 1994. “Norm imparted a very strong sense of duty and responsibility to those who worked for him. This included our families, our industry, and our company," Bolanos told PCT. "Norm had little patience for anyone who shirked his duty or responsibility and would be very direct and vocal if he sensed we had taken the easy way out. He drilled into many of us the need to be more than just a distributor that sold products at a price.
“Norm made a strong impression that we had a duty to invest in the industry we would make our livings from. Norm’s passion and accomplishments regarding industry training and education were born from his conviction that our success was directly linked to the growth and professionalism of the industry.”
Bolanos added that Ehmann was both demanding and encouraging. “As a young salesman Norm intimidated me to great lengths but also conveyed a real sense that he cared about me individually and would take the time to listen and offer advice. I will miss him.”
Bolanos, like many in the industry, marveled at Ehmann’s personal touch. For example, beginning in1987, Ehmann sent Christmas, anniversary and birthday cards to nearly everyone he came into contact with in his decades of work in the pest control industry. When talking with someone new at a trade show or industry event, Ehmann nearly always would take the time to ask about their birthday, their wedding anniversary and their children’s birthday. He would then jot the information down on their business card and without fail that person would receive a card from Ehmann the following year.
Ehmann was preceded in death by wife Fay, who passed away in 1999. The couple had five children and nine grandchildren.
Those wishing to honor his memory may send donations to The Norman Ehmann Scholarship Fund, the York School, 9501 York Road, Monterey, CA 93940.