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ELP – The Academy Edition

The ELP Experience at NPMA’s Legislative Day       

ELP – Getting Started

Articles written by Christopher Baumann of Schopen Pest Solutions


ELP – The Academy Edition


A short month ago, if you told me that I would spend four days in Florida in the middle of July during 95-degree heat and 99% humidity AND that I would have the time of my life while doing it, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s what the Academy experience was.

Academy is the NPMA’s response to a need for the next generation, the up and comers, of pest management to gain leadership skills and make meaningful connections with industry peers. For more than twenty years, it’s been doing just that. Participants are split into teams and left to work together to overcome completely surmountable and often ridiculous tasks while getting to know one another, using soft skills with people you’ve just met, and having some fun.

Monday’s programming included a special event hosted by NPMA’s Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM)—How to Golf for Business Professionals, which was followed by Tuesday morning’s the Swingin’ in the Swamp Golf Tournament. AJ Treleven’s (Sprague Pest Solutions) foursome took the top spot and the event raised over $13,000 for the Pest Management Foundation.

Bob Welzin (Schopen Pest Solutions’ Technician of the Year), Michelle Bennett (Schopen Pest Solutions’ Support Staff of the Year), and I arrived at the Omni ChampionsGate resort late Tuesday morning and the whirlwind began.

I was lucky enough to be placed on Team Orange with captains Cassie Krejci (Terminix), Megan Jacobson (Steve’s Pest Control), and Matt Higley (Corteva Agriscience). Corteva sponsored this year’s Academy and was gracious enough to have a co-captain on every team -a hefty investment of time from their people alone. In addition to our fearless leaders, close to thirty other professionals filled Team Orange’s ranks. With six pretty-equally sized teams, it became clear that the competition amongst two hundred people was going to be stiff, engaging, and enriching. Our inaugural meeting in the Team room made it known that Cassie and Megan meant business when it came to bringing home bragging rights. They broke down the rest of the week’s activities, asked for volunteers, and were fully prepared to “volun-tell” those that needed a nudge towards taking a chance. Shortly thereafter, our first surprise event – The Centipede – was unveiled. This involved four people that had to coordinate walking inside of a continuous fabric loop – kind of like those towels you used to find in the gas station restrooms. I raised my hand and hopped in. Team Orange was killing it until tragedy struck. I felt people falling towards me and then tripped and then gloriously rolled out of the towel. It was a pretty impressive tuck and roll. But, upon video review, it was probably unnecessary and I may have overreacted. Not one member of my team was upset at the loss but several members of my team DID compliment my somersault.

Somewhere in here, we were introduced to Andy P, the week’s M.C. and all-around fitness guru. He stretched us, spoke about the importance of balance and ways to improve, and continuously reminded us to HYYYYYDRAAATE! He was also responsible for the 6 am fitness sessions.

Tuesday night’s keynote speaker, Paul Long -author of Fundamism and inspirational speaker- talked about the importance of being kind to yourself by accepting and celebrating what makes you who you are, finding the good in ‘What’s good?’, and allowing room for the perspective of others. After Paul’s bow-tied talk, we broke out to present our first challenge - Shipwrecked. Here, teams had to assemble a radio and make a model boat with sail to be sailed across the “Ocean”. Team Orange crushed the radio part and had the best-looking boat. As to our boat actually boating, well, it may have been top heavy, or we were victims of sabotage.

Wednesday started at six a.m. with “Up and At ‘Em with Andy P”. Andy helped me to remember what I disliked about high school football as Karaoke and Jumping Jacks at 6:15 in the morning aren’t my ideal way to wake up. It was a fantastic jumpstart to the day and a reminder that physical fitness is part of overall growth and necessary when considering a holistic approach to self-improvement. We then did a team mini-golf event with ridiculous stipulations – drunk goggles for one hole, a club attached to your forehead for another, a golf club can only be used as a pool cue – you get the picture. There’s something to be said for watching grown adults play putt-putt while eating a breakfast burrito and watching hot air balloons float up over the horizon. Learning Labs were next on the agenda. Learning Labs offer five different classes on subjects of interest to our industry. The Remote Workplace, Building a Leadership Development Program, Difficult Conversations, Sharpen Your Sales Skills, and Social Media – How it Can Work for Your Company were this year’s topics. We got to choose two of the five and they were fantastically informative. Our company has already implemented some of the ideas gleaned from these sessions and is working to add a Leadership Development Program similar to the one presently used by the folks from Wayne’s Pest Control.

Wednesday didn’t stop there. After our afternoon Learning Labs, we adjourned to our Team Rooms for strategizing, networking, and preparations for the evening’s Olympics. Each team fashioned a sail heavily reliant on our colors and representative of who we are. We had our entrance ceremonies featuring Timson Green (ELP Class of 2022, Terminix) in a purple cockroach costume. Human Bingo was relatively tackle-free and no bones were broken. Human Shuffleboard was absolutely tackle-full. You see, in addition to being in a giant air-filled plastic bubble, participants were blindfolded and told to run at the ‘board’. If you see a TikTok of a guy in bright orange pants absolutely getting launched off of another bubble, that’s me. In the pants. On the ground. Trying to stand up but feeling like a blind turtle because it’s harder than it looks, and Andy P. already made me do sit-ups that morning and I don’t need your judgment. The Tug of War was a corollary to life – the more slack your team picks up, the closer you are to pulling the rope across.

Thursday morning brought the cardboard boat challenge. Each team designed a boat- using cardboard and duct tape only- in which a team member had to row across a pool in the best time. Team Orange – really, Logan Gamble (BrioStack)- did it the fastest but was denied a win due to bonus points for having more than one person in the boat. After breakfast, we heard an update from the Leadership Networking Council and then did Brain Dates – a speed-dating-like event with 30-some topics to talk about for twelve minutes in small groups. This was a fantastic way to get to know people that I’ve never met in a way that I would never be able to do otherwise. My first Brain Date was about the best advice you’ve ever received and left me with plenty to think about. Thursday’s keynote speaker was Eric Termuende who spoke about the importance of One Degree Changes – small movements towards a goal or change in culture that move the needle forward while building trust in the workplace.

The programming took a needed break after lunch and left us with a few hours of free time. Team Orange resolved to hit the pool to gain courage for the evening’s closing program – including the Variety Show and Bartending portion of the evening. For the variety show, each team took about five minutes to put their best foot forward to the approximately 200 attendees highlighting their skills and talents. There was a Magic Mike-like experience, a ‘rap’ featuring Aric Schroeder (Terminix), and Team Orange’s Captain Obvious – a take-off of matchmaking shows of yesteryear. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure there’s video of my performance in extremely short shorts – not quite AJ Treleven-short - and an extremely tight shirt. Megan had to have been proud of the painstaking work I did to get into character as her, and Troy Maddox (Bill Clark Pest Control) absolutely killed it as Cassie. Logan’s AJ and Kenyon Tueller (Douglas Products)’s jingling of the medals was spot on as Aric Shroeder.

In the end, Bob Welzin’s Team Yellow took the gold for allegedly having the most points. (Plenty of shenanigans were to be had but none affected scoring – Team Yellow knows I love them.) I can honestly say that I’ve never had so much fun while not winning. More importantly, I developed – in three days!- friendships and connections with people that I never would have before – from across the country and from every role a pest management company has. I still look forward to Paul Harriot (Sprague)’s dad jokes on our GroupMe and Troy’s birthday posts for his dog, Toby. Patrick Abshire posted about being accepted to sit for his A.C.E. and I’m proud of him! I haven’t written much here about the ELP itself. Without the ELP, I wouldn’t have been exposed to an event where I can be myself – not the Director of Operations for a Pest Control company and the stress and necessary rigidity that involves (which I love! I have a REALLY cool job!) – but Chris, a guy in Pest Control just like the rest of the people I’m hanging out with this week. We talked a lot about pest control, but we talked more about our families, our struggles, our successes, our goals, our dreams, and our dogs. Thirty people became a team in days, really, within hours of arriving. These lessons will be further worked into the fabric of the company that I work for and into my life – and that’s what the NPMA Executive Leadership Program is really all about.



(Pictured above - Team Orange participating in Academy challenges)

The ELP Experience at NPMA’s Legislative Day


The first event for the Executive Leadership Program is Legislative Day. This brings our group together in Washington D.C. to go over issues that specifically affect our industry and arms us with the tools necessary to speak to those issues with government decision-makers. Ashley Amidon, NPMA’s Vice President of Public Policy, made sure we were prepared beforehand with conference calls specific to the issues, one-pagers and other information, and a generous offer of her time to role-play conversations and allow for a chance to master the issue before talking to a member of Congress or their staff about it. We fully learned the ins and outs of Pesticide Preemption and why its so important to have a state lead agency working in conjunction with the EPA when making decisions regarding pesticides and their usage at the local level.  

This was a fantastic and intense introduction to NPMA (as this was the first NPMA event that I’ve attended) and the work that it does. Our group sat in on the board meeting which was informative, well run, and fast-paced. There was a lot of information to absorb, and it was refreshing to see different opinions expressed and worked through specifically during the portion concerning committee consolidation and how that might affect issues being heard and responded to. I was able to meet with my mentor, Mike Bullert (NPMA Board Member and President of Big Time Pest Control) and Carl Braun (NPMA Board Member and Owner of Quality Pest Control) a couple of times over the weekend and had great conversations about the state of our businesses and the next steps we are all taking to improve them.

The ELP group was well prepared for the issues that we'd be speaking to in our Hill visits in advance which made it easier to jump into some of the other committee meetings with ease. I was able to sit in on the Business Development Committee, Leadership Networking Council, Public Policy Committee, and Recruitment and Retention Committee meetings. Everyone was welcoming to our presence and showed genuine interest in our thoughts about committee discussions. Michael Smerconish’s talk about political divides and how we got here was thought-provoking. The Luncheon debate with Carlos Curbelo and Jennifer Palmieri was also informative and entertaining.

Being in our Nation’s Capital allowed for some wonderful sightseeing opportunities. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Wall were all humbling. I highly recommend the electric scooters for transportation as long as you have a decent sense of balance. Carmine’s is fantastic if you’re looking for a family-style meal. Our group was able to get to know one another while eating some of the best sausage and meatballs I’ve ever had! I’ll admit that my sides hurt from laughing so much.

Hill visits were conducted virtually this year, so these were completed via Zoom meetings after we’d all returned home. As to my state's delegation, this was a great way to touch base with local operators. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and professionalism when speaking to the Hill. Everyone stayed issue-focused with the exception of some mild ribbing of one of our delegates for being a St. Louis Cardinals fan, which is fair criticism and indicative of less-than-ideal character.

I am gassed up and ready to go! This was inspiring and I trust that the rest of our program will be much the same. Shakespeare (my old dog, that I like) and Bukowski (my younger dog that looks like a melting sausage and I do not like) were excited to have me home - I even let Bukowski sleep on the bed.


(Pictured left - ELP students and NPMA staff at Legislative Day. Pictured right - Legislative Day Board meeting with lunch.)

ELP – Getting Started


I first learned about NPMA’s Executive Leadership Program by falling into a rabbit hole on the website and ending up on the ELP page. As I read more about the program, I got more and more interested. Seeing that several industry heavyweights like Jeff King of Pest Rangers, Carl Braun of Quality Pest Control, and Courtney Carace, ACE of Pest-End are past participants of the program really solidified my interest.

I spoke with Peter Schopen, owner of Schopen Pest Solutions in McHenry, IL (and my boss!), about the program and asked for his feedback. As usual for the owner of a pest control company, his first question was “What’s it cost?”. Being able to tell him that the only monetary cost to our company would be our usual annual dues to NPMA put that potential objection to rest. The only true cost to our company would be my time. Time spent at NPMA events, on conference calls with other program participants, working on ELP projects, and committee assignments are all it takes to be involved. NPMA subsidizes the rest with WorkWave’s generous sponsorship of the program. Most meals, lodging, travel, and incidentals are reimbursed or paid for by NPMA. Books that are part of the curriculum are included as well.

The ELP requires attendance to at least two of three events each year over the two-year duration of the program. It also requires monthly conference calls that serve as introductions to industry concerns and mini-training sessions on topics such as how to effectively serve on a committee, executive etiquette, and public speaking. We also discuss required readings as part of these calls with Gino Wickman’s Traction, Attention Management by Maura Nevel Thomas, and From Technician to CEO by Daniel Gordon included in this class’s curriculum.

After speaking with Pete and General Manager Wendy Sepsey, I sat on whether or not to apply. As I pondered what it meant to be an executive and a leader, I realized more and more that I needed the network of support and development that a program such as this would provide. I also came to the conclusion that my company would benefit greatly from the skills that I would master, the network of industry professionals that I would develop, and the opportunities to develop our business in a sustainable manner. I HAD to apply. So, I started gathering the information requested on the application, including at least two letters of recommendation, a short video, as well as other information the nominating committee requests to review applicants. I fully submitted my application hours before the deadline. And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Ok, it felt like a long time but was really just a month after the application deadline when I received the email with the good news that I was chosen as a member of the Class of 2022! My welcome kit arrived a week or two later with a bevy of NPMA swag including some fantastically stylish and comfortable PPMA socks (worth applying to the program for alone!), a WorkWave travel mug, several books needed for the program, and a binder with program highlights and necessary information compiled by program co-liaison Jillian Gardner.

While it still didn’t seem real, we scheduled our first conference call, got an email with information regarding setting up travel to Washington D.C. for Legislative Day, and got our first hint at the focus of Legislative Day – Pesticide Preemption.  As NPMA’s press releases started getting shared on social media and our class’s profiles were loaded onto NPMA’s website, it cemented that this is, in fact, real.

(Pictured - NPMA Swag Bag gifted to ELP students)