Business Growth

Essence Blackhurst: ‘What in the world?’

Essence Blackhurst: ‘What in the world?’
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Another in a series

By Eddie Wooten

Essence Blackhurst's gratitude to Hawx Pest Control goes far beyond her getting the job seven years ago.

Far beyond what she's learned from mentor Kenneth Hall. 

Far beyond the experience Hawx has provided on her path from customer service to fleet manager. 

No, this gratitude is personal. Because the most anticipated and joyous moment in her life, the birth of son Elijah, also turned into the most terrifying. Mere hours after Elijah was born in 2019, needing his own breathing assistance, a flesh-eating bacterial infection attacked Blackhurst's body. With her life threatened, Blackhurst would require five surgeries to remove infected tissue.

"Before I was even released from the ICU, the Hawx team was putting together a fundraiser car wash," Blackhurst recalls. "They advertised it everywhere. They were washing people's cars in the middle of taking customers' calls, trying to get donations. 

"The leader of our company matched whatever they raised. That was extremely helpful when it came to the medical bills and being able to take the time off I needed to recover. It was a huge help."

Holding back tears, she adds, "I will always be really grateful to Hawx for that."

Blackhurst is one of 92 recipients of this year's Impact Awards for Women in Pest Management, a National Pest Management Association program that is sponsored by FieldRoutes. Impact Award winners are being honored this week at the NPMA Women's Forum in Atlanta. 

Blackhurst, in an interview that is part of FieldRoutes' Showcasing Women In Pest Control series, discussed her career in pest control, but also Elijah's arrival and those frightening first few weeks.

My position

Fleet manager

Hawx Pest Control, Ogden, UT

"My main responsibilities are managing the number of vehicles that we have in each location. We've got 22 service centers across the country and about 480 vehicles that we are owning or leasing. Part of my job is making sure those vehicles are in the right places, especially as we approach busy season. We have door-to-door sales reps that go out. We hire a lot of seasonal employees for this time, and we're going to be using rental vehicles for those employees. We're probably going to increase to about 550 with those rental add-ons for the summer.

"I started as a customer service agent, answering customer phone calls. We developed a scheduling team, and within a few months I was promoted to the scheduling lead. We used FieldRoutes to build all of our technicians' routes, and I oversaw that (for about 3½ years). Then I spent a year as an operations administrative assistant, working with our senior director of operations, managing a lot of the back-end stuff, building reports."

Years in the pest control industry

A career I once envisioned and how I got into pest control

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a surgical technician. That didn't work out. A really good friend had been working here at Hawx and said, 'Hey, I'd love to have you on my team.' I came over (to customer service), and it just stuck.”

What the pest control industry is all about for me

"Of all of my roles, I've really loved working with the operations teams. Being here in headquarters and somebody for the people in the field to depend on and trust to get something done on the back end, it's been really fulfilling. I've made a lot of friends across the country just being able to help them. I've been widely known here as the FieldRoutes guru. Any time people had questions or concerns with FieldRoutes specifically, I was the person they would reach out to, and then I'd get in touch with our people at FieldRoutes to make it happen.

“I feel like we do make a really good impact on the communities, keeping them safe and healthy with everything we do here, whether we're out there directly spraying the bugs. We're all making that impact.”

Why I was selected for an Impact Award for Women in Pest Management

"Oh, man (laughs). I didn't even know that anybody at Hawx had nominated me until after I got the email that I had been a recipient. So that was really cool. I can't speak for them, but if I was to nominate somebody else for this role, it would be the ability to provide a different level of service to not only our customers but to our employees in the field.

"I've taken on a lot of different roles. The one I'm in now was a filler role. What I did before working with operations is very different than managing vehicles. It was a side of the company I had never seen. For me to transition that way is what the company needed at that time and probably why they nominated me."

The biggest misconceptions about women in pest control

"When people think of pest control, they think of men. You see men out there knocking on the doors, making the sales. You see the men out there with the dewebber poles and the big old mosquito backpacks fogging the yard. But we have quite a few women service professionals or technicians in the field who do a really good job. I don't think they provide any better or worse customer service experiences, but just a little bit different that a lot of customers can appreciate. In corporate, we have several women in different departments, especially as leaders. Women are able to provide a little bit of a different perspective on things.

“Men in our company come up with brilliant ideas on things we can do to improve. It's me and some of the other women here who are like, 'OK, but we need to really think about this, and what if this happens and how are we going to manage this if it goes a different direction?' and alter those plans a little bit before we roll them out to eliminate some of the kinks and hardships that new plans tend to have."

A mentor

"Our senior director of operations, Kenneth Hall. He has been not only my direct supervisor for a long period of time but a really good friend and mentor. The biggest takeaway I've gotten from working with him is using every opportunity to not just help the company but to make it a part of your personal growth. He's a good middle-ground man: 'Let's look at all sides of everything.' Instead of saying, 'Why did you do this this way?' he says, 'Can you help me understand what the move was here?' That simple phrase has helped me learn so much about why we do everything we do in pest control and why the decisions make sense. I will always be grateful to him for that."

My biggest challenge

"Women can be overlooked and our voices may be not heard as much, and that was a struggle for a long time. I fought my way, and I stuck it out here. People care about my opinion now. On a lot of big decisions that have been made, I've helped provide insight. And I don't think that would've happened if I hadn't stuck it out and let them know that what I had to say was important.

"It was just consistency and being able to provide a little bit different perspective on things. I'm a very organized thinker. I think that's why I did so well in scheduling. I can see 10 steps ahead, and I think about all of the things that could go wrong. Just being vocal about that and not shying away from the conversation." 

My biggest opportunity

"Fleet has been really cool. I've learned a lot in fleet, but I really love working with operations. I would like to see myself in a manager position in the field, working with the service professionals either directly with a branch manager or side-by-side with them doing the back end of things."

A woman's superpower in pest control

"Superpowers: We have a lot. Just being able to provide a different perspective. You can have a whole bunch of men in the room, and they'll go to battle for their opinions. Sometimes it takes a woman's voice to be like, 'OK, this is what we're seeing, this is what we're hearing, here's our options.'"

On my first few weeks with Elijah

"It was crazy. Looking back on it now, what in the world? I was in the hospital one day excited to meet my little baby boy, and he needed help breathing. So he was in the NICU on oxygen for a couple of days. I got to see him the day after he was born, and right after that my infection took over. And so it was a good 3½ to four weeks after I saw him that day before I got to hold him again.

"It was really hard. Thank goodness, though, I had awesome family members to take care of him. That infection; it's rare. They said one in three people that get this infection do not survive it. And out of those two people that do survive, they typically are losing a limb, an arm or a leg. I got really, really lucky I'm intact. So I'm very grateful for that.

"He's amazing. He is starting kindergarten next year. He is rambunctious and the most boy's boy. He loves digging in the dirt and pulling up the worms, and he is just a little bottle of energy. It's awesome.”

My advice to a woman starting out

"Just work hard. For a long time, I just kept my head down and did my work to prove I was benefiting the company. I was a little bit more shy coming into it. I was 19 years old when I started here. Let your voice be heard. Don't be afraid to put your opinions and your thoughts out there. Every really good company is going to value those opinions, whether they take them or not."

In Case You Missed It

Previous entries in FieldRoutes' Showcasing Women In Pest Control series:

Showcasing Women In Pest Control: ‘A Needle Moved’ (April 30, 2024)

Dominique Stumpf: ‘Women will just figure it out’ (May 2, 2024)

Tithaney Bray: 'Insects can do whaaat?' (May 7, 2024)

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