I speak with Mr Thomas Fernandez to get his views on management, leadership, and his company, PestBusters.
Innovative. Charismatic. Forward-thinking. These are words that are synonymous with the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of PestBusters Pte Ltd, Mr Thomas Fernandez.
PestBusters is one of Singapore’s most recognisable brand names, not just for being one of the most successful pest-control companies, but also for being one of the most innovative.
Mr Fernandez’s company took the traditional pest-control industry by storm when he revolutionised and transformed it with a Pest Management System that is highly innovative. The forward-thinking leader maximises the use of technology by having a state-of the-art Command Centre, uses drones, and even has specially trained specialists using body-worn cameras in order to increase productivity, portray professionalism, and of course, find ways to further improve and shake up the pest-control industry.
Mr Fernandez takes some time out to discuss various management and leadership topics with me, giving some pretty interesting insights, as expected from someone deemed a risk-taker in an industry that remains so traditional.
Today’s Manager (TM): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Mr Thomas Fernandez (TF): The concept of management versus leadership has often been discussed as separate entities. However, a truly successful company should have both elements in place. There needs to be both a great leader to lead the team, and a capable management team that follows the vision, mission, and core values closely.
TM: What is your management or leadership style like?
TF: I personally advocate a transparent and transformational leadership style where high levels of communication is crucial in allowing the exchange of information and ideas amongst the different teams. The management team are empowered with the autonomy to plan and discuss the activities within their scope to meet our business goals. Transparency is vital as every individual should facilitate information exchange to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
TM: What strengths should an effective leader have?
TF: An effective leader ought to be tough enough to make difficult decisions, yet sensitive, flexible, and even agile enough to understand the dynamics of different situations. The ability to listen and to communicate clear business directions to bring the entire team on the same wavelength is a desirable trait to possess. It is important to be able to celebrate successes with the team.
TM: How do you stay motivated?
TF: The greatest motivation is seeing the growth in all my associates and seeing leaders helping to create more leaders. Another strong motivation comes in the form of customers’ testimonials when we exceed their expectations. It brings about an immense sense of satisfaction when customers provide feedback that we performed beyond their expectations and that PestBusters has strongly differentiated our brand amongst the other service providers.
TM: How big is your team and how do you manage and motivate your team?
TF: PestBusters has a team strength of 135 in Singapore. People are our greatest asset.
We have a family-oriented culture where we encourage open communication. Every month, we set aside a few hours without fail where all our associates gather to share success stories, celebrate milestones and achievements, and to bond. Strong emphasis is also placed on training and equipping our team with the proper skills to execute their nature of work. With the right training modules, our specialists exude professionalism to help transform the pest-control industry.
In addition, PestBusters is a forward-looking small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) that thinks like a multinational company (MNC). We place great importance on the upgrading of our staffs’ capabilities. Our company has also developed an in-house Progressive Wage Model. With training and experience, workers will be able to progress in their career and earn a higher salary. To complement these new initiatives in conjunction with PestBusters’ holistic human capital management strategy, the company will be working with the relevant authorities to upgrade our employees’ skills with the recommended learning and development pathways.
TM: What is your biggest personal achievement to date?
TF: The transformation of the pest management industry was never an easy task. From the evolution of the “Spray and Pray” methodology to the current Innovative Pest Management, I am glad we have revolutionised the industry to become a company that many players in the industry want to emulate. Many leaders and teams from the MNCs have visited our company to learn more about our unique revolution as well.
I am glad to have successfully groomed leaders in the process of improving PestBusters. Having the desire and attitude to learn is very important, and I will not hold back any information or knowledge when it comes to sharing with my associates.
TM: Why did you decide to set up PestBusters?
TF: People in the past wanted to see the pests die immediately, so large doses of potent chemicals were used to eradicate pests. There came a moment in my previous career where I was extremely lethargic and unwell. When the doctor did a test, he found high levels of pesticides in my blood.
For the betterment of health and the environment, I chose to advocate new and proper pest management methods and educate our niche industry to ensure proactive measures are in place. I believe that everyone should be equipped with the basic knowledge of sanitation to effectively combat pests.
TM: What are the differences and similarities that you have noticed about the business environment when you started compared to what it is today?
TF: In the past, pest-control operation was often viewed as dirty and unglamorous. People even viewed pest management
as a sunset industry.
PestBusters revolutionised the pest management industry by merging pest-control methodologies with technologies. In today’s fast-changing business environment, innovation is one of the key differentiators and a key catalyst for our expansion plans. We are the “game-changer” in the pest management industry and we will continue to think out of the box to improve productivity and upskill learning. I believe that the soul and the motivation of a company is in its innovation.
We aim to give our customers tomorrow’s experience, today.
TM: Why are you willing to take risks in business?
TF: I keep an open mind to listen to feedback from all areas of my business. Because of my strong passion towards the business, I constantly create new initiatives in the hope of replacing manual work processes and increasing productivity.
The jobs of Pest Management Specialists are often seen as tedious and laborious, so many tend to shun the jobs as the industry is perceived as unattractive and does not offer much career progression. To address and alleviate such challenges, PestBusters set up an Operations Command Centre as a first-of-its-kind productivity initiative for the pest-control industry.
The Operations Command Centre enables effective manpower deployment and increases productivity within the operations level. Previously, supervisors have to be present with the Pest Management Specialists to provide one-on-one coaching or guidance, and the assigned task may need to be deferred if the supervisors are engaged with other work. With the Operations Command Centre, Pest Management Specialists are equipped with the body-worn camera that will beam live footage to the Operations
Command Centre. Supervisors can be stationed at the Operations Command Centre to coach multiple workers virtually, enabling them to complete their assigned tasks more efficiently and effectively. This can be done both locally as well as with our overseas operations.
TM: Why is being labour lean important?
TF: In a manpower-intensive business, being labour lean is the crux in propelling businesses forward in our current global economy where labour shortage is real.
Therein lies a strong competitive advantage in being labour lean as it trains employees to identify unproductive activities and replace them with productive ones, which in turn results in higher output with the same pace of production using the same capital investment.
Through multi-tasking, our associates are constantly exposed to new knowledge and skills, where each indivi-dual understands how the various roles and departments are interlinked. Employees are also more versatile in their scope and more accepting of new changes. People are required to have the necessary skills to adapt, especially when the Internet is the way businesses operate now.
TM: Why did you decide to tap on the Lean Enterprise Development (LED) scheme and how has PestBusters benefitted from it?
TF: The LED scheme helps progressive SMEs transform and grow in the new manpower-lean landscape. The LED scheme is open to all SMEs that are interested to become more manpower-lean, develop a stronger Singaporean core, and build a better quality workforce. For example, we use new-age technology to improve the efficiency and safety of pest-control operations.
Other than the state-of-the-art Operations Command Centre and the body-worn cameras, the company also deploys drones to check for pests.
It is common for Pest Management Specialists to encounter hard-to-reach areas like the roof gutters or beehives on trees. More workers are required to be deployed onsite to ensure the safety of the Pest Management Specialists. With the use of drones, Pest Management Specialists can conduct checks via the live feed cameras and even administer chemical treatment on the beehives directly without the need to climb ladders.
Through the LED scheme, PestBusters leverages technology to re-design jobs and transform the way work is conventionally done in the pest-control industry. As a result, workers benefit from skills upgrading, productivity improvement, and higher wages.
With the introduction of the Operations Command Centre and equipment such as the body-worn camera and drones, pest-control jobs can be made easier, safer, and smarter. Besides productivity improvement and labour savings, workers can now benefit from productivity wage increase. The adoption of technology also provides an opportunity for workers to be upskilled, take on greater work responsibility, and advance in their careers. These initiatives enable companies to become more manpower-lean and raise productivity.
TM: Where do you see PestBusters in the next five years?
TF: PestBusters now has a presence in several ASEAN countries and is eyeing expansion to Sri Lanka, India, Dubai, and hopefully the rest of Asia.
It is about thinking like a local MNC. If we think small all the time, we will remain small. You must have a vision that you want to grow your company and your brand; not just locally, but internationally.
If you have the right mindset, find people to come into your organisation. Get the right people to start training your people to have the MNC mindset.
I always say: “Grow your brand and leave a legacy. Your brand has a good value and people tend to underestimate this value proposition.”
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