John Cook built one of the largest pest control companies in the country on honesty, courtesy, respect and customer satisfaction.
In 1950, after graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in architecture, John R. Cook Sr. was ready to embark on a promising career in the field he loved. But the death of his pest management professional (PMP) father, John L. Cook, that same year changed his life.
Cook Sr. felt compelled to fulfill the five-year termite guarantees his father contracted, so he returned to Decatur, Ala., with his wife, Jo. In addition to termites, he added pest control service to the company his father started and changed the name from North Alabama Termite Co. to Cook’s Pest Control.
Tradition of excellence
Founded in 1928, Cook’s has grown from a small business with one full-time employee and a handful of accounts to one of the nation’s largest pest management companies, with 1,400 full-time employees and more than 300,000 customers.
During the 1930s and ’40s, the family business focused on protecting residential and commercial buildings from termites. Cook Sr.’s architectural training honed his attention to detail, which was beneficial in expanding a pest control business during the ’50s. While building their business, the Cooks stressed basic themes: honesty, courtesy, respect and customer satisfaction. Their philosophy of providing quality service and a good place to work has been the company’s foundation.
John Cook Jr. — who at age 11 began working summer jobs in the office and in the field with technicians and salespeople — learned that integrity, honesty, courtesy and respect help build an organization, and that the reputation a company has from those ideals should be protected.
“One of Dad’s sayings was ‘Do what you promise, plus a little bit more,’” Cook Jr. says. “I often saw him give more than we promised to a customer, or more than they were legally due if ever a dispute arose. It wasn’t worth it to win an argument and lose a friend or customer or gain a reputation for being difficult to deal with. He often turned the other cheek when he didn’t have to.”
For 24 years, the Decatur office operated as the only branch of the company. Then it began to expand steadily. Presently, Cook’s is located in more than 25 cities in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia.
‘An inspiring leader’
In 1972, Jim Aycock was a certified public accountant who didn’t want to work as a public accountant anymore. At that same time, Cook Sr. was looking for a controller for his expanding company and hired Aycock. In 1978, he became executive vice president, and in 1995 was promoted to president and CEO. During his 43 years with the company, Aycock has never thought of leaving.
“There are many employees with a lot of longevity at this company,” he says. “People enjoy the atmosphere and the freedom to do their jobs. There’s no micromanagement.”
“John Sr. was such a dependable, quality person,” he adds. “You never had to worry about what kind of mood he was going to be in. He was so steady and consistent. I never saw him get upset. He was an inspiring leader.”
Brian Cook, chief administration officer and grandson of Cook Sr., loved growing up in the pest management industry. As a child, he would help his grandparents hang pictures on the walls of the company’s different offices and organize the filing system.
“As a kid, you think that type of work is the most interesting,” he says. “But at the time, I didn’t know why my grandparents did the work they did, which was because they cared about people. My grandfather once told me, ‘We are in the people business, not the bug business. We just happen to kill bugs.’ He was always trying to elevate the profession and give employees the tools and training they needed to be successful. He cared about people, whether they were employees or customers. That was the motivation he had for being in the business as long as he was.”
“He put customers first,” Aycock says. “He never wanted customers to have a bad experience.”
Cook Sr., who was born in 1925 in Athens, Ala., was known for his creative marketing strategies. In the early 1960s, he and Jo were the driving force behind creating the Cookie the Cop mascot and a catchy jingle inspired by a popular 1930s song with the opening phrase “Lookie, Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie.” In 1981, the company attempted to market a new jingle, but public outcry forced them to reconsider and return to the original, which is a well-recognized tune throughout the Southeast.
Throughout his career, Cook Sr. — who enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II in the South Pacific — served as president of the Alabama Pest Control Association and the National Pest Control Association (now the National Pest Management Association, or NPMA). In 2001, the NPMA presented him with the President’s Pinnacle Award. That same year, the company won the Better Business Bureau’s National Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.
Because Cook Jr. was exposed to the business and industry at such a young age, he doesn’t recall his first understanding of his father’s importance to the industry.
“I knew people respected him and looked up to him,” he says. “When he became president of the national association in 1973, as well as when he began giving talks at conventions, I became aware that what he was saying resonated with people. They learned from his perspective and opinions, and quite frequently — even to this day — they tell me how much one of his talks changed their lives and companies.”
Cook Sr. was the first person in the family to attend college, which helped him build the family business. As such, training and education were important to him.
“If someone was going to represent him in the industry, he made sure that person was trained and had the right tools,” Brian says.
Cook still came to work up until about a month before he died in February 2009 from pancreatic cancer. Grandson Brian was 25 years old.
“He saw me working in the business and was excited for me,” Brian says. When Brian eulogized his grandfather at his funeral, people told him he had big shoes to fill, but he says he felt differently.
“I don’t have to fill his shoes,” he says. “I just have to walk in his footsteps. I have the freedom to find my place in this business.”
Contact John Walsh at email@example.com.