Family: Whether it’s family or close friends, relationships matter most, and the pandemic is here to remind us of that. The time we are spending checking on each other, caring for each other and prioritizing each other’s health is hopeful and will have lasting effects.
Growth: We are each learning and growing in ways that we will not fully understand until years from now. Hard and uncertain times can foster resilience and tremendous creativity. Living through a crisis clarifies what matters most in life, and we have the pandemic to thank for that.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Richardson.
Erin Richardson is the first female president, CEO and owner of a third-generation business — All-American Pest Control — as well as a mom to three boys: Brooks (11), Rhys (8) and Whit (4). Since buying the business in 2012, Erin has implemented a 4-day work week and a variety of strategic bets that fueled the company’s growth and reputation. A member of Tennessee Pest Control Association and National Pest Management Association, she is active in her industry at state and national levels and has grown her family business to PCT Magazine’s Top 100 List — the top 100 largest pest control companies in the nation — and has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list in 2019 and 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I never thought I would work with my family in the pest control business. From a young age, I considered myself an artist and despised the thought of working a 9–5 job.
After graduating college in 2001, I tried my hand at jobs in various industries, including social work, family counseling, event planning and graphic design. Then, I got the pest control bug and began to see how I can help to continue to improve and grow our family business.
In December 2012, I purchased the business from my father, and I currently serve as president and
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I empower the All-American team to “Make Someone’s Day” in big and small ways every day. Three years ago, I got a call from a customer who had been sick with the flu for longer than a month thanking me that one of the team members had dropped off a get-well card along with a can of soup topped with a bow. As I spoke to the customer, I learned that she was one of the key nurses who cared for my premature son while he was in the NICU for two months.
I carry this memory with me as a reminder to keep our tradition of “Making Someone’s Day” going. Our team has the power to truly make big and small differences in others’ lives.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Even though our team was often out in the field servicing customers, COVID-19 has catapulted everyone — especially our home office team — to remote work. We had always thrived on in-person meetings, so we are adapting our company culture and establishing new ways for our team to stay connected.
I prioritize company culture because I know what it’s like having two full-time jobs — one professionally and one raising my three boys. I always try to keep my team in mind before making big company decisions. That’s why I’m currently imagining what a dream job would look like for individuals in each of the company’s departments and which benefits and flexible options would mean most to someone so that we can incorporate those into our future company culture.
I know that if I give my best to my team, they will do the same for the company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m honored to have grown up in a family business led by my father, Al Foster Jr. He consistently modeled servant leadership, kindness, selflessness and generosity. He inspired me to continue cultivating a culture that prioritizes relationships and doing the right thing in our business. I am forever grateful for the trust he showed me early in my career, which allowed me to take chances, make mistakes and grow.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
My kids are home all the time!
As my kids experienced what seemed like the world’s longest spring break, I worked non-stop as our company was forced into crisis mode. I was working around the clock to prepare my team for remote work. I was holding daily emergency response team meetings. I wrote new sick and leave policies, shifted teams and cross-trained. The struggle was intense, and my family was feeling the weight of my workload.
I felt immense guilt and remorse working the hours my team needed me to while my kids were home. All the class Zoom meetings, teacher emails, schoolwork…we just couldn’t keep up.
We came together as a family to create a revised routine to help the boys get used to the “new normal.” Thanks to the steps we put together early on, we’ve been able to welcome the new virtual school year in stride.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Life during the pandemic is weird. It’s hard to remember what day it is, and though I feel like I’m on mile 20 of a marathon by now, I fear I’m going to be told that I’m only approaching mile four. I have struggled through the uncertain, unfinished and un-perfect of pandemic living. The “corona-coaster” is real. The ups and downs are tough. The emotions are intense. The weight of decisions seems heavy.
As a family, we needed a break from the corona-coaster. That’s how we came up with the idea of what we call “family time unplugged.”
Each day, my husband and I create a poster-sized schedule full of work, school and everything in between. Each evening, we reserve space for family time unplugged, where we allow our boys the creativity of planning our evenings together. So far, we have biked, swam, played games with other families via Zoom, golfed, cooked meals together, binged movies and made forts. We’ve even “camped out” in the boys’ rooms.
The corona-coaster is real, but it seems much more manageable after implementing family time unplugged.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
My biggest challenge yet is understanding my role in all of this.
As a business leader, wife, mom, daughter, sister and friend, the pandemic has been humbling. I’m a skilled problem-solver, listener and helper. But from my experience, this pandemic isn’t a problem to solve. It’s about remembering your priorities and life’s necessities: our health and safety.
So, if I can’t solve this problem, what should I do? I’ve asked myself this question hundreds of times by now.
Life during the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on me. I’m not the me I’ve always known anymore. The old me — the pre-pandemic me — thrived in the uncertain. I enjoyed creating clarity, completing projects and being the right balance of predictably unpredictable. But I can’t be that me anymore, at least for now.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have participated in unhealthy behaviors. I’ve cried. I’ve made good decisions, and I have made some not-so-great decisions.
One day along the way, I started waking up a bit earlier each day to journal, read and walk. Through reading and walking, I have learned to distinguish between my “easy buttons” and “reset buttons.” When all I want is to diminish all the feelings, squash the experience and move on, some of my “easy buttons” are phone scrolling, working more and obsessively attempting to finish an unending to-do list. I plan travel, inhale sugar and get short with my family.
Recently, I have created a list of “reset buttons” to turn to instead. These include drinking a glass of water, taking a walk, sitting still, not calling a friend, swimming, watching a movie with the boys, journaling and reading fiction. By resetting, I’m defining a new me, a better me.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
As my house becomes both my workplace and my children’s school, I have been forced to be more intentional with my daily goals, strategies and to-do list for my work. My best work-from-home practices include:
- Plan Your Week: On Thursdays, I plan the week ahead by celebrating my accomplishments, making a to-do list, deciding what can be delegated, cancelling unnecessary appointments and setting my top-3 priorities for the week.
- Declutter: Now that we have five humans in our house 24–7, our home began to feel cluttered and heavy. My husband and I spent considerable time decluttering and reorganizing our garage, all closets, basement and guest room — which now serves as the classroom for my kids’ virtual learning. This difficult but simple task transformed our mindsets and simplified our household chores.
- Morning and Evening Commute: I have learned that a commute gives us time to rest, reflect and transition back to home and family time. Without this commute, the work day may never end. I have found great peace in developing morning and evening rituals while working from home that transition my mind and body to and from work.
- Defined Workspace: While it’s easy to check email via phone while preparing breakfast or respond to a work text while helping the kids with virtual schoolwork, this is a slippery slope that leaves me unfocused and stressed. I do best when I only allow myself to do work in my home office or on the front porch. I leave the rest of our house for fun, family and relaxation.
- Be OK with Unfinished: I want everything done yesterday. That’s just my personality. When I began working from home, I had to become intentional about reminding myself that unfinished is OK, more work doesn’t achieve more results and teamwork with clear priorities creates the synergy of great work.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
The first six weeks were tough for our family. I was working long hours, the kids were restless and my husband felt like he was on his own with household responsibilities and chores. We found sanity through socially distanced outdoor activities, including taking long walks and riding our bikes. It’s also become a priority of ours to openly communicate how we’re feeling with each other. At the end of the day, the pandemic has provided bonus time with my family, and that’s something to be grateful for.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Technology: We were primed for this pandemic. We have become accustomed to Amazon shopping, online ordering for pick up at grocery stores and online chat for business inquiries. Many of us have been using Zoom for years. The pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of these online capabilities, which will only free us up for more opportunity, time and freedom.
- Teamwork: We are all in this together. I work with many business owners across many industries. The leadership and teamwork within small businesses is inspiring and hopeful! People are coming together, businesses are collaborating and innovation is unfolding before our eyes. The recession of 2008 brought forth the brilliance of the sharing economy. I’m curious and hopeful for what this global experience will usher in.
- Flexibility & Understanding: The flexibility and understanding among team members has been a nice change of pace. I’ve seen more empathy from people in the last five months than I’ve seen in years combined. I believe some of this new, more relaxed pace will remain and make for a much more pleasant and balanced society moving forward.
- Family: Whether it’s family or close friends, relationships matter most, and the pandemic is here to remind us of that. The time we are spending checking on each other, caring for each other and prioritizing each other’s health is hopeful and will have lasting effects.
- Growth: We are each learning and growing in ways that we will not fully understand until years from now. Hard and uncertain times can foster resilience and tremendous creativity. Living through a crisis clarifies what matters most in life, and we have the pandemic to thank for that.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My word for the year is “walk.”
As I was planning for the new year, my goal back in December 2019 was to spend more time exercising outdoors where it’s quiet. Of course, none of us realized at that point the impact that the pandemic would have, but something in me knew that walking was going to be my healing, my sanity and my time to learn more about myself.
When I have been overworked, overwhelmed, anxious, fearful and depressed, I have turned to walking. I look for nature’s beauty, stay quiet, listen for the still voice within and just be.
If you’re looking for ways to offer support to family members and loved ones in this unpredictable time, maybe it’s time for them to come up with a word of the year. It’s never too late to start something, especially when it brings you clarity and a sense of calmness.
I also recommend viewing the pandemic through a lens with the glass half full. Since quarantining, we’ve gotten to really dig deep and get to know ourselves better and spend more time with the ones we love. If you’re struggling to see the half-full side of things, maybe you need to do more of what makes you happy. Visit your family more often, prioritize self-care and know that this is only temporary.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Currently my phone background reads: “It takes as long as it takes. Be gentle with yourself.” This quote is a reminder to me that fast isn’t always better. The goal isn’t more deserving than the journey. And I can’t get where I’m going alone. We are in this together, and we will be better for having this experience.
How can our readers follow you online?
For more information on All-American Pest Control, visit www.allamericanpestcontrol.com or follow on Facebook and Twitter by searching for the handle @AllAmericanPest.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!