“He had me go under houses in the crawl spaces,” Phillips said.
Working every Saturday and every summer was a way of life for Phillips, whose parents, L.A. Phillips and Emma Lene Phillips, started the exterminating and pest control company in Atlanta in 1951.
Phillips says his parents started the venture as a “mom and pop” side business to supplement his father’s income as a graveyard shift railroad switchman.
“He didn’t really have a dream of growing it, he was just providing for his family,” Phillips said.
With his mother answering the phones and his father performing the exterminating services, the business grew nonetheless.
In 1973, after two years of college at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Phillips began working with the company on a full-time basis. He says not finishing college is his biggest regret.
“I would be better equipped to make some of the decisions I have to make,” he said.
Within a year, they moved the business closer to the family’s Smyrna home to a building on Cobb Lane, parallel to south Cobb Drive.
“I had always known how to do the technical (pest control) work, so I worked inside the office for about a year before I decided to focus on relationships and building new business,” he said.
During the late ’70s, with the residential construction industry booming in Cobb County, the company focused on new construction treatment and growth resulted.
“You have to have very good service and quick response for the builder industry,” he said.
When new construction declined in the 1990s, Phillips says he consulted with his chief financial officer, and they put together a calculated plan on how to grow the pest control service side of the business, particularly within the rental market.
“I knew if I wanted to do the same thing for my family that my dad did for us, we needed to grow,” Phillips said.
In 1996, Phillips assumed the role of president and CEO, and the plan he implemented has netted yearly growth for 18 consecutive years, culminating with 2012 revenues of $33.5 million. The company now has 19 offices and service centers throughout Georgia and Tennessee, including three in Cobb County.
Phillips purchased the 32,050-square-foot Marietta corporate office and customer support center on Kennesaw Avenue in 2004. Phillips’ mother died in 2006, but his father still works a few days a week.
Today, Phillips leads a team of 350 employees, two of whom are his adult sons: Stephen, vice president of operations; and Stanford, vice president of business development.
“They came in and worked their way up just like everyone else — crawling under houses and learning what needs to be done,” Phillips said.
Greg Sudholt, a sales executive with Dow Chemical AgroSciences, knows Phillips as both a customer and a friend.
“Steve has very high standards and expectations of his team members and how they interact with their customers and the quality of work that is performed on the customer’s property,” Sudholt said. “He will not put up with poor service or attitude from his team members and he holds himself to those same high standards.”
In an industry where many companies provide similar services, Phillips differentiates Northwest by offering almost entirely plant-based or “green” pest and termite treatments.
“It is nature’s way to do pest control,” Phillips said. “We want to take care of solutions in a green way so people don’t have to worry about their children and their pets when we leave.”
Perry Tindol, partner of Allgood Pest Control, describes Phillips as a helpful competitor.
“When I think of Steve I am reminded of the quote ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’” Tindol said. “He has always been willing to open his doors sharing successful business strategies on an unconditional basis. It is easy for me to see and appreciate why his company is enjoying the success they are experiencing at this time.”