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Undercover Boss, Roto-Rooter's Rick Arquilla: Slay the Enemy!

Undercover Boss Rick ArquillaMeet this week's Undercover Boss, Roto-Rooter President and COO Rick Arquilla (pictured). Rick has a hell-of-a sense of humor, a burning passion for the service business, and a competitive spirit that every manager, executive, and business leader needs to win in this hyper-competitive global market.

Tobak: How'd you come to work at Roto-Rooter?

Arquilla: I wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I started in computer science - engineering because that was the hot field at the time. Now I'll be candid, and it's not easy for me to say this, but I eventually realized there were a lot of people in that major a lot smarter than I was. I realized that, at best, I'd be average. I guess that's one of those early life lessons: you can't always be the best at something. You might want it for the wrong reasons, and then you've really got to assess what you're good at, so I switched to business.
My first job was with Chemlawn and I grew up through the ranks to become a vice president at 33 or 34. Then the company was acquired by Ecolab and, well, it just wasn't doing it for me anymore, so I took a sabbatical and then started searching national service companies and something about Roto-Rooter just felt right.

Tobak: Did you have any mentors along the way?Rick Arquilla, President & COO, Roto-Rooter
Arquilla: Yeah, a fellow at Chemlawn named Jim Moon. Jim used to say as you climb the corporate ladder, be careful because it's kind of like a baboon climbing a tree: the higher up in the tree it gets, the more you can see its rear end. It was a great reminder to not get too caught up in all this. Do the best you can, but remember that everybody's watching and you're not going to fool anybody.

Also, the CEO of Roto-Rooter at the time I was hired was Bill Griffin. Bill used to say it's good to care, just don't care too much. For me, the message was care about your people, do all you can to help them be successful, just don't go over the top so much that you lose your objectivity and your ability to manage and make tough decisions.

Tobak: What defines your management style?

Arquilla: If you're competing against Roto-Rooter, we want to slay the enemy, steal their horses and their food, then set the city on fire. It's business, and as long as you do it above board and everybody knows the rules of the game, I happen to thrive on and look forward to smash mouth football. I have no problem with that whatsoever; may the best company win.

Then I think you do your very best to create the environment where people can be successful, then have a key eye toward recruiting and keeping talent. I really believe the competitive edge for any company ultimately comes down to attracting, hiring, training, and retaining talent.

Tobak: So what do you look for in an up-and-comer?

Arquilla: It's not about how smart you are; I think it's the intangibles. If you're reasonably bright and bring a strong work ethic and a desire to win, you'll do well at Roto-Rooter.

Tobak: Aren't you describing yourself?

Arquilla: Yeah, maybe. Not that my way is always the right way, but I certainly don't want to have a management team meeting and have to explain to someone why winning is important. You know, I think the world's full of talented people who don't apply themselves as well as they could, and to me, I find that rather tragic. Sure, I want to have a lot of talented smart people in senior level positions. But I don't think it's about who's the brightest. I think it comes down to who can sell an idea and garner support for it. I think the higher up you get in an organization, the more you're in the idea selling game.

Tobak: What's the most brilliant business move you've ever seen?

Arquilla: When Andy Grove reinvented Intel. Intel was a memory chip company and Grove realized that, if they didn't reinvent themselves, they'd be out of business. I think the quote was something like, "If we all got fired today and they brought in a new management team, what would we be doing on Monday?" He ended up with 90 percent of the processor business as a result of that; pretty impressive from where I sit.

Tobak: What's the dumbest business move you've ever seen?

Arquilla: When Cadillac came out with the Cimarron. They took some really crappy Chevrolet and said no one will notice if it looks exactly the same but we just call it a Cadillac and triple the price. I always find it interesting when car companies overreach and view the consumer as not bright enough to realize that they've taken their brand and just gotten sloppy and cut corners.

If you bring that back to Roto-Rooter, our brand may get the first phone call, but it doesn't build repeat loyal customers. How we perform on every service call does that.

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