Once upon a time in Aggieland, there lived a prosperous businessman named Robert Jenkins ’59. He had three sons, Bobby ’81, Raleigh ’83, and Dennis ’85, each of whom was blessed with unique business talents. After graduating from Texas A&M University with degrees in management, agricultural business, and entomology (respectively), the sons went to work in the family business, then called ABC Pest Control. Bobby was entrusted with the Austin/San Antonio/College Station area, Raleigh managed locations throughout Houston, and Dennis grew the business in Dallas/Fort Worth. Though the sons were in competition, they remained close friends and associates.
As Robert grew older and thought of retirement, he wondered how best to maintain both his family and his business, the main office of which was located in San Antonio. One day, he called his sons to him to announce his plans for succession. Each son secretly hoped that he would be chosen as the heir to the ABC throne.
The Jenkins brothers (left to right: Bobby ’81, Dennis ’85 and Raleigh ’83) have successfully balanced work and family while splitting their father’s business into three separate companies.
Now, Robert was a wise father as well as a wise businessman. To his sons’ surprise, he announced that he’d sold the main branch of the business and that each son would retain only the arm of the corporation that he had established himself. To further solidify the equal relationship between the brothers, a map of the state of Texas was divided with boundary lines drawn in black ink, clearly separating their different areas for business expansion.
Today, the Jenkins brothers still abide by that map and the motto: “Thou shalt not cross into thy brother’s territory.” And to this day, the business and the family are still flourishing. The brothers recently returned to the A&M campus to address a group of students at Mays Business School about their unique business model, small business operation, and the joys and hardships of working with family.
Dennis Jenkins asked the 300+ Management 105 students in their audience for a show of hands: “How many of you are planning on going into the bug business?” A few hands went upâ€¦all belonging to young members of the Jenkins clan. (Six of the brothers’ children are currently enrolled at A&M or Blinn College.) Dennis acknowledged that it’s not the first choice for most business students, but he indicated that it is worth their consideration. “It’s a business that grows every year. It’s a business that doesn’t have layoffs,” he bragged.
The Jenkins brothers have expanded their father’s business from its original platform of pest eradication to a wide variety of services, including landscaping, lawn care, pool installation and maintenance, handyman service, outdoor kitchens and palapas, and holiday light installation. Collectively they employ about 750 people, with locations across Texas and Florida.
“We have a unique model,” said Bobby, elaborating on the variety avenues the brothers have explored independently and collaboratively with their businesses. He says their goal is to grow the business every year, but to continue to “do what you do well.”
“We’re damn passionate about our business. We’re passionate about what we do,” he told students. “And we have a lot of fun doing what we’re doing.”
A student posed the question, “What hardships did you overcome in managing your businesses?”
Raleigh was quick to quip, “working with family,” before mentioning issues of employee turnover. While the brothers all joke about the special demands of working in a family business, they acknowledge that the separate-but-shared corporate model set up by their father has served them very well.
“Lots of family businesses implode, and that’s tragic,” said Bobby. Dennis says he appreciates being able to watch his older brothers make business mistakes so that he can avoid them. But in the end, they’re all in it together.
“These guys are my best friendsâ€¦the business is not as important as the relationships,” said Dennis.
“We argue a lot,” added Raleigh.
“But that the end of the day, we’re still brothers,” said Dennis.
“And that harmony is a good thing,” agrees Bobby.