Friday, February 4, 2011

FROM ORKIN PEST TO CAMPUS CREST: A Horatio Alger story on the rocks

Final part of our series on Columbia-bound Campus Crest Communities 

COLUMBIA, 2/4/11  (Beat Byte) --  In 1901, a Latvian immigrant named Otto Orkin opened a rat control company with his life savings in Virginia that would become the nation's best known pest control brand.   Sixty three years later, the flamboyant car salesman who pioneered the idea of auto leasing, John W. Rollins, and his brother Wayne would buy Orkin, adding the firm to a growing empire.  Today, the Rollins Corporation, headquartered in Atlanta, is one of the largest family businesses in the world.

The Rollins boys had literally innovated their respective ways off the family farm, graduating from one room school houses to endowed philanthropic chairs.  Theirs was a Horatio Alger story, the humble American made good through hard work, tough-minded business, and unwavering pursuit of a dream.   

Ted Rollins
John's son Ted Rollins, one of ten children, would head off to Duke University, meet Mike Hartnett, and start a student housing developer on an equally innovative platform:  budget apartments that felt luxurious enough to say "this ain't your grandmother's dorm room." 

But a tidal wave of bad publicity is threatening to swamp their innovation, Campus Crest Communities, into the history books of oblivion.

Though Rollins and Hartnett have firmly and clearly denied the many allegations against their student brand, the Columbia Heart Beat (CHB) wanted to know what they had to say, nonetheless, to all the other dreamers out there -- so many of them students -- who'd some day love to achieve their phenomenal success.  

Were they going out of their way to be more genteel to the many young people they hire and house?   Did they have a higher duty, maybe, to be role models given the nature of their business?  Given that Rollins admitted in emails that his construction chief, Bryan Sharpe, was out of control with his young employees, should he have done more to help? 

What would the two idealistic young guys who met at Duke 24 years ago think about all this if they were reading it or experiencing it today? 

Ted Rollins took that question here, and others below.  His answers are unedited. 

Rollins:  "It's important for young individuals to learn early on not be influenced by others and to formulate opinions based on solid research and direct experience.  The role of the media, both traditional and new media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, blogs), plays an extremely important role in society but too often people rely on these outlets as their only source of information. 

"There's also an important lesson to learn in regards to growth and experience.  We saw an opportunity to revolutionize the student housing industry and we took a risk and decided to follow our dream.  We founded Campus Crest in 2004 with money out of our own pockets and managed to grow the company into what it is today.  While we eventually achieved our goal of becoming a public company the process wasn't all smiles and high fives.

"With growth came a number of different challenges.  Did we may mistakes along the way? Of course we did, but we used these challenges as an opportunity to learn.  We realized that we didn't always have the best systems in place and we devoted ourselves to fixing them.  In short, we would encourage all students to follow their dreams no matter how big the odds may seem. 

We would also advise not to be afraid to make mistakes along the way because those experiences will make you a stronger person." 

CHB:  Are you aware that many of these young employees probably admire and respect you and want to emulate what you've accomplished someday?

Rollins:   You've probably heard this line numerous times, but we're firm believers that with success comes great responsibility.  As the co-founder and chief executive and the co-founder and chief investment officer of a public company we recognize that we're in a unique position where our words and actions can directly influence the lives of others. 

We don't take this responsibility lightly.  Despite what you may have read, we are deeply devoted to all our employees.  We care what they think of us as people and as leaders.  It always tough when personal matters and business issues play out in the press but we're confident that our actions inside and outside the workplace reflect our true character and paint an accurate picture of who we are as a people. 

As the leaders of Campus Crest we're focused on cultivating the talent we have within our organization to improve their lives and position the company for future growth. 

CHB:  Why tolerate people who you admit seeing behave in an intolerable fashion to these employees?   If Mr. Sharpe is indeed this stressed out, why not take the extra step and see that he receive professional help? 

Rollins:  We have high standards of conduct and ethics at Campus Crest and we have built a strong corporate culture.  It is not appropriate to comment on individual employees or specific situations. 

CHB:  Has any of this litigation, or any of the criticisms from former employees, prompted you to change any internal office or company practices?  If not, why not?   If so, please explain.  

Rollins:  With respect to the ongoing litigation, we're unable to provide commentary on this matter at this time.  What we can tell you is that as a company we are fully committed operating by best practices.  What this means is that we are constantly evaluating different ways to better improve our existing policies and procedures.  This is a major focus of ours, so if there's a better way to do something and it will improve an existing practice or service we commit ourselves to finding out what that is. 

The Campus Crest Controversy

Part One
Part Five

No comments:

Post a Comment