Marillian Buono-Missiti recalls the surprise she encountered when she first began answering calls in the family’s pest-control business.
“I didn’t fit the stereotype of a pest control operator – a 21-year-old female. That was a challenge all by itself. But it fueled my fire. It was a challenge I was willing to take on,” the Bedford resident said.
Now she is blazing another trail. Buono-Missiti has been elected 2023-2024 president of the National Pest Management Association, the fourth woman to lead the organization in its 90-year history. The nonprofit industry association (www.NPMAPestWorld.org) has more than 4,000 members.
“This is something I’m really proud of,” said Buono-Massiti, president of the Belmont-based family business, Buono Pest Control. Historically, she said, the leadership has usually come from big companies.
Her father, Benedict Buono Jr., went to work for Waltham Chemical in the 1970s after his Army service in Vietnam. Buono-Missiti said he developed some major accounts and his employer wanted him to remain in sales despite his aspirations for management.
“So, he decided to go on his own,” she said, establishing the company in 1978 near his Belmont home. The new business specialized in healthcare and research facilities and picked up some key accounts early.
Buono-Missiti graduated from Bedford High School in 1987 and earned an associate’s degree from Middlesex Community College. As she considered her next steps, “My father said, ‘Why don’t you come into the office and answer the phone?’” Soon his next question was, “Why don’t you get your pest-control license, so when customers call, you’ll know what they’re talking about?”
After fulfilling training requirements, she received her state-issued license and accompanying certification on her 21st birthday and began responding to emergency service calls.
“I’m out there solving problems and meeting people,” she related. And her success, she said, “had everything to do with the people I was meeting and the relationships I was building. My main strength is public relations, and I think people can relate to me at a lot of levels.”
There were some unusual reactions from customers, Buono-Missiti recalled. She still laughs over the memory of a group of construction workers huddled in a corner of the job site because they spotted a rat across the room.
“As the customers became more used to females in a male-dominated workplace, it was easier for me,” Buono-Missiti continued. Today, “there were more women in the industry. Whether branch managers or in sales or office or on the road, they are pest-management professionals.”
Calls to pest-control companies almost always mean someone needs help, Buono-Missiti observed. “My father always said that we are not a sales-driven company; we are a service-driven company. We care about you, and we are going in and solving the problem.”
Her father retired in 2015, and Buono-Missiti took over as president, while her uncle Stephen Buono became chief operating officer.
Today the company offers pest control programs to reduce, suppress, and eliminate pests, prioritizing concerns about health, property, and environment. The firm services residential and commercial accounts and specializes in research facilities. She didn’t get specific, but acknowledged that “we do a very prestigious university in Cambridge.”
Buono-Missiti reflected on environmental changes in her industry. “Back in the ’70s, the more he sprayed, the better job he was doing, right? It was all about the chemicals back then. How much that has changed.”
In the early 1980s, she recounted, “We started the integrated pest-management program, using chemicals as the last means. We do everything to make sure that sanitation is increased, maintenance efficiencies are up to par.”
Pests develop immunities, she pointed out, and “that’s why it’s important to be educated, to obtain the credits needed to maintain your license. That’s something the association did for me: networking to get the education and wisdom from the industry.” Her company also benefited from support with human resources and information technology, she added.
In other parts of the country, Buono-Missiti observed, there are not only different species of pests but also a range of requirements, regulations, and policies. Massachusetts is among the most demanding, she said.
Buono-Missiti rose through the ranks, so she has known for some time that she would be her association’s national president. “I remember telling my uncle: ‘Are we ready for this?’ I had a conversation with my family because we knew there was going to be some traveling, some time away from the business.”
She said that between her top-notch office administrator and communications technology, “I will be able to stay in tune with what’s going on when I am on the road.” She and her husband Danny have two children, Anthony and Gianna, both college students.
Buono-Missiti recounted the difficulties her firm navigated during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We were considered an essential service,” she said. Meanwhile, “a lot of our companies shut down. It was the biggest challenge that we had to face since I’ve been in the company.”
Now, she said, “The biggest challenge is hiring employees that fit our culture. We give people an opportunity to work for a family-oriented company. We treat everyone as family. We can teach the technical stuff, but [we also make] sure employees have the right fit for us because they are going into people’s homes representing us.
“My father instilled in me ethics and values, and that’s our culture: taking care of employees and customers.”
Buono-Missiti received a bachelor’s degree in management from Lesley University and Purdue University’s pest management certification. She is past President of the New England Pest Management Association and the 2015 recipient of its Bartlett Eldredge Award, which recognizes an individual for strong service to the industry and a commitment to community service.