Dr Jonathan Wade

Lifetime achievement award
Dr Wade getting his award from television ecologist, Mike Dilger

On 20 March 2019, Dr Jonathan Wade officially received his British Pest Management Lifetime Achievement Award 2019. There’s no way we can cover all of Jonathan’s distinguished career in global pest management. Instead, we present an extra long interview with the man himself, introduced by his son, Alex Wade.

Dr Wade, JO to all those who met him, aside from being my father, has been my most stalwart tutor for my entire career. All I have learned (more than he’d care to admit) can be laid at his feet.

Growing up with his adventures for his job would captivate me. Stories of his time in the Middle East; the tales he would come home with of bizarre settlements out in the desert; ships caught in quarantines; the cultures both at home and abroad that he immersed himself in. The people he met: the princes, paupers and all those in-between; he strove to help all with no bias or preconceptions.

From these parables and from his insights, his experience and his technical expertise, he gave not only myself but everyone he met, a passion for our industry, for our work, compassion for the people and animals we deal with daily and a commitment to seeing a job well done. By his example, leading as always from the front, he set the bar high for integrity, knowledge and excellence.

Dr. Jonathan Wade on receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award

Jonathan began in academia at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, moved to international shores to establish public health services in areas of desperate need, and concluded with developing innovations and products to protect people from issues in public health.

1971 Zoology BSc from University of Liverpool

1974 PhD on artificial feeding systems for haematophagous arthropods from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

1976 Post-doctoral researcher on prevention of disease transmission (Filariasis) through genetic manipulation of mosquito symbionts

1978 Government advisor delivering a focussed program on control of Musca sorbens, vector of Trachoma, Libya

1980 Head of Pest Control for the Emirate of Dubai

1987 Honorary Lectureship from Medical Entomology Department at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

1988 Technical Manager in ICI Public Health, then Zeneca

1990 Regional Technical Manager for Near East, South America and Western Europe

1995 Technical Director for PelGar International Ltd

2018 Retired.

First of all, congratulations on your award. What an amazing life you’ve lead. How did you get into all this?

This is an easy one. I moved from Yorkshire to Liverpool to study Marine Biology as they have a research centre at Port Erin on the Isle of Man. I soon realised that I really didn’t get on with people in the Marine Biology team and could think of nothing worse than spending years in a small community there.

Instead, I jumped ship to Parasitology which took me to Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine and is where this life story began.

How has pest management changed in your lifetime?

Like most things pest management has become extremely sophisticated and focused. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad – just like political correctness.

By far and away the biggest change in this industry is professional culture. My first introductions to ‘pest controllers’ in the eighties were the one man and his dog rat catcher unwilling to listen to even the smallest bit of advice I had ready to donate. This change may be driven by fear of being sued out of your shoes, but it’s more likely because businesses have to find efficiency savings in time and money, and pest management businesses who can offer that will do well.

The same goes for international markets too, perhaps even to a greater extent. Working in parts of Eastern Europe I must say the thirst for education and training is significant, especially through knowledge sharing, show and tell and discursive approaches.

What was it like working in different countries? Did you ever see anything that took your breath away?

Oh good heavens, it was so raw. One afternoon in Dubai a tiger was dropped off and left in my courtyard. A young man had owned the 2-year-old animal as a pet and after he left to buy a bear from Turkey, his mother could not stand the tiger anymore, and so brought it (in the same box it had lived in since young) to our offices.

Crazily, all that was between the one-time cub and the growing crowd of many hundreds of onlookers was thin chicken wire, and so I selected to tranquillize the animal to give me more time and move it to safety.

Unfortunately due to one thing and another (mainly due to having a ‘bodyguard’ shooter panic and discharge his automatic shotgun – several times over my shoulder) we were unable to save the animal, and subsequently had to shoo the ravenous locals away from the tiger who were all looking for a talisman or ‘lucky bit’! Somewhere in this episode is how I became deaf in my left ear.

Similar dramatic experiences included wild mandrills, 2,000 dead buffalo during Ramadan, and an episode of a supposed mad cow, which ended with police and automatic weapons.

I quickly learned at that time, there were some pretty ignorant people doing some pretty ignorant things. Professionally there was never a dull day, and Dubai often took me well out of my comfort zone. But on reflection, I helped to bring some order to a part of the world that needed it, and in doing so (I hope) helped to protect the people and animals in the local community. For many years Dubai has been taken off the risk zone for Malaria transmission.

Have you got any milestone moments that stand out?

Yes, I have a few. The time in Dubai where the labs and testing facilities we built under the radar were burnt down as collateral damage by some residents who had set their adjacent house on fire.

The government understood the impact we were making and rebuilt our pest control operations area bigger and better, with laboratories, insectaries and an excellent new training centre. As a legacy, that showed me that I’d made a difference to Dubai; that public health was being supported at the top level, and I was able to return to the UK safe in the knowledge it was in much better shape than when I arrived.

I also remember fondly leaving a large organisation to set up PelGar International.

I have immense respect for anybody who is setting up their own business because it is a big decision to make and especially difficult when forces act against you. It was a great moment when we were able to start paying our own wages, and previously antagonistic companies started to knock on our door for the innovations we’d been working tirelessly on for many years.

However, above all that my fondest memory was working with two of my sons. PelGar was built using the efforts of my sons Ben and Alex, and their friends in the early days. Alex continues to be a strong, committed player in the business.

Looking ahead, what do you think will change in the future for pests?

One thing that isn’t going to change is a pest will still be a pest when it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is society going to change? Maybe, but not quickly. Is the pest management going to change? I’d argue, yes.

Every year for the last 30 years, thousands of tonnes of rat poison are sold in the UK and rat issues aren’t going away – if anything they may be getting worse. We need to influence and impact their environments so they are no longer welcome, then rodent numbers will fall naturally.

The internet and Mr Google are allowing people to be better educated, so more people will look to DIY means to resolve problems rather than pay. However, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and the industry needs to help by educating the public on the value pest management brings, rather than see them as competitors.

For anyone looking to progress in the industry, have you got any words of wisdom?

I have been very lucky and never had a dull day in a lifetime. Not everyone is so fortunate and progress can be very slow. But… if you never try, you will never succeed.
I’d always say don’t let anyone bully you, either within your company or from outside.

If you are a business leader or someone managing a team, always work for your employees and they will work for you. And, if you want to make a difference you have to be patient, you won’t get your own way the first time, but keep hacking away and you’ll get there.

Thank you so much, Jonathan. Is there anyone you’d like us to thank in PPC on your behalf?

Momentously to my wife, Julie. She stood by me when I jumped from Zeneca to start PelGar and she had three sons to care for with an uncertain future.

I’d also say thank you to Gareth Capel-Williams for nominating me for the award, but also for his support over the years we’ve worked on this amazing animal together [PelGar]. It’s great to look out and see something that wasn’t there 25 years ago.

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