Nov. 18 2007 12:00 AM

Dr. Roger Webb weaves a fascinating tale of how he went from university professor to businessman. Growing up, he touched a lot of bases along the way to arrive at his chosen career.

Not quite sure of what he wanted to be when he grew up, Webb sought his father’s input. His father was a paper salesman, so he suggested that Roger go into forestry, because it is from trees that we get paper. Webb attended the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, which did not offer a forestry curriculum. In 1972, he received an A.B. degree in psychology with a major in biology. Upon graduation, he set out to look for a job.

He took an aptitude test in computer programming and was hired by the Bank of Virginia. However, before he could get into programming they insisted that he had to ‘learn’ the other end of the computer. He ended up being a clerk. In six months he was made head of computer operations (day shift). Now that he was an expert at his job, they didn’t want to let him go into programming, even though they had assured him of the job. He kept working in the clerical end and 18 months later, he was still in that same department. They finally offered him the programming position for the night shift, since that was where the major computer input was done and he was to head up that department. Working at night was the last thing Webb wanted to do so, in 1974 he left the bank and entered Duke University where he got a master of forestry degree and set his sights on a career in forestry management.

After graduation from Duke, he attended Virginia Tech and worked with Dr. John Skelly, professor of forest pathology, working various jobs part-time to scrape up enough money to continue.

He finally graduated in March 1980 with a PhD degree in plant pathology. Webb immediately accepted a position at the University of Florida as assistant professor of forest pathology. In 1981 he met and married Patricia, a post-doctoral student studying fruit crops. Patricia decided she needed a career change, so at the age of 39 she entered dental school. Today she has an excellent practice in Gainesville, Florida. An interesting aside, the Webbs have five children, Michael 28, twins Lauren and Austin, 25, Chandler 23 and Jordan 21.

All the sons, with the exception of Chandler, are enrolled in dental school. Their daughter Lauren works in healthcare and wants to be a physician’s assistant. Chandler will shortly enter the family business. While working at the university, the U.S. Forest Service asked Webb if he would go to Guatemala to participate in a three-year project investigating control of cone rust disease of tropical pines. This was followed by an invitation by the U.S. Agency for International Development to go to Haiti to participate in agro-forestry and soil stabilization projects.

Over the next eight years, Webb worked in many locations in Haiti. Following his promotion to associate professor, he continued to work on chemical control strategies of important diseases and insects of southern pines. Dr. Webb also worked in other countries including Austria, China, Ecuador (Galapagos Islands) and Yugoslavia. From 1985 to 1990 Webb began to experiment with micro-injection. He was asked by Mauget to become part of its research team. While still a faculty member at the University, he designed a new micro-injection unit but did not think it was appropriate for him to market it since all intellectual property was owned by the University of Florida.

Once the University decided not to patent the device, the ownership rights were released to him. Webb sent it to Mauget for review. They also passed on it. Feeling that he had a viable product, Webb continued to pursue a way to market it.

He took the device to Dick Stedman, owner of Tree Injection Systems, Ltd, located in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Stedman looked at the device, took it to a plastic injection molder and began to market the product. A big break came in 1990 when Ciba-Geigy produced a fungicide that would control Dutch elm disease and oak wilt. Refining the method to apply the material took a little time, and three years later Alamo was brought to the microinjection market. While this was going on, Tree Injection Systems was experiencing financial problems and the bank was ready to foreclose. “I felt it was my baby,” said Webb.

“I didn’t want to see it go away.” He decided to try to do it himself. He borrowed $250,000 plus a line of credit, and in April 1993, Dr. Webb took over the company and changed the name to Tree Tech Microinjection Systems. “Ciba gave me a corner in their warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee.

I hired an accountant to keep the records and began to produce Alamo in microinjection units for Ciba.” “When I decided to go into the business, I left the university,” said Webb.

He added pesticides and fertilizers to the company’s product line. Shortly thereafter Webb moved to rented facilities near Gainesville, Florida. “In 2000, we purchased some land outside Gainesville and built our own facilities.” Chandler has just recently joined the company and will take an active role in its future growth. With a family of soon-to-be dentists plus Patricia, his wife already in practice, Webb explained how full his life is. So what does this busy guy do for relaxation? He loves to analyze the stock market; he enjoys the technical analysis; sometimes he even invests.

To say Dr. Webb made his way from educator to businessman via a circuitous route is an understatement. He certainly can fall back on a variety of life experiences.