Meeting the man, the myth, the legend, Frank Blau Jr.
As I begin my second year as chief editor of Plumbing & Mechanical, I find myself looking back at the past 12 months and wondering where the time has gone. In this relatively short period, I’ve attended numerous industry events and gotten to know many people across different industry organizations — from those representing manufacturers and suppliers to the entities that work directly with the contractors themselves.
One of these organizations is the Nexstar Network. Already this year, I’ve attended two of Nexstar’s events, the most recent being the organization’s Super Meeting Sept. 13-15 in Washington D.C. This also happens to be its 25th anniversary year, so the event included a glamorous evening gala.
For me, however, the highlight of the Super Meeting wasn’t a keynote speaker (though they had many excellent ones), nor was it the hilarious and highly competitive game of “The Price is the Price” that divided the 700-plus attendees into three groups that went head-to-head in a trivia game played over two days that culminated in a timed skills challenge highlighting the plumbing, HVAC and electrical trades.
Even the glamorous black-tie Silver Gala evening event wasn’t the highlight of the Super Meeting for me, despite the spot-on Bill Clinton impersonator, patriotic artist and live auction that raised thousands of dollars for programs that help former military personnel transition into a career in the trades.
No, the highlight of the event for me was meeting the legendary Frank Blau Jr., though I can’t say we had a smooth start to our relationship. In fact, our very first conversation started out something like this: “Are you Jen?” “Yes… oh my gosh, you’re Frank Blau!” “Yes, yes, I think you should know that I’m not very pleased with your magazine right now...” (Don’t worry — we resolved the issue quickly, and I’d like to think we’re friends now.)
Anyone who’s met him will tell you that Frank is not one to mince words. He tells it like it is, and he’s certainly not afraid to speak his mind. He’ll tell you straight up if you’re running your business into the ground financially, and if you’re lucky, he might tell you how you can fix it. He’ll also chide you for not knowing precisely how much money you will need when you retire (I swear I’ll see a financial planner soon, Frank).
But in the same breath, he will also tell you how much the men and women in this industry mean to him. He will tell you how he wrote a column for this magazine for two decades because he just wanted to help the industry. He will tell you how he cheated death three times over the years, believing he was kept on this earth to make a difference in the industry. He’ll tell you how overwhelmed he is to see a ballroom full of people who are all there because he founded the organization 25 years ago.
As he and I were sitting in the back of the room listening to the closing keynote by Dr. Nido Qubein, I asked Frank how it feels to know that everybody is there because of him. His eyes glazed over.
“I get goose pimples sitting here,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see young people be so successful. To say I’m going to change an industry and to see it unfold, my dream of many years ago, before my eyes with young and wonderful people who are so intelligent, that warms my heart.”
The Super Meeting’s theme — “On the shoulders of giants” — implies that being successful means lifting up those around you so they can see farther, dream bigger and achieve more. But every giant in attendance was already standing on a shoulder. And what a mighty shoulder it is.
This article was originally titled “A mighty shoulder to stand on” in the October 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.