The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC) Educational Foundation announced Daniel Quinonez as its new executive director, effective June 1. With a rich background in association management and public affairs, Quinonez brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to lead the foundation in its mission to support the plumbing, heating, and cooling industry.

PM Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke sat down with Quinonez to discuss the future of the organization and his leadership goals.

PM: To start us off, why don't you tell me a little bit about your background? What did you do before coming to PHCC's Educational Foundation?

DQ: Initially, when I first came down to the DC area about 20 years ago, I took a state and local affairs position for the National Home Builders, NAHB, and that was actually my first foray into the construction, home building, development, dealing with codes and regulatory issues at the builder level. Throughout the years, I stayed in that DC association world but also had a mix of working with state and local chapters of different organizations on the building side for a number of years.

Then, I switched over and I became an executive director, working for a leading association management company in the DC. And for the last six years, I've been managing a couple of building product associations and some contractor groups, primarily in the roofing contractor space, and then also in the electrical contracting space as well. It gave me a flavor of managing both organizations that have a manufacturer focus, and then also understanding on the contractor side what they deal with on a number of important issues as well.

So I am actually very familiar with the trades. Dealing with contractors at so many different levels, whether it's on the roofing side, wall installation or even on the home building side, I would deal with contractors to a certain degree. Understanding their issues, I think, was an important aspect of why I was eager to join the Foundation.

PM: What would you say is your most significant professional accomplishment to date?

DQ: Being in the nation's capitals always interesting. It was someplace I'd always wanted to learn and hopefully succeed one day. Part of my background in working with building products, I also did have an opportunity to work with a number of organizations and trade groups in DC. Some of it was in the lobbying and public affairs space, and some of it was on the management side.

In the public affairs realm, I actually had an opportunity working with an alliance of trade organizations from food manufacturers to farmers to change our food labeling laws. It was the first time in 25 years — since the Reagan administration — that they were making this effort. I was part of the effort on the federal and state side to get that law passed. After probably a good two and a half years, we actually finally did get it passed through the House and Senate, and it was signed by President Obama.

It actually changed the whole process of how food labeling is required. Personally, it's always a fascinating thing that I tell folks and I tell kids, "When you go to the grocery store, there's a little thing called a smart label and it allows you to scan and check what's in that product and what's in the ingredients." To me, that's always something, on a personal level, that I felt was a huge accomplishment — being part of that effort and seeing the president sign that bill into law, was something I've always found greatly exciting.

PM: Are there any particular skills or experiences that you would say have been instrumental in your success?

DQ: Over the last 20 or so years, working with different organizations and trade groups, whether it be manufacturers and contractors, I always have a very strong listening ear. I hear what they have to say, understand what they're going through, and, by listening and understanding what they're going through, it allows me to hopefully translate and develop the strategy to help them in their success.

One of the things I love the most about this organization in the contractor space is that they're so passionate about what they do. I feel I'm the same way. When I get involved in something, I'm very passionate about it as well. Both my listening and passion for what I take on, that's what drew me to the foundation and seeing all the wonderful things that they do — it's incredibly exciting to see that.

The other part is I've always learned over the years in my background that it's a customer service approach. I want them to feel like when they're part of the Foundation, they're feeling they're getting their money's worth and their time is well-spent, because they're devoting the same time and energy as well, and I want to be able to respect and always cherish that.

PM: How do you feel about being chosen to lead PHCC's Educational Foundation?

DQ: Oh, it's an incredible honor. Over the years, I've been part of some wonderful organizations, but one of the things that made the foundation interesting was just the history of PHCC, and then the foundation itself and all the wonderful things they do and the opportunities that are developed. I come from a family where I have a number of contractors in different areas, and I see the passion and love that they have for their jobs. For me personally, it's almost a chance to give back to that in a way. My hope is to continue and help support that effort, so it was an honor. It's a long, wonderful history in this organization, with great leadership and wonderful people that I've met so far. Like I said, their passion matches my passion.

PM: Now, how does your previous experience lend itself to your new role as the executive director?

DQ: There's twofold to that. Working over the last 20 or so years in different organizations and trade groups has helped me understand the purpose of an association and a foundation. That experience, coupled with serving as an executive director in the building space for the last six years and understanding the different facets of what the contractor has to go through in a regulatory space, along with skills, workforce training and understanding what they're going through, I think that experience allowed me to step in and I can hopefully offer some strong guidance to that in the future, and hopefully grow beyond what we're doing right now.

PM: What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as the new executive director of the Educational Foundation?

DQ: From everything I've read, and so far in working with the wonderful team that we have in place, the foundation itself has set the standard in education and training for the current and future workforce. To me, I want to actually help support and promote those efforts and grow. That's really what the name is, just keep promoting and supporting those efforts of the foundation because they have so many wonderful programs that I've seen.

I want to help grow out of our workforce development. One of the areas I found impacting the trades nationally is the struggle to hire and increase the workforce. There are so many opportunities to build alliances and efforts, and hopefully work to expand those efforts within the Foundation. That's why the PHCC Education Foundation is so well-positioned for that in the future.

The third thing is I just want to continue to support our state chapters and provide them further opportunities to enhance what they do because they're dealing with the members on the local level, and that's really important. What do they need? How can we support them? What can we provide for them, because what they do is so instrumental on the state and local levels. To me, that's just something I'm hoping to continue as we go forth.

PM: You touched on labor shortage, which leads to my next question. How is the Educational Foundation supporting the next generation of skilled tradesmen and women?

DQ: We have so many different wonderful programs. We have the PHCC Academy that works with the states. We have the plumbing apprentice program and a number of textbooks are available. The online program, to me, is second to none in terms of what's available. Folks are able to prepare online from anywhere. I think from everything I've seen, it's one of the leading programs for training, hands-down.

We also have our National Plumbing and HVAC Apprentice Contest and the SkillsUSA Plumbing and HVAC Championship. There are just so many wonderful programs, but to bring it all together, it just gives so much opportunity to folks who want to get into this trade — and the opportunities are there. The most important thing is for folks to seek that out and support them as they go through that process.

As I said, the state chapters do a wonderful job of building that network and base, and I look forward to working with them and supporting them in what they do because I think this is such an instrumental industry to our economy. It's vital. You cannot replace what we do with, say a robot or AI or ChatGPT. The technology can enhance their ability, but ultimately, it comes down to the contractor and what they do. The technology will advance, but the training, the knowledge, the know-how is something that I believe the foundation offers.

PM: What do you think is the Educational Foundation's biggest strength and how do you plan to leverage that in coming years?

DQ: As I said before, it’s the programs. Like I said, both the SkillsUSA contest and the Plumbing and HVAC Apprenticeship contest are so exciting. Our HVAC and plumbing apprenticeship programs are available with the relationships we have at the state level, and all the online programs are amazing. I also want to mention our scholarship program — some of the stories I’ve heard of folks who have struggled and are able to get that scholarship are just amazing stories that tug at the heartstrings. You see the success stories from just the scholarship program alone. The amount of money that has been given out over the years and the passion of the folks who have donated to the Foundation, it's just amazing. I love it.

PM: What do you like most about being part of the plumbing and HVAC industries?

DQ: The passion, the industry support and the volunteers that give up their time. As I said before, I want to feel passionate about what I do and know they have the same passion. The technology, training, relationships — I see that excitement in the members that participate in the Foundation and the Association at large, both on a state and local level.

This is both a national organization and a local one, and I think that's what makes it so exciting —how it impacts everyday lives. Quite honestly, it's one of the things that drew me to this position was what impact our members were having on the lives of everyday Americans. Everybody needs a plumber. When their HVAC goes out, that person is a hero in so many ... it happens. There are so many emergencies in the work that they do.

PM: What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

DQ: When I'm not chasing my kids around, I'm a very passionate, I say quasi-historian, for American history. For a number of years, I'd always had a dream one day of teaching U.S. history in school. I’m a lover of history, presidential history in particular. I've read books almost about every president and I can bore a room with my historical presidential knowledge — I have put some people to sleep.

Part of what makes this group so interesting is just the history. PHCC was founded in 1883. It's amazing! It is, I believe, one of the oldest associations in the U.S.. That's incredible. Can you imagine what that was like? I even joked. I said, "Does the job come with mutton chops," because the original founders had, which would've been great, but would've looked a little weird nowadays. The fashion sense has changed. When I first came to PHCC National Headquarters (in Falls Church, Virginia) to talk to Cindy Sheridan, I was like ‘Can you give me 10 minutes to look at that historical artifact display?’ It was like reading a history book.

The world has changed, but at the end of the day, whether it’s 1883 or 2023, it’s still a contractor working on pipes. That hasn’t changed over the many years. Technology has advanced, obviously, but it still comes down to training and the ability and know-how of that person. That’s what makes it exciting.

PM: What is one thing about you most people don't know?

DQ: I spent 12 years in the Army Reserves. I spent 12 years in and the GI Bill helped put me through college. That's why I understand how important the scholarship program is, because in a way, it helped pay my college bill where I went to school. At that time, it put me in almost a training program — an apprenticeship-type program — because I worked with welders. I worked on boats in the boat unit and I worked with electrical equipment. It was such an experience to understand when you’re an 18-year-old trying to figure out what to do with your life. They sent me to the Panama Canal for a couple of summers. It was amazing. I had experiences I never would have had, had I not joined the Army. I’m very proud of it. I’m proud of the veterans I know, and so many have experienced such tough times. That was one of the areas I hoped to work on with the groups to see if there’s something there from veterans as well. I come from a family of veterans, and my brothers and I — all three of us served.

PM: Anything else you want to add?

DQ: I'm so excited to have an opportunity to serve the Foundation. I've had the chance to meet the board. The staff and the team here are just wonderful. Everyone is excited and very passionate about what they do here, and they understand the importance of their role, whether it be here at the national office or on the state level and local chapters. I see the excitement, the energy and the passion for what they do, and to me, that means a lot. I hope to do my best to serve in that role for them as well.