ISH NA: A Leadership Development Opportunity

Contractors become so involved in their businesses that they often fail to see the total industry picture. But for the p-h-c contractors attending the ISH North America trade show in Toronto, the industry picture will be as clear as glass in a pavilion filled with the latest products, new technology and business management/technical experts.

We’ve all heard the benefits of a trade show of this magnitude, and they all are true. But as a career association executive, I would like to talk about another benefit that is not addressed as frequently: trade shows like ISH North America are an excellent opportunity for p-h-c contractors to develop business management and leadership skills that can benefit not only themselves, but the industry overall. Contractors visiting ISH will take the new ideas and tips gained at ISH back to their businesses, and in the process, not only improve their companies, but also benefit their customers. The rise in professionalism and potential leadership that can result from such an experience cannot be matched.

What the p-h-c industry needs is more leaders like the ones who will be at ISH North America. Most of the contractors who come to ISH are involved in one of the trade associations that are holding meetings in conjunction with the trade show. So belonging to a trade association and attending a national trade show go hand in hand.

Did you know that in the United States there are more than 84,000 plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractors? This breaks down to 33,000 plumbing contractors, 34,000 mechanical/HVAC contractors, and about 17,000 refrigeration, sprinkler, control, septic and piping contractors. We need to attract more of these people into associations to help our industry grow.

Throughout my 23-year career, I have heard all the excuses for not belonging to an association. Many of these same excuses are reasons contractors do not attend their industry’s trade show. The litany of excuses runs from, “I don’t have the time (or money),” to “I don’t like the people who are involved with the association.” Looking back in history, what if our forefathers in the United States had taken this same attitude?

Good Examples

Back in 1776 when the United States became a nation, most of our forefathers were reluctant to take a leadership position in the new government being formed. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Adams were about 40 years old with families and successful businesses at home. They could have let the old guys, like Benjamin Franklin, design the nation we were to become.

Instead, Thomas, George and John sacrificed their families and their businesses to make the long trek to Philadelphia in order to argue for independence from Great Britain. History has proven that our government is a model for the rest of the world because of these great men. But what if they had stayed home? What if you stay home?

The reason we have associations in this country goes back to these early leaders who said no to taxation without representation. As a p-h-c contractor you also must be represented or you are going to get “taxed” out of business. The stronger your voice, the better you are represented. Your association represents you on the national, state and local level, and in each case it is vital to the future of your business.

On the national level, our association, PHCC, monitors any legislation that we think will affect our members. It is imperative to work with other industry groups in order to be truly effective. If it is a large issue like elimination of estate taxes, we work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NFIB and other large organizations.

We work with a smaller group of industry partners, like the American Supply Association and Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, on issues that are more specific to our industry, like the water closet standards and water sub-metering devices. In each case the specific needs of the p-h-c contractor must be voiced. Without associations, individual companies would have to hire a Washington lobbying firm to lobby Congress each time an issue came up.

On the state level the issues are even more focused on our industry. Licensing and code issues are constantly being reviewed by state legislatures. If you look across the country, states with strong associations have laws that are more favorable to those working in our industry. Strong licensing laws usually mean there is a strong association making sure the law remains on the books and the enforcement bodies are in place to keep the law in effect.

On the local level, the story remains the same -- a strong association means the local ordinances that require inspections and installations by qualified tradespersons are equally strong.

It is often difficult to build local associations because someone must be willing to lead it through the growing process. A strong local association requires a strong group of leaders or enough money to hire competent staff. Which gets us back to the reason it is important for contractors to attend the ISH show -- to develop more leaders to keep our respective associations strong.

If you belong to your association because of insurance, labor relations, or some other product or service that the association offers, then step back and look at the total industry picture. Your association is here to represent you in this great industry. We need our associations and we need to accept the mantle of leadership that comes with being a member.

Our forefathers refused to accept the government that was forced upon them, so they fashioned one that continues to work very well. However, it only works if you are represented. Your association assures that you are represented, but your involvement and leadership will ensure you are well represented.

Think about it and give me your comments at the ISH North America Trade Show, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2002, in Toronto. I will see you there.