Plumbing & Mechanical interviewed Michael Copp, executive vice president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association, at PHCC’s CONNECT 2015 in Hollywood, Fla., and in subsequent conversations. A portion of the interview occurred Oct. 1 during a “Coast to Coast Piping Industry Report” session offered by PHCC’s Union-Affiliated Contractors. Below is an edited version of the interview.

Copp succeeds former Executive Vice President Gerry Kennedy, who retired at year’s end. Before coming to PHCC, Copp was chief operating officer of the American Retirement Association. Earlier in his career, he was senior vice president of education at the National Association of Home Builders and managing director with the professional practice division of the American Institute of Architects.  


PM: As a college student and in the Army, you worked as a mechanical and architectural draftsman and designer. What attracted you to this kind of work? Do you see young people today having the same kind of interest?

MC: My interest started when I helped my dad build a passive solar-heated home when I was 15 or 16. I found I liked working with my hands, being creative, solving design problems and seeing immediate results that provided a meaningful contribution to my family’s comfort. Plenty of young people will be drawn to this industry for the same reasons.

I also read results from National Education Association research conducted in March 2012, which revealed that 70% of the U.S. labor force does not have a bachelor’s degree, and 51% of high school students do not go to college. Enhanced career and technical education provides an alternate career path to one-half of the student population for these folks. Vocational education helps students develop career skills that are desperately needed with 22% more plumbing-heating-cooling participants needed within the next five years.


PM: You have worked with both the NAHB and the AIA. What have you learned with these two groups that will help you in your position with PHCC?

MC: Our challenge, like most associations, is to continuously promote and deliver tangible value as defined by our customers, who are members and prospective members. This is value for which members pay and expect in order to renew their membership or become members and, hence, we expand market share.

How we do that is driven by the voice of the customer. This means:

• We need to establish relationships with all industry groups through a boots-on-the-ground strategy. People need to trust us and believe that we value their efforts and that success is interdependent among all stakeholders within the federation. We can only do that by standing in front of someone, shaking their hand and listening.

• We cannot just rely on satisfaction surveys and Net Promoter Scores, which are passive measures of success. We need to crowdsource ideas for education, advocacy priorities, and content or program development. Our customers define what they value; and our job becomes providing a means by which they can voice their needs and then we deliver what they want.

• As executive vice president, I need to be open to a team approach to problem solving.

• Just as we describe politics as being local, so too are many of the issues, concerns and industry opportunities that draw members to our organizations. I believe that we appropriately position our local and state associations as the “place-to-go” for resources, education and networking that we can provide our constituents.


PM: Can you talk about the value of educational opportunities provided by an association?

MC: We are unique in that we are not just providing professional development, but skill-based education upon which someone can fill an urgently needed job in this country, earn a good wage and enjoy a good quality of life. 

It’s professionalism through best practices. Look at how PHC companies market themselves. Being associated with a trade association means lifelong learning via certifications and corporate responsibility. Education is the key element to success because, truly, knowledge is power to outpace your competition.


PM: Your first official day on the job with PHCC will be Oct. 5, 2015. What will be your first order of business?

MC: Outreach, listening and assessing resources and infrastructure to determine what we need to do within the first 100 days. I need to understand the business our constituents are in and the value we must provide through a contemporary and innovative organization to help them grow their businesses. That could include enhanced service groups such as Union-Affiliated Contractors, Construction Contractors’ Alliance and Quality Service Contractors.

Or, it could be PHCC’s Educational Foundation, National Auxiliary or Association Executives Council, which plays a critical part in our federation. And, of course, we can’t forget our industry partners who provide much-needed financial support and resources that add direct value to the members.


PM: In general terms, can you tell us your goals for PHCC or what you hope to accomplish as executive vice president?

MC: The key theme is growth and opportunity for the organization. The U.S. plumbing industry was $95 billion strong as of 2013, according to industry research firm IBISWorld. Businesses in the industry number approximately 154,000 according to IBISWorld, with more than 715,000 employees. The credit crisis of 2008 saw industry growth decline by 1.3% annually, but a return to full economic health is expected to resume normal annual growth rates of more than 2.5% as new construction and remodeling activities increase.

We need to continue to nurture long-standing relationships built upon trust and cooperative efforts that have prevailed to continuously preserve and protect our industry through a boots-on-the-ground approach.

In line with conversations with the PHCC Executive Committee during my interview, my goals are to:

• Provide transformational leadership to clarify and strengthen our strategic profile – our products, markets and users – and determine what we can do well and execute those strategies effectively and efficiently.

• Harvest sources of non-dues revenue to underwrite the continued value this organization offers its constituents.

• Support grassroots outreach.


PM: In your previous positions, have you worked with trade unions in the construction industry? If not, what would you like to learn from UAC members?

MC: I have not, but I appreciate what UAC members do through what appears to be a very healthy consortium of industry representatives. Their goals include membership growth, raising the bar for the industry and providing education to signatory contractors. These are the same issues all PHCC members face.

I look forward to getting to know all PHCC members, including those who have joined PHCC’s enhanced service groups, establish a productive rapport to understand how we can better serve key industry segments and respond proactively to a rapidly and an ever-changing marketplace. For example, IBISWorld states, “As environmental concerns over water quality, waste management, chemical pollution and climate change continue, the plumbing industry and its unions are actively promoting the application of technology and training to expand the industry further.”


PM: Whether it is NAHB, AIA or PHCC, what traits or components do effective professional associations all share?

MC: Typically, we say we offer networking, education and research, advocacy, recognition and resources, but ultimately we need to provide actionable just-in-time intelligence to our members who can then make good business decisions early enough to thereby thrive.


PM: From an organizational standpoint, what do you consider your greatest strength that you will bring to PHCC?

MC: Having run my own small business and led most areas of a business from design, service department, assembly line and customer care to sales and IT, I have a general idea of how these various business units must work collaboratively in order to be successful. I’d like to think I bring that same sensibility to this role as a means to undercut siloes, facilitate productive communication and hence create strategic parity between groups.


PM: What has been your experience working with enhanced service groups – such as Union Affiliated Contractors – within larger associations?

MC: At NAHB, I was executive director for the Sales and Marketing Council and 50+ Housing Council, which had roughly 20,000 members out of the 250,000 we had until the credit crisis.

At AIA, I was managing director of the Professional Practice Group made up of 21 professional interest areas amongst a membership of roughly 60,000.


PM: From your work with NAHB and AIA, how familiar are you with green buildings? What opportunities do green buildings offer to plumbing and HVAC contractors?

MC:  From the sustainable design at AIA to high-performance construction at NAHB, green building incorporates construction and development techniques, materials and designs intended to minimize a building’s impact on the environment and conserve natural resources.

Newly enacted regulations are leading to green building standards and codes such as the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard that was adopted by ANSI in 2012. Other factors include: government stimulus programs, tax incentives and increased public awareness; EPA regulations requiring compliance with emissions standards; the need to continuously upgrade components of a building’s systems during scheduled maintenance; and the fact that more multinational corporations are looking for buildings with LEED certification while seeking out new real estate.

 All these are drivers of change in the plumbing heating and cooling industry. This means opportunities for plumbing and HVAC contractors who can employ emerging green technologies to differentiate themselves apart from their competitors by minimizing water usage, improving air quality and helping the owner arrest rising energy costs. These technologies include: rainwater harvesting; solar thermal and geothermal; energy-efficient climate systems or “smart grid” systems; and wind-powered heating and air solutions. PHCC instruction must include how to install and maintain these ever-changing green technologies.