You’d think someone staying in an RV in an office complex parking lot adjacent to a busy intersection in a suburb of Washington, D.C., would attract the attention of various uniformed authority figures sooner or later. But, for Charlie Wallace, the soon-to-be-retiring vice president and chief operating officer of PHCC’s Quality Service Contractors best practices group, the asphalt outside PHCC-National Association headquarters in Falls Church, Va., is as familiar as his Raleigh, N.C., living room.
But that’s what you get with Wallace, who’s retiring from his post at the end of this month — a regular guy who’s made a big name for himself simply by doing what he does.
“I go up on Sunday and come back Thursday night late,” Wallace said of his 600-mile commute. “But it just seemed like the best of both worlds rather than spending money on hotels and all that.”
The on-ramp to Wallace’s road to QSC presented itself nearly 40 years ago. Wallace was selling paint to painting contractors in the 1970s. In 1986, he was invited to run their association.
“So we met and they hired me,” he recalls. “I had no experience, although I was working with the contractors and knew them.”
So there he was — at the helm of a regional painter’s association. He spent 11 years there honing his executive chops and looking for the next challenge. It came in 1999. “Then I got the bug and thought, ‘Well, I’d like to run a national group,’” he says. “And the only place you can do it is in D.C. So I picked up and came to Washington. And fortunately enough, QSC was looking for somebody and they hired me. It was still working with contractors, which is what I had done all my life. It seemed like a perfect fit.”
One of the first things on the agenda for Wallace was spearheading QSC’s now-popular Business Coaching Program, hiring the first business success coach. That, Wallace says, was the start of offering business coaching to members and stepping out “beyond QSC a little bit.” Today, three full-time coaches not only travel the country to help members fine-tune their businesses and reach their goals, but they also present seminars to PHCC chapters nationwide.
“The members were looking for more than what we had at the time,” Wallace said. “And there were competing organizations out there, so it was just a logical step to start business coaching. And so we did our search and found our first coach, which worked well. Then one grew into two, and we just hired a third coach.”
Wallace says about 60% of QSC’s membership take advantage of the business coaching program. “The majority could use it, even though our members already have very successful businesses,” he notes. “It has helped market QSC and PHCC to prospective members and gives business owners and their employees the opportunity to learn the latest tips to make their businesses better.” As testament to that success, many QSC members are long-term members — some of them since QSC started 21 years ago.
In addition to the business coaching program, Wallace was instrumental in launching QSC’s webinar program, creating an online learning experience for members as well as developing online tools for human resources, safety, customer service relations training, management training and technician training.
“This is a big part of what we’re all about — contractors wanting to reinvent themselves and become the best of the best,” Wallace notes. “My goal is to help them achieve their goals. It could be a vacation. It could be saving for retirement. Whatever their definition of success is, I want to help them achieve that.”
He adds that if people want to join and not participate in the organization, they won’t get much out of it: “If you’ve got the desire and you’re willing to start making changes, that’s great. We can help you. But if you think just by joining, it’s going to be a magic bullet, save your money and go on vacation or something. You’ve got to get involved or nothing’s going to change.”
Technology changes industry
Wallace has had a wonderful perspective for watching the changes the industry has gone through during his tenure at QSC. He says the industry has gotten more technical — not only for the techs in the field but for business owners, too.
“Running a business has become much more technical — between computers and software and tablets and smartphones. You know, when I started, people just barely had email,” Wallace recalls. “And frankly, they didn’t use it much. With the more gadgets you have, it’s easier to work 24 hours a day.
“And sometimes that’s what it takes. You’re always in touch. You’re doing everything you can to gain new clients for your business and you’re giving them absolutely the best possible service you can. You want to broadcast that to the world. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 10, 15 or 20 years. It’s just not your granddad’s business anymore.”
He also notes the future will bring some changes people in the business today may want to pay attention to. While the basics — customer service, financials, inventory and such — will always be with us, Wallace says there will be more streamlined ways of presenting them to people as the industry moves ahead.
“There’s certainly going to be more online learning coming down the pike,” he says. “However, you can’t just dig a hole and stay in it, and think you’re going to stay in touch and have this networking group to help you out. I believe people will still need to get together once or twice a year.”
Which brings up today’s hot demographic, the Millennials. The online world is second-nature to them and some say that’s to their detriment.
“[It’s said] they don’t need to be around people,” Wallace notes. “They can get everything they want online. They don’t need to have in-person relationships and friendships. Well, I think they’re going to find out it is certainly a big, important part of running a business. You can’t just do it online. You’ve got to have people you can call on and can trust.
“I think that’s the biggest thing I am most proud of — the way we’ve created this family of contractors and industry partners [at QSC]. They all want to help each other. A lot of people have been through rough times and can help others get through it.”
Wallace says he’s seen an influx of younger plumbers to QSC — people aged from their late 20s to their early 40s.
“It’s amazing to watch them at Power Meetings,” he says. “They go out and have fun. I see them on our email discussion list and they’re talking to each other and developing friendships that are going to last them forever. Their dads were involved in QSC when I started. The dads and moms are now retiring and the second, third and sometimes fourth generations are coming up. I really am pleased to have been a part of that.”
So what will he miss the most after leaving QSC? “Certainly, the friendships I made are invaluable,” he says. “I’m going to miss that more than anything.” Wallace’s successor is Lawrence Leonard, CAE, CMP, who has many years of experience managing programs, services and general business affairs of trade associations and professional societies.
This article was originally titled “Happy trails to Charlie Wallace” in the March 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.