SMACNA held its 75th Annual Convention in San Diego (not to be confused with SMACNA’s 75h Anniversary, which started the day after the convention) in October. The opening reception on Sunday evening is always exciting, but to see three Navy SEALs parachute onto the deck of the USS Midway Museum in the dark took it to another level.
The patriotism continued the next morning as singer Janine Stange, famous for singing the national anthem all over the world, opened the convention singing both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. Adding further to the patriotic atmosphere, Navy Seal Commander Rorke Denver gave a keynote address that shared his lessons on leadership.
The week-long event generated a wealth of new ideas for contractors and their staffs with dozens of education sessions, product show presentations, and opportunities to network and talk with peers. There were also plenty of fun events, award ceremonies, and the election of new officers and the board to keep people busy.
On Monday, SMACNA managed to catch Tom Martin, president of T.H. Martin Inc. completely by surprise by presenting him with SMACNA’s Contractor of the Year award. “Tom’s involvement in local and national SMACNA boards is lengthy and impressive,” said 2018 SMACNA President Jack Knox, “and his work to advocate for and grow the industry makes him especially deserving of the recognition.”
Serving on SMACNA’s Board of Directors, Martin chairs several national committees and is spearheading the development of a new library of business books for contractors through the New Horizons Foundation. As president of the SMACNA Cleveland chapter, he collaborated with his labor partners to defeat a bill that would curtail energy efficiency standards and is actively involved in a program for high school students to discover the benefits of a career in the sheet metal industry.
Later during Monday’s luncheon, two deserving chapter executives, Lauri Rollings, executive director of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association of Milwaukee, and Linda Baxter-Jennings, executive vice president of SMACNA of San Diego, were recognized as co-winners of SMACNA’s Chapter Executive of the Year Award for tackling a critical industry initiative: recruiting a skilled workforce.
SMACNA President Jack Knox commended Rollings for launching an apprentice recruiting program as well as creating a youth apprenticeship program to attract high school students to the trades, getting labor and management actively involved in the fire-life safety marketplace, and for launching the “Choose Bigger” apprentice recruitment campaign with SMACNA and several unions.
Jennings teamed up with her SMART local union and the JATC to establish an active recruitment program, for working with veteran groups including the Wounded Warriors Project and Warriors to Work to educate veterans about the apprenticeship program, for maintaining a “Direct Entry” program for veterans and non-union workers, and for teaming with industry partners to provide new veteran applicants with a tool package so they would have the best tools from day one.
Knox also recognized three individuals on Monday for their legislative service to SMACNA, Kim Best, Sheet Metal Contractors of Iowa, was named Chapter Executive Legislative Advocate of the Year. Fred Streimer, Streimer Sheet Metal Works, received the Distinguished Legislative Service Award, and Keith Harris, BHW Sheet Metal Company, was named Contractor Legislative Advocate of the Year.
During Monday’s luncheon, Navy SEAL Commander Rorke Denver described the tough training that SEAL trainees endure, “where 75 to 80 percent don’t see the finish line. You have to be somebody who just won’t quit.”
Denver shared his adventures, thoughts on what makes a hero, and advice on how to bring out one’s best leadership qualities. “How do you instantly get better when you’re already performing at a very high level?” he queried.
He invited the audience to stand up and raise their arms high. “Now, he said, “give me one more inch. That is the difference. It’s rarely the big idea that changes the world. It’s the small things that you steadily improve. It was those inches that counted and made us better. Find those inches. Ask, ‘Where can we find those inches and get better?”
“It has never been a better time to be a warrior in this country. So, stop a soldier and tell him, “Thank you for your service,’” he advised. “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to fight for our country,” he added. “This county is the most phenomenal place on earth.”
Monday and Tuesday Sessions: From Managing Growth to Millennials
SMACNA members picked up a host of useful tips and take-aways at the dozens of education sessions throughout the convention. At one such session, “Understanding Millennials and iGens in the Workplace,” psychology professor Jean Twenge offered advice on how to recruit, retain, and manage millennials and the iGen generations.
“Born in 1995 and later, iGen-ers grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet,” she said.
“The ‘i’ in iGen represents the individualism they take for granted as well as their rejection of social rules,” she reflected. The “i” also indicates they are in no hurry, ‘in person no more,’ insecure, irreligious, inclusive, independent, and have income insecurity. “IGen is the ideal place to look for trends that will shape our culture in the years to come.”
Construction expert Thomas Schleifer Ph.D. counseled contractors to carefully manage their companies’ growth and to rethink their procedures in order to elevate their businesses to world-class operations.
“Growth is the critical first step in business planning. Unstructured, unplanned growth can be lethal,” he warned. “The rate of growth needs to be carefully planned and managed.”
He advocated the “science of project selection,” noting that “project selection is critical in the whole scheme of things.” He advised members to focus on “good work that you always get right and good customers who always pay on time.”
Marketing and media expert Boaz Rauchwerger shared his powerful marketing ideas with members to generate more business while suggesting they “have an attitude of gratitude,” during his session on creating great business relationships.
“Call the media in your town, tv stations, radio stations, newspapers. What if somebody says yes? If you’re enthusiastic about your company, you’re helping the assignment editors do their job,” he noted. “I once challenged someone to call CNN. They need more stories than anyone else in the world. It ran on CNN worldwide.”
“You must be gigantic. It just takes one phone call. All you have to do is have the guts to call.”
Another marketing tip: Change your voicemail message and turn it into a commercial, he said. “I’m sorry I’ve missed your call. We’ve just completed a major installation downtown and we can do the same thing for you. Let people know what you are doing.”
The first 15 minutes of a day are the most important, he said. “Set a timer for them to think on your goals, and plan how to reach them. If it is to be, it is up to me.”
“If you’re working harder and making less profit, accounts receivables can be a big factor,” business consultant and author Bob Langdon, explained in the business management session “Five Steps to Maximizing Return on Investment.”
“Credit control is one of the most fundamental aspects of improving your business’ return on investment,” he said. He warned against extending customers credit because it ties up working capital and creates the possibility of losses from bad debts.
“Remember, as your investment in accounts receivable goes up or down, your return on investment goes up or down respectively,” he advised.
When your business sells goods or services to another business on credit, you are effectively lending working capital to that entity, he explained.
Author Kate Andersen Brower shared a sneak peek of White House resident staffers from the 1960s to the present during the spouse breakfast on Tuesday. Staffers, cooks, and butlers were particularly fond of President George H.W. Bush’s family, she said. “Staff could not say enough about them. If there was a death in the family, the Bushes were the first people they heard from. The Bushes all were so loved.”
“In Washington where there is so much politics and negativity,” she said, “these are actually real people and real relationships.” She noted that later the first ladies often became friends, even when their husbands had been rivals.
“Barbara Bush loved being first lady,” she recalled. “Anyone who doesn’t love being a first lady is out of their mind,” Barbara once said.
“It’s no secret that the industry is humming along quite nicely, showing growth for the next couple of years,” SMACNA CEO Vince Sandusky said during the annual business meeting Wednesday. “Our good fortune and the challenges that brings are likely to continue.”
“Our strategic objectives include improving the competitive position of our contractors, engaging more deeply with our constituencies, and developing the quality and quantity of the resources that are available to you. To meet these objectives, SMACNA has invested heavily in added staff expertise for our technical, legislative, and communications work groups,” he said.
“In 2019, we’ll be refining and improving these efforts. Look for expanding engagement levels between SMACNA and Congress and between SMACNA and the design and code communities. We will increase program resources to chapters so the interests of contractors are served at the local and national level.”
SMACNA 2018 President Jack Knox agreed that the industry is robust. “Almost all of the markets for our members are strong — there is plenty of work,” he said. “We are enjoying a good relationship with SMART. And, we have outstanding leadership on our national Board of Directors and Executive Committee.”
He noted that SMACNA's chapters were also responding to the manpower challenge and that two chapter executives were recognized for their efforts in recruitment.
“All of us would like to see these efforts spread throughout the industry, and not just during these times of worker shortages, he said. “As an industry we need to find the best and brightest to assist us with meeting and exceeding the expectations of our customers. Our old approaches won't get us there.”
In his acceptance speech, new SMACNA 2019 President Nathan Dills reflected on the lessons his forward-thinking father, Harold Dills, instilled in him. “He had a lot of heart and a strong work ethic. Growing up, he encouraged each of us to push ourselves and always ask how we could do something better.”
“He always had technology on his mind and he taught me to embrace it.,” he said. “What technology did we need to make us more productive and that will allow us to get more work? He knew he needed a workforce that embraced technology and kept up with it.”
“I want to know where you think technology is taking us and its impact on the industry,” he told the audience. “We must be ready to embrace everything that comes our way.”
“SMACNA gives each and every one of us the opportunity to be successful and gives us a group a contractors who want you to succeed. Every person in this room wants you to succeed.”
On Wednesday night, platinum recording artist Andy Grammer led a spirited show to close the convention, singing his hits “Honey I’m Good” and “Keep Your Head Up,” with his high-energy backup singers and band (a guitarist jumped up on a table top), and he showed his versatility on keyboards, guitar, and trumpet.