This will be my final column in Sprinkler Age. Two years ago I notified the AFSA Board of Directors of my intention to retire on December 31, 2016. During the past two years we have planned for this transition, repositioning some staff to new responsibilities and adding new faces. In January 2015 we hired Executive Vice President Frank Mortl, III CAE who began training for the job of AFSA president. He will assume that role on January 1, 2017. The transition has gone better than anyone could have imagined.
I joined AFSA as executive vice president in December 1988 and worked with then President Frank Riseden until he retired and I was selected to succeed him. I interviewed for a job in an industry I didn’t know much about. I had come from positions on a Congressional staff to the oil industry and then the construction industry – but I didn’t know anything about sprinklers. As I sat through that interview with Ed Smith, Willie Templin, Jack Viola and a few others, I had no idea that I was about to embark on a career that would be so rewarding, and in an industry that is so important. Past AFSA Chairman Tom Waller once said, “We knew you were a good association man. The question was could we make you a good sprinkler man.” In Tom’s opinion, I met that test, but you will have to make that decision on your own.
It is easy to fall in love with this industry. It is not just that this industry is critically important in saving lives and property – and it is definitely that – but it is the people who represent this industry that make it truly great.
I’ve rubbed shoulders with some real giants in this industry. People like Willie Templin, Ed Smith, Harold Black, Tom Waller, Don Becker and Jack Viola. As Treasurer and later Chairman, Don Becker laid the financial foundation of AFSA and insisted that strong reserves would someday be needed to keep this organization going, and he was right. Tom Waller, who prided himself on his glass always being half-empty, took care that this association needed to be strong financially and have a strong staff to maintain it. Bob McCullough looked into the looking glass and saw what we could be, and pushed new efforts to improve AFSA and the industry – the apprentice competition, expanded chapters, and scholarships. And Jack Viola. What do you say about a person who volunteers for everything and always follows through? Every chairman of AFSA has built on the successes of predecessors. And every one has been a teacher and a friend.
When I came to AFSA in December 1988, the organization had an idea of where we wanted to go, but didn’t quite know how to get there. AFSA was young and struggling with all of the problems that young organizations experience. But our officers, Board and committees had their eye on the future. We were not going to be satisfied to be as good as some other organizations. We wanted to be better. Every Board Chairman kept his eye on the goal, and every Board member put in extra hours to achieve our successes. Without this dedicated effort by volunteers, AFSA would not have succeeded. But without the wisdom to bring on a talented and dedicated staff, AFSA would not have succeeded. The Board and committees set the direction, and the staff delivered the quality programs and services that have established AFSA as the best.
My management philosophy has always been to hire good people, give them guidance, and then get out of the way to let them work. Our staff is filled with people who are committed to excellence and who aren’t afraid to branch out and try new things. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t – but you never achieve excellence without pushing the boundaries a bit. My job has been to provide the support and encouragement, and with our staff that has been easy to do.
We will always be indebted to Janet Knowles, who retired last year after 26 years of service, for guiding our communication efforts and publishing the leading industry magazine, Sprinkler Age. For over 20 years AFSA’s Vice President of Engineering & Technical Services Roland Huggins, P.E. has built a first-class technical services department – second to none – and established AFSA’s reputation in technical services and standards development. AFSA’s convention and exhibition is the best in the industry and this is due to the experience (almost 20 years) and talent of Senior Director of Convention & Meetings Marlene Garrett as she guides our efforts in presenting a convention that is educational but also fun and entertaining. Starting as the receptionist and being promoted numerous times to her current position of director of education, Leslie Clounts has become a key player in our educational efforts and seems to always know the answer before the question is asked. Leslie has been with us 20 years. In marketing, promotions, and web services there is no better than Roger Gragg, who has been with AFSA slightly longer than I have, 28 years. For 20 years, D’Arcy Montalvo has been editing Sprinkler Age and Contractor Network and managing our public education and awareness scholarship programs. Space won’t permit me to talk about every staff member, but you should know that AFSA is truly blessed with a talented and dedicated staff. I am proud, very proud, to have had the opportunity to work with such a fine group of people. I’ll never forget them.
And to all AFSA members, thank you so much for the opportunity to travel this road with you. It has been an honor. (And for Don Becker – yes, Don, I’ve got my AFSA watch on and will keep it forever.)
Steve Muncy is the President of the American Fire Sprinkler Association.