Countless times over the years I have told anybody who would listen that our industry is loaded with outstanding people.

And Hajoca President and CEO — and former ASA President — Rick Fantham is most certainly extremely high on that list.

Which made it even neater when it was announced Fantham was the recipient of our Plumbing Division Award of Excellence. He was honored at the recently completed NETWORK2022 in Chicago during the Kohler Plumbing Breakfast.

One of my favorite interviews during my time at Supply House Times/BNP Media was sitting down with Fantham at the Marriott Magnificent Mile on Michigan Ave. in Chicago for his incoming ASA president’s article.

During that 2014 interview (man, does time fly), Fantham told the story of how during the 2009-2010 economic downturn, Hajoca was prepared to not continue its ASA membership.

“We had a leadership team meeting and made the decision to leave ASA,” he said in that interview. “Very few of our people were involved in ASA at the time and we felt we weren’t getting enough value from it. At that point, ASA was going through some tough times.”

ASA CEO Mike Adelizzi urged Fantham to reconsider.

“Mike asked me to not fully cancel our membership,” he said. “He asked me to visit the ASA offices and meet with some key wholesaler members, and if at the end of that we didn’t believe there was value in ASA, he would respect our decision. He wanted us to give him the opportunity to prove ASA could bring value to our business.”

And here’s the part that really stood out from that interview.

“I went to the meetings, I talked to other members, I did my homework and then talked to some of our region managers to get their input at the local level,” he said in that 2014 interview. “Over a six-to-ninth-month period, Mike demonstrated to me that we were the problem and that our passiveness was the reason we weren’t getting sufficient value out of ASA. I went back to our leadership team and suggested we jump into the deep end of the ASA pool at the local, regional and national level. I told Mike that I will assume we were the problem and that we were ready to fully commit to ASA. We haven’t looked back.”

Fantham served as ASA president in 2015 and was at the helm and played a key role during that timeframe when ASA was able to add a critical codes and standards staff position. Fantham currently is doing a second stint on the ASA board of directors, while many Hajoca team members are volunteer leaders serving on a variety of different ASA advisory councils, task groups and special interest divisions.

Fast forward to 2020 and the height of the pandemic and Fantham provided me with yet another great professional memory when I interviewed him for my ASA Town Hall Interview series. Fantham was tremendous with his insights on a variety of COVID-19-related topics, including his implementation of a comprehensive 4-R leadership plan during the COVID-19 crisis and all the steps involved with it — worth listening to for sure. Click here to view the video, which remains the most downloaded in the series to this day.

“I can think of no one else in the industry more deserving than Rick,” Kohler President Kitchen & Bath Sean Oldenhoff said in his congratulatory video for Fantham. “His leadership is boundaryless and inspiring to all of us that get to work with him. He has had a profound impact on each of us through his level of commitment to our relationships both professionally and personally, which he has nurtured over the years. I am personally grateful for the relationships he has built with Kohler and myself. Rick’s energy and passion are contagious and are unparalleled in our business. Thank-you to Rick for his positive influence here at Kohler, at ASA and throughout the plumbing industry in North America.”

Bradford White Vice President-Sales Operations Greg Eynon added this in another Fantham congratulatory video: “I wanted to thank you for all the years you have committed to the betterment of our industry, to your team members at Hajoca, to your vendor partners and to all of our customers. You have truly exemplified the best of our industry. I also want to thank you for all the years of leadership, and for some of us, the mentorship you have provided.”

Fantham, a London, Ontario, Canada resident who also is the president and CEO of Canadian-based distributor Emco, has made an equally large impact in his native country, serving on the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating board for 10 years and was its chair in 2001 and 2002. Fantham is a recipient of the CIPH Honorary Life Member Award.

“Thank you so much for being such a wonderful role model not only to me, but to so many throughout North America,” CIPH President and General Manager Ralph Suppa said. “And thank you for being a great champion for meaningful change throughout the entire plumbing and heating industry.”

Hajoca South Division Manager Marshall Maedgen summed Fantham up to a tee in a video clip played at the Kohler Plumbing Breakfast in Chicago.

“Rick, your encouragement to redefine what is possible inspires us all to become heroic pioneers,” he said. “Your supporting the success of others from teammates to customers to vendors — thank-you Rick Fantham for being such a wonderful teacher, developer and coach on and off the field. Your energy and enthusiasm and possibilities mindset inspires us all to go further and faster than we ever imagined possible. Who you are and what you are about makes our industry a better place to belong. Thank-you Rick Fantham for going all-in on us 100 percent of the time.”

Fantham joins an elite group to win the ASA Plumbing Award of Excellence, including Wally Gumm (Embassy Group), Joe Poehling (First Supply), Randy Tice (APR Supply), Rick Schwartz (Winsupply), Joe Maiale (InSinkErator), Jeff New (Mid-City Supply) and Bruce Carnevale (Bradford White).

A quick story here that also sums up Fantham quite well. I asked Rick to do a congratulatory video for Hajoca team member Gary Jones, who was one of two recipients of the ASA Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award this year (with Mid-City’s New). Jones and New also were honored in Chicago last month.

At the time of my request, Fantham was out of the country — I think Italy. Being a million miles away, didn’t stop Fantham for a second. First, I had a draft script of what he was going to say in the video almost immediately and an excellent video followed a few days after.

In that video, Fantham said Jones’ winning the Keenan honor is evidence that the good guys win.

And when it comes to Fantham, truer words have never been spoken.