This month's cover article about the merger of two major trade associations of HVACR distributors is the type of story that occurs about once a century in an industry. Congratulations are in order to the leaders, members and staff of both NHRAW and ARWI for putting progress ahead of tradition by merging into a single group with the catchy acronym of HARDI.
NHRAW and ARWI were fine organizations, but they had little reason to exist as separate entities except for - as ARWI's straight-shooting president Johnnie Drury described it in our cover article - "politics and ego." Politics and ego held sway for more than half a century. Then, in little more than a year, they were swept aside by a tornado of common sense. Harsh necessity no doubt played a role as both organizations were shrinking due to consolidation. Nonetheless, there are other groups in the PHCP industry whose depleting ranks make long-term viability questionable, yet which would rather go down waving their flag than pursue logical mergers.
Why is it so hard to see the big picture? What drives this instinct to preserve old ways that aren't working very well rather than try something new? The amateur sociologist in me would speculate that it stems from characteristics of the PHCP industry itself. It's a mature industry, especially on the plumbing side, without a lot of glamour. And, the industry is made up mostly of small, privately-held companies, which by nature tend to be insular. All of this leads to an inward-looking quest for gratification, from which springs tradition and organizational patriotism.
None of this is meant to be insulting. Nothing is wrong with patriotism, for example. You should be proud of the important and honorable work you do, and of the organizations you form to advance your professionalism.
However, patriotism cannot just be about wrapping oneself in the glory of the past. It ought to embody a vision of the future as well. If there's anything clear about present trends, it's that the future business of PHCP distribution is unlikely to bear much resemblance to that of its past. The formation of HARDI is a step forward to enable HVACR distributors to meet those future challenges.
Another Big Picture
Now let's turn to a different example of big picture thinking, in which ASA plays a part. The "big picture" terminology here can be taken both literally and figuratively.
I'm referring to the fact that this month's cover story and photograph represent a drastic departure from tradition for this magazine. For decades, each ASA Convention issue has devoted its cover feature to the incoming ASA president. This tradition would seem to be more sacred than ever now that Supply House Times is in partnership with ASA as its official magazine.
So what the heck are we doing running a cover story about another trade association in the ASA Convention issue!!!
This decision cost me a couple of sleepless nights anticipating a firestorm of protest from ASA officials. Yet, we believe it's the sensible thing to do, and as it turned out, incoming ASA President Steve Anderson and Executive Vice President Inge Calderon could not have been more gracious in reacting to it.
"I'm not big on tradition," said Anderson, when I told him of our plans. "As long as you're writing about a consolidation, put in a plug for what ISH North America is trying to do," he added with a chuckle.
Our decision boiled down to a choice between tradition and professionalism. What would be better journalism, to spotlight a once-in-a-century event, or a routine annual transition? Should we do things the way they've always been done simply because they've always been done that way, or focus on exceptional breaking news? Like HARDI, we too like to think we've opted for progress over tradition.
And so have our friends at ASA. Hats off to the ASA leaders who tipped their hats to progress over tradition.
This isn't to say we're throwing tradition in the trash heap. An interview with Steve Anderson will be published in the Oct. 31 ISH North America Show Daily distributed in Toronto right after the ASA Convention. That interview will also appear in next month's edition of Supply House Times, along with coverage of Steve's business, Central States Industrial Supply in Omaha, NE.
Next year, we'll probably return to the annual tradition of featuring the ASA president on the cover, unless some other event of overriding importance occurs. For now, we'd like to leave everyone with the thought that the future is always more important than the past.