Strengthening the chapter culture and re-igniting facility owner participation are the top items on Russ Brown’s to-do list as the new president of SSPC: The Society of Protective Coatings.
Brown, Global Business Development Manager for Munters Moisture Control Services, was elected SSPC’s 2010-11 president at the association’s Board of Governors meeting Sept. 21-22 in Pittsburgh.
The one-time paint salesman and psychology major hit the ground running upon his election with two priorities firmly in mind: strengthening and expanding SSPC’s chapters and kick-starting new interest by facility owners.
‘We Need a Strong Culture’
Brown knows firsthand how a successful chapter strengthens an association and a failed chapter weakens it. After doing “everything at the chapter level you could,” he saw his own former Chicago chapter fold several years back.
Keeping chapters both locally active and connected to the national organization is a challenge, Brown concedes. Virtual meetings and other online connections are efficient, but they lack the human element fundamental to meaningful networking, he says. On the other hand, personal networking demands travel time and expense that are in short supply today.
“I am trying to find a way to look at our chapter format, so we can continue them,” Brown said in an interview. “The economy hasn’t helped. But I believe we need a strong culture of chapters.”
SSPC currently has eight relatively active North American chapters—about half the number of chapters the association once had. The current chapters are: Hampton Roads (VA), Northern California/Nevada, Ontario, North Central Region, Southern California, Empire-Keystone, New York/New Jersey, and New England. In addition, the South Caroline and Pacific Northwest Chapters are reorganizing.
Moreover, SSPC has been rapidly expanding its international presence in recent years and now counts chapters in Japan, China, Indonesia/Singapore, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Most of the international chapter activities revolve around training and “are going very well right now,” says Brown. “And we want to find out why.”
To that end, SSPC will be sending surveys to its active chapters in October, seeking recommendations and feedback on chapter success. Also in the works: a Chapters Best Practices list. Both are key initiatives of Brown.
Brown believes the international chapters have gotten a boost from the newly established International seat on the Board of Governors. The new seat was filled July 1 by Belgian coatings consultant Gunnar Ackx, managing director for SCICON Worldwide bvba.
An Asia-Pacific board seat may be next, he adds.
Bringing Back the Owners
Declining participation by SSPC’s facility owners is Brown’s other top priority. “Part of our strategic initiative is to get owners more involved,” he says.
“The owners have pulled away for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is that we’ve failed to show our value to them,” Brown says. “They’re still getting JPCL, but they’re not sending their people to the meetings. Their interest is not as active.
“We need to go back to the basics and get the owners involved in the process,” Brown says. “Currently, we are missing their direct involvement on an ongoing basis, especially at the chapter level. It is the fulfillment of their needs that drive the painting and coatings business, after all.”
“It is important that we do a better job of communicating the value that SSPC can provide to this sector. When this happens, I feel our organization will grow in leaps.”
The overall percentage of owner membership in SSPC has not changed significantly in recent years—it was 20% in 2006 and 19% at the end of 2009—but the nature of the membership has shifted, said Terry Sowers, SSPC Director of Member Services.
“There are fewer corporate member owners than there used to be,” says Sowers. In addition, “the categories within the owner groups have changed, with fewer DOTs and more in the Navy/Shipyard group.” Today’s owners also have less travel money and time for chapter events and conferences, she adds.
SSPC has asked some of its Patron and Sustaining CFO company members to participate in a committee called the Council of Facility Owners, Sowers said. That group will have its first conference-call meeting in early October.
The group will help SSPC establish methods to collect information on owner needs and perhaps establish a recognition program for facility owners who participate in SSPC.
From Kmart to ‘Selling Air’
The protective coatings industry can thank Brown’s dislike of programming tests for his service. Upon earning a B.S. in psychology and sociology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1978, Brown opted out of graduate school when he learned that the program required classes in Fortran and COBOL.
Instead, he began working full time at his then-part-time job in commercial paint sales at Kmart. Moving around the Midwest, he later held positions with Porter Paints and Devoe Paint. It was when he began selling industrial coatings for Porter in 1988 that Brown joined SSPC.
Later, searching for a new challenge in the industry but outside the liquid coatings market, he joined Munters in 1998 as Regional Sales Manager.
“The use of dehumidification was a growing new technology, and I found it to be interesting,” Brown said. “And it certainly was a challenge to sell air.”
He later became National Sales Manager, then assumed his current position in 2008.
Brown is sentimental about the past (he met his wife Lynne while working for Kmart), excited about the present, and optimistic about the future.
He finds SSPC special for many reasons, including the fact that it offers vendors like him the ability to be a full-fledged member—not an associate—with a leadership position.
He is also in frank wonder at the technology advances and industry changes of the last generation.
“If you’re going to be in this business, you’d better be ready for change” Brown says. Indeed, his forthcoming paper for SSPC is tentatively titled, “This Ain’t Your Mama’s Dehumidifier.”
Brown excitedly ticks off some of the changes he’s seen in his career, from transformation of best practices, to the introduction of water-based zinc coatings, to high-efficiency dehumidification, and even to longtime friends who have become a “big cheese” in their companies.
“I know it dates you,” he laughs, “but it’s neat to see.”