NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • When in Rome (and Lihue)

    Posted on Apr 07, 2009 by John M Grau

    I’ve been on the road again. This time for the Midwestern Region Conference in Lihue, Kauai, followed by the Eastern Region Conference in Rome, Italy. That’s half a world and twelve time zones apart.

    The meeting locations may seem a bit extravagant considering the tough economic times. They were booked a couple years ago when the work picture for our industry was much better. Still, those who attended found that the money invested in attending these meetings was well spent. Sure they had a good time, but the meeting program and discussions with fellow contractors were at least as important. 

    A comment from the keynote speaker at the Eastern Region meeting made it all worthwhile for me. Captain Gerald Coffee (U.S. Navy ret.) told us about his seven years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. He related how he and other POWs, like John McCain, survived the ordeal at the so-called Hanoi Hilton.

    Coffee said that during his first few months of captivity he felt sorry for himself. He prayed for his release and an end to the misery. But then he slowly began to realize that this was the wrong attitude. He decided instead that his job was to make each day as productive and positive as possible. From then on, he worked hard to improve himself and the lives of his fellow prisoners. 

    If someone being tortured and held in a small, dank cell in a foreign country can have an attitude like that, then how much easier is it for us to live our lives in a positive and productive manner? It really puts it all in perspective.

    When NECA contractors get together for meetings, far away or close to home, they most often find that they learn something that will improve their lives and their businesses. A great opportunity is coming up at our NECA National Convention in Seattle this September. We’re pulling out all stops to make sure that the program is relevant and useful in today’s economic climate. 

    It will cost to attend. But it could cost more not to.

  • Visiting Chapters Without the Air Miles

    Posted on Jan 10, 2008 by John M Grau

    I remember hearing a story about how one of my predecessors, Lawrence Davis, took an extended trip by railroad in the 1930’s to some of NECA’s west coast chapters. It was a major excursion, and it took him three or four weeks to visit a half-dozen chapters. I don’t know if he ever did it again, but if he did, it wasn’t until several years later.

    Today, I’m able to travel to dozens of meetings across the country and around the world. I spend hours, not days, getting to where I’m going, and I rack up nearly 100,000 air miles every year in the process. However, I’m only able to personally visit a handful of chapters. The travel logistics may be easier today than they were in the 1930’s, but conflicts and time constraints make it impossible for me to make a personal visit to each of our 120 chapters, let alone meet several thousand NECA members.

    But just as technology helped us overcome the time and distance barriers to travel, it’s helped us stay in touch. Over the past few months, we have been conducting an experiment in communications. NECA President Milner Irvin and I have had telephone conference calls with several different NECA chapters’ boards of directors. The idea is to use technology to approximate an experience we can’t do physically. (Ideally, we would visit each chapter for an extended face-to-face discussion about industry issues and their local concerns.)

    In 2007, we held 25 chapter board conference calls. The results have been very encouraging.

    During the typical 45-minute conference, we take some time to let the local chapter learn about the work we’re doing on the national level. The chapter then tells us about their key issues and projects. We leave plenty of time for questions, comments, and open discussion. Most of all, we listen.

    Both Milner and I agree that we’ve learned a lot from these sessions. While there is much in common between members and chapters across the U.S., there are also significant differences. Most often, those differences can be seen in the priorities each chapter places on various issues. For some, open portability of manpower is crucial; for others, it is less so. 

    The kind of relationship the chapter has with their local union leadership is another key factor. If the relationship is good, then the chapter leaders are optimistic about the future of the industry. If the relationship is poor, then almost any solution seems unattainable.

    Our “listening tour” continues this year with a goal of eventually meeting with every chapter board who wants a dialogue with us. 

    I keep thinking back to Larry Davis’s chapter tour in the 1930’s. Without a cell phone and emails on a PDA, what do you suppose he did on the train all day?

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


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