Sharpen Your Saw

Tim WiesAn Interview with Tim Wies, AWCI’s Incoming President

By: Ulf Wolf

July 2011

With many sincere thanks to AWCI’s current immediate past president, Brent Allen, whose steady hand saw the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry through another challenging year, we now welcome AWCI’s new president as of July 1, Tim Wies.

Like his predecessor, Tim was born into the construction industry and spent most of his high school and college breaks working at his father’s construction company.

Graduating college with a business management degree in 1982, he joined his father full-time and spent the next few years in the field as both a carpenter and a foreman, before moving indoors in 1985 as estimator and project manager.

In 1994, after 12 years in his father’s business, he left to start his own company: T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc. in Lake St. Louis, Mo. It’s a company he still leads, and successfully at that—his company won an AWCI Excellence in Construction Quality Award in 2010.

An AWCI member since the year he started his own business, Tim served on the AWCI board of directors from 1999 to 2005 and has served on the AWCI Executive Committee since 2008.

Further, since he became a member Tim has served on the Union Contractors Council, and also served as chairman of the Painter’s Craft Committee from 2000 to 2010, as well as on the Union Contractors Advisory Council from 2007 to the present.

There’s more: Tim has served on the AWCI Budget Committee since 2009, on the Industry Awards Committee since 2002, on the Nominating Committee from 2006 to 2010, on the Pinnacle Award Committee from 2007 to 2010 and has been a member of one of AWCI’s contractor business forums since 1997.

Tim lives in Lake St. Louis with his wife of 27 years, Barbara. "We’re empty-nesters now,” he says, now that both of their sons have completed their schooling and struck out on their own adventures.

So, it is with construction in his blood and 30 years of hands-on experience, both in the field and in the office, and with many years of dedicated AWCI service, that Tim now assumes its presidency for the next 12 months.

AWCI’s Construction Dimensions recently put a few questions to Tim about his new challenge. Here’s what he had to say.

We have now seen two and a half fairly tumultuous years in our industry as a result of the great recession, and although the predictions are for an 8 percent rise in construction for 2011, this has yet to play out. According to the numbers published by the Census Bureau on May 2, nationwide construction statistics for the first three months of the year are actually running almost 7 percent behind 2010. In light of this, where do you see the economy—and our industry’s health—going during your tenure and beyond that?
To be honest, this upcoming year will still be tough. It is true that some pockets are starting to show more life, but then again, other areas of the country are still down dramatically.

In fact, I agree with FMI’s and McGraw-Hill’s predictions that we will not be out of these woods until 2014.

The strange thing about this downturn is that unlike almost every other recession—where, in the end, it was the housing and building construction segments that led the market back to health—this time housing is not in a position to do so.

It also concerns me that 2012 is an election year, and people tend to sit on their hands and take a wait-and-see approach on deficit reduction and tax increases until after the election. I know there has to be a lot of money sitting on the sidelines at this point, a lot of businesses now needing to expand and upgrade facilities, but they may wait until after the election to commit.

What is AWCI’s biggest challenge for the coming year?
Right now, our biggest challenge is to convince our members to look forward, despite the current financial straits, and to invest in the future.

AWCI offers a broad and deep range of both technical and management education, which can and will equip both managers and craftsmen for great future expansion. But with cash flow being what it is today, the money and time spent on such training can easily be seen as a drain on dwindling cash rather than an investment.

It is up to AWCI in general, and up to me in particular, to convince our members that the cost of further training and education is in fact not a cost, but an investment.

Even the greatest and most productive lumberjack in the world has to stop now and then to sharpen his saw, or he’ll be working with a very dull saw soon enough, and producing less and less.

I see training and education as sharpening your saw. Yes, it will take time away from immediate production, and yes, there are costs involved, but they are both investments in future productivity.

AWCI’s curriculum includes both business training to make our contractors better managers, and our Doing It Right programs, which hone technical skills.

Again, don’t think "cost,” think "investment.”

What else does AWCI offer the membership that you see as valuable?
One of the most valuable things we provide our members is the opportunity to network with other contractors, suppliers and manufacturers from across the country in order to share views and problems.

It’s amazing how often some issue that is now facing a Minnesota contractor has already been confronted and solved by someone in Florida or in California, or the other way around.

This kind of networking is one of the most valuable features of our conferences, conventions and expos, and the smart contractor takes advantage of this.

Again, it takes time and money to attend these events, but the questions you need to ask are, "Does it bring value down the road? Can it improve my skills and better my company?”

If the answer is "yes,” you have to put down your saw and take time out of production to sharpen it in order to saw more efficiently in the future.

How is AWCI helping its member contractors during the economic downturn?
One important thing is that we are keeping the price right. We have not raised dues in the last 16 years, and then it was the first time in five years. Given the time value of money, members are paying less than half of what they paid to be members 20 years ago.

We are now also hosting online Webinars at no charge. And these, of course, you don’t have to travel to, either.

And instead of offering one- or two-day classes or education programs, we are putting together "Academy Week” to maximize the return on travel costs. Here, in one trip, you can receive the management and technical training that before might have required two or three trips.

Academy Week will offer a session that covers whatever the hot topic is at the moment, along with several of AWCI’s Doing It Right education sessions, so you might attend gypsum or stucco education for the first two days, a management course in the middle, and then finish the week with a steel or ceilings course.

We are working at offering this as inexpensively and efficiently as we can.

And during classes such as this, networking is a great added benefit. Even though we can network on the Web these days, there’s a lot to be said for person-to-person discussions, where you might touch on three or four topics over dinner, one of which directly seems to solve your problem.

Now that both EC-13 and EC-147 of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code—with the goal of improving energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, respectively, by 30 percent over that required by the 2006 IECC—have been approved, how do you see this affecting our members?
I think that the now much-more-stringent energy efficiency requirement might play right into EIFS’ hand, perhaps even accelerate the growing demand for EIFS.

Also, I know that our technical committees have been involved, especially when it comes to working out solutions for stucco in the new energy code, which may now have to be applied on top of a couple of inches of outboard continuous rigid insulation—meaning that the fasteners that hold the stucco mesh in place will have to be that much longer, and need to be that much stronger. So far they have come up with several different designs that may solve the problem.

Do you think the 2012 IECC will benefit our members?
Yes, I think it will allow for growth opportunities, since the envelope now has to be that much more efficient.

Also, I’m sure we will put on Doing It Right classes to address this issue, both in the EIFS and the stucco world.

What other current or impending legislative, governmental or regulatory initiatives do you see impacting AWCI members in the coming year?
Some of our members might be impacted by the new FASB [Financial Accounting Standards Board] regulations concerned with reporting unfunded liability. This may have to appear on the balance sheets once the regulations are finalized for union contractors.

Are there any other issues or dangers you see in the future for the industry? The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the Arizona laws regarding immigration, for example.
The immigration situation is still up in the air and will play out differently in different areas of the country until we have a federal resolution to that problem.

Another issue is insurance. My gut feeling is that insurance premiums will soon go up, especially in the wake of recent natural disasters, which will eat deeply into the insurers’ reserves. They’ll have to make up the losses somewhere, and one way of doing that is to raise premiums across the board.

What can we do to manage that?
As we speak, AWCI is working with Willis brokerage to establish feasibility of an association group discount for general liability policies. If that works out, we might be able to offer our membership better coverages along with some protection against rising premiums.

How should individual members best deal with these issues?
The key thing to remember is that you do not have to re-invent the wheel. One of AWCI’s main duties is to keep a close ear to the ground to detect these changes and issues, and to work out solutions for them before situations become critical.

Individual members must use us as a resource. We may very well already have the solution in place to the problem facing them. In fact, I believe this service alone is worth 10 years of membership dues.

How does AWCI itself look to you today?
Today we are as strong as we’ve ever been, both financially and operationally. Steve Etkin and his staff have done a great job protecting membership assets. They have grown our resources as well as the membership numbers. We’re in a very strong position to continue our support to the industry.

Have you seen any fruits from the closer EIMA relationship—co-located with AWCI?
Yes, there is much better coordination between the two associations, and EIMA has become much more effective representing the industry in Washington. They are leveraging their dues dollars much more effectively through the closer relationship with AWCI. EIFS is, by and large, a great product in transition. Some municipalities, for example, still do not allow EIFS. Not on any sound technical ground these days (problems in the past have resulted from faulty installation procedures of the building envelope, not EIFS itself) but just based on rumor or hearsay.

AWCI, by providing "back-office services” on a contract basis for EIMA, allows the association to focus on its mission to educate the architectural and construction communities, as well as the general public, about the great benefit of EIFS, without having to worry too much about the daily distractions of managing an association.

The benefits of this arrangement will eventually flow down to the membership, especially those specializing in EIFS.

Also, as I said, the 2012 IECC code will give us a helping hand as well.

How do you envision AWCI’s relationship with the Steel Framing Industry Association, which AWCI had a hand in establishing?
[Note: The SFIA is the first and only all-inclusive association focused on promotion, advocacy, education and innovation for the steel framing industry. The primary goal is to unify the industry behind expanding the market for cold-formed steel framing. Membership categories include steel mills, coil coaters, processors, roll-formers, fabricators, engineers, material distributors; all the way through and including the end-user, the framing contractors.]

We have a very good relationship with SFIA. Again, as with EIMA, AWCI is providing back-office support for SFIA to allow them to get up and running as fast as possible, without undue overhead worries. And they are moving quickly. In fact, I just saw the announcement that Patrick Ford has been retained by SFIA as their technical director, and Robert Grupe as their project manager.

We realized that the steel framing sector, and all those involved, did not have a single voice promoting their interests, and that is the purpose of the association—which AWCI backs, of course—since a strong steel framing industry is very much in our interest.

What should AWCI members do more of in order to improve either their own positions or AWCI’s?
Take advantage of the tremendous resources that AWCI have to offer, and become involved with the association’s committees and attend association events.

What are your objectives for the association during your tenure?
My objective is to involve as many new and fresh faces as possible in the organization. We’re open to—and invite—the new generation of contractors to become involved as well.

We have now set up forum groups focused specifically on young executives, as well as a women-only business group.

We want and invite broader involvement, especially from the up-and-coming contractor generation.

What has been the high point of your career?
It has to be reaching that terrible five-year mark as a new company. I’m sure you know that 80 percent of all new construction companies fail within the first five years, and surviving beyond that was probably the high point.

In your career, what are you most proud of?
What I am the most proud of is that I, through my company, provide a good livelihood for a lot of families. That also warms my heart the most.

How would you describe your philosophy on life in general, and on construction in particular?
Generally, I’m a pretty fun-loving guy and quite loose. I am a little less loose at work but still try to keep a fun work atmosphere.

One way to describe me at work is as a recovering micro-manager. I’m getting over it, and that is actually a great feeling. Especially when you delegate to someone and you see him or her take it on and perform really well; that makes the next delegation that much easier.

As a manager, would you let someone make a mistake (if not too costly) to make him or her learn a lesson?
Oh, absolutely, if we can afford it. The mistakes tend to stick, and they don’t do them again. They’re usually very valuable lessons—investments, really—that pay back in the long run.

Why did you want to be president of AWCI?
I’m a firm believer in industry associations, and I am a firm believer in involvement. I rarely, if ever, sit on the sidelines. I tend to speak my mind and become involved.

This attitude has served me well over the years, and I have benefited hugely from my involvement in AWCI.

I actually see my AWCI presidency as a way to return the favor, as a way to give back some of what I’ve received over the years.

What hobbies or personal interests do you have outside of construction?
I enjoy hunting and fishing. I snow ski. I cook. I’m an excellent barbeque chef. I enjoy entertaining people.

And I enjoy golf. Plus I work for a couple of charities.

I think it’s about balance—enjoying both work and leisure.

Any final thoughts?
Sharpen your saw.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.