SMACNA president reflects on past year at helm
Looking over accomplishments of the past year, Ron Rodgers, president of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, doesn't hesitate to name one of the group's greatest highlights: the work on the Best Practices Task Force.
Formed just three years ago, this joint labor-management effort identifies areas where contractors have excelled, and attempts to quantify and relay these to others so that they can realize some of the same success.
"One of the common 'best practices' we've found is in the area of communication," Rodgers said. "Just being able to define problems, then work at solutions, rather than simply placing blame, has helped many contractors to be more successful in what they do."
He names Philadelphia as one city where labor-management relations in the past were frankly antagonistic and often counter-productive. "Local business manager Tom Kelly was instrumental in turning things around," Rodgers said. "They put together a labor-management group that was able to tackle tough issues such as productivity and now have turned to legislative issues. Tom, for one, saw that the old tactics just weren't working and there weren't gaining ground. Neither side was succeeding."
After identifying the local market, which was determined from crunching numbers related to annual commercial, industrial and residential markets within the geographical bounds of the union local, the Philadelphia group managed a substantial gain in market share. And this was during a period when the national economy was not exactly red-hot.
Rodgers has been one of the presenters at several of these Best Practices Task Force presentations throughout the year, along with Terry Farmer and Ted Zlotopolski of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association.
Family historyRodgers' father, James Barney Rodgers - always known as J.B. - founded J.B. Rodgers Mechanical Contractors Inc. in Phoenix. J.B. Rodgers was responsible for setting up training schools for military aircraft repair in World War II. He worked for Lockheed for a while in California after the war but returned to Arizona to found his own company, doing work for high-tech companies like Motorola.
Ron Rodgers worked at the business while in high school and underwent an apprenticeship, also graduating from the Arizona State University's school of construction. He didn't return to his father's business at first, but worked on nuclear power plant construction in California. Reluctant to accept job transfers elsewhere, he returned to work for his father in 1980, later buying the company from his father with two partners. He went his own way with the construction portion of the company, concentrating on performance contracting and putting into place an employee stock ownership plan as part of his exit strategy.
The successful firm came under the radar of a utility company, then various consolidators and, ultimately, U.S. Filter Corp., which also owned Kinetics Systems Inc., a high-purity piping contractor based in Santa Clara, Calif. After a purchase was negotiated, the name J.B. Rodgers/Kinetics eased the transition that became complete earlier this year to Kinetics.
Closer to home, Rodgers said construction work has become cutthroat, with too many customers interested only in the bottom line. All the more reason, he said, for SMACNA to allow its leadership to focus on a strategic purpose that may lie 10, 20, even 30 years out for the association's membership. Operational needs are being taken care of more quickly, he said, leaving more room for long-term growth and planning.
A pet project has been the New Horizons Foundation, founded last year. The group seeks to aid in implementing construction research with universities. Universities that conduct such research, it was felt, were not getting the necessary input from industry.
Rodgers is married to wife Cindy. He has two sisters and two daughters, Renee and Gena, none of whom are involved in the sheet metal industry.