ACCA is a well-known acronym in the HVAC industry and on Capitol Hill. Officially titled the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the non-profit association maintains more than 60,000 members, including professionals from businesses in the indoor environment and energy services community. In addition to providing direct services and benefits to its members, ACCA actively serves the entire HVAC industry.
Maintaining this work and service level requires leadership, and with only a small staff on the payroll, ACCA relies on its members to be volunteer leaders on its boards, committees, and MIX® Groups. Becoming an ACCA leader is not as intangible as it may seem.
“We are looking for people willing to roll up their sleeves and be leaders beyond their business — leaders of the industry with a lens towards the needs of contractors and their team, and a lens of separating ourselves from the lowest common denominator, which contractors need to do, especially when times are tough,” said Bart James, president and CEO of ACCA. “When things are great, business is good for everybody, but when times are tough, everyone needs a helping hand.”
James explained that even though ACCA has a long technical history, there is also a need for participants who can offer the soft skills that make businesses more successful.
“They need to take a big-picture approach and understand that even an association still needs to be run like a business,” he said.
For anyone interested in ACCA leadership, here are five steps to help their leadership journey to begin.
1. Become a member.
In order to qualify for any leadership or committee groups, those interested must be a member of ACCA. This does not mean that only contractor owners are allowed into the association; however, valid membership must be established in order to participate in ACCA’s benefits and leadership.
NETWORKING AND LEADERSHIP: ACCA’s diversity makes room for anyone who wants to network with their peers, a benefit that many believe is one of the better things they receive from ACCA membership.
Matt Marsiglio is a good example of this. As operations manager of Flame Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, and Electrical in Warren, Michigan, Marsiglio works for Gary Marowske, owner of the company and ACCA member.
“I expressed interest in getting on the board and was nominated this past year,” said Marsiglio. “Being new to the board, I am grateful to give back to the industry that has given me so much.”
As an official national board member, he encourages other contractors and their employees to get involved.
“The support that ACCA gives not only its members but also the industry as a whole is worth it,” he said. “I have been fortunate to build some great relationships with other ACCA members and share ideas and best practices. Become an ambassador for the industry and you won’t regret it.”
2. Get involved.
Once a member, contractors need to get involved not only with the benefits but also with the committees and MIX® groups. The current ACCA chairman, Lanny Huffman, is the president of Hickory Sheet Metal Co. Inc. in Hickory, North Carolina. His first involvement at ACCA was with the ACCA Codes Committee.
“I became quite involved while working my way to the committee chairmanship,” said Huffman. “From there, I was nominated to the board of directors and eventually to the chairman’s position.”
Codes aren’t for everyone, but there are multiple committees in which to participate. ACCA writes the standards for the design, maintenance, installation, testing, and performance of indoor environment systems. It also brings contractors together with other contractors through unique learning opportunities and online communities.
“ACCA will always be the standard for the HVAC contractor,” said Huffman. “It is the one source where a contractor can receive training for their employees, have influence to the mechanical codes, and gain first-hand knowledge of what is happening to our industry in Washington. Be ready to think on a national level and be ready to do some work. Our leadership, both staff and volunteers, are passionate and dedicated to the HVAC industry.”
3. Speak up.
Even involved members of ACCA can at times clam up in their committees. That is something that Linda Couch, current ACCA board member and COO of Parrish Services in Manassas, Virginia, said can make for poor decisions.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up and go against the status quo,” she explained. “Groupthink makes for very poor decisions. The more people we have raising their hands and saying they’re interested, the better. If someone’s interested in a leadership role, my recommendation would be to go to the Contractor Forum and ask for a mentor.”
Before becoming a board member, Couch was very active on ACCA’s Contractor Forum, both asking and answering a lot of questions.
“Hilary Atkins, general counsel at ACCA, noticed my participation and asked me if I’d be interested in running for a board position,” she said. “I got where I am today with a lot of help from others, and working on the board at ACCA is my way of giving back to both colleagues and the industry at large.”
Couch encourages people to get involved with ACCA and its leadership structure. She encouraged one of the latest board members, Craig Elliot, to run for the position, just as Atkins had encouraged her.
4. Practice leadership.
ACCA is working on building its bench of leaders, and experience is an important part of the equation. The difference with ACCA, however, is that the leadership or committee experience doesn’t need to come from the HVAC industry.
“We have an application process, and we're always looking to build the bench,” said James. “It's priceless to have people that have served on committees before, whether that's in their church or rotary or you name the place, but to have that ability and understanding about working together in a collaborative approach is a plus.”
TAKING THE LEAD: Immediate past chairman Eric Knaak (right) began his ACCA leadership journey in 2005. He never thought he would become the chairman of the national board. Here, he signs The Pledge to American Workers with Bart James, ACCA president and CEO.
Eric Knaak, immediate past chairman, began his ACCA leadership journey in 2005, back when local chapters were still in play. He held a local position until 2013, at which time he joined the national board of directors. During the years preceding his board membership, Knaak attended leadership development courses and had been involved as a volunteer at other local organizations.
“I never thought I would become chairman of the organization,” said Knaak, executive vice president and general manager of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, New York. “I wasn’t an owner, and I didn’t have a college degree. I learned quickly that leadership isn’t about your title or who you are; it’s about what you do, and I love that.”
He went on to acknowledge that he wouldn’t be where he was today without his ACCA experiences.
5. Make time to grow.
Steve Schmidt, president of Frederick Air in Frederick, Maryland, is a past chairman of ACCA’s national board, but his start took some time. With a newer business to attend to, Schmidt wasn’t ready or able to give up the time that he wanted to invest in ACCA. He watched what was happening as his business grew, and after preparing his business so he could step away for a little while, he knew that participating in ACCA leadership was a possibility for him.
“If you really want to take your business to the next level, this is an excellent way to do it,” said Schmidt. “I was never satisfied with my business just existing. I wanted it to grow and prosper, and that was very important to me.”
One of his favorite parts during his tenure was the interaction that he had with other contractors. Schmidt explained that being a part of ACCA gives members immediate access to the best contractors in the U.S. Of all the benefits ACCA membership and leadership offer, he is most pleased with concept of giving back and strengthening the HVAC industry.
“I have a company that is being passed to my son, so it is extremely important to me that I hand him a business that exists in an industry that is going to continue to be prosperous,” said Schmidt. “As an ACCA leader, what I was doing was enabling my business to continue into the next generation by helping ensure that there was a healthy industry to exist in.”
The Door is Open
“ACCA is singularly focused on representing the interests of HVACR contractors on Capitol Hill, in states around the country, and even the esoteric world of codes and standards,” said Brian Stack, current senior vice chairman of the ACCA board and president of Stack Heating, Cooling & Electric in Avon, Ohio. “In the wake of COVID-19, ACCA’s leadership in fighting for ‘essential services’ designations, averting onerous workers compensation regulations, and making relief measures accessible to all contractors has attracted record member growth. ACCA’s work on codes and standards helps to ensure a level playing field for contractors who invest in doing the job right with safe, efficient, and reliable systems for their customers.”
The door to ACCA membership and leadership are open for those interested. The association is looking for members who are willing to bring their experiences to the table, get involved, and speak up.
“We need every contractor and their staffs to get involved with committees at ACCA,” said James. “I think they'll be pleasantly surprised at how they can hit the ground running in the association. There's no such thing as a dumb or silly question, because if you don't know what something at ACCA means, then we haven't done a good job of explaining it.”
ACCA Leadership from a Woman’s Perspective
Jennifer Pierce, general manager of Clay's Climate Control in Linwood, New Jersey, recently has become a board member of ACCA. Here is what this newbie had to say about her leadership experiences at ACCA.
I joined ACCA about nine to 10 years ago. By attending conferences and joining a MIX® Group, I created a network of business owners and leaders who were very involved in ACCA. A member of my MIX® Group, Laura A. DiFilippo, president of DiFilippo's Service in Paoli, Pennsylvania, was a past chairman of ACCA. She encouraged me to get involved and introduced me to many industry leaders. As a fellow woman in the industry, we both felt it was important to have more women in leadership roles. In addition, as a woman who started an HVAC business, I thought I could add a different perspective. I enjoy learning about HVAC, business, and government regulations. Being a member of the board of directors allows me to share insight that can have a positive impact on the association. My goal is to help the association reach as many contractors as possible. Being relevant to the smaller contractor and contractors who have started their own business is an area I can certainly relate to. Anyone who is interested in being a part of ACCA leadership can simply make connections and speak to any industry leader. If ACCA has had a positive impact on their business, it is important to give back by sharing knowledge and experiences with others. Each contractor approaches business from their own perspective, and I believe all of that insight can only help the association.