At just 45 years of age, Joseph Lansdell is one of the youngest people ever to become SMACNA president.
It’s not something the owner and president of Poynter Sheet Metal in Greenwood, Indiana, dismisses.
He knows that sheet metal and HVAC have been through some rough times in the last few years, and it faces a worker shortage that is only expected to grow.
To counteract that will require new thinking — something as a younger SMACNA member he may be able to provide.
“We’re always trying to make ourselves relevant,” Lansdell said of the sheet metal industry. “In the time of electronic and social media and everything (the industry needs to figure out) how to attract that next generation.”
It’s a problem that goes beyond SMACNA, he added.
“Construction is no different,” Lansdell said. “The baby boomers are retiring. There’s a real generational change right now.”
Those are among the issues and challenges Lansdell will face as he officially became SMACNA’s 2016-17 president at the end of the convention. He’s ready.
“I’m very eager to get involved,” he said.
Lansdell has been president of Poynter since 2008. To offset declines related to the Great Recession, under his leadership the company began branching out into specialty fabrication, and the company’s work has gone into breweries, wineries, pharmaceutical industry factories and even high-end homes. It stresses “Poynter” more than the ductwork-oriented “sheet metal” in its company name these days.
‘Metal, metal, metal’
Lansdell likes to say Poynter is “metal, metal, metal,” and that’s reflected in projects shown on the company’s website at www.poyntersheetmetal.com. High-profile ductwork projects include Indianapolis’ main convention center and the city’s international airport. He estimates average revenue at $63 million a year with a workforce of about 225 sheet metal workers. Another 35 people or so work in the company’s offices.
Less than two years ago, the company moved into a new 105,000-square-foot facility. It fabricated 6 million pounds of sheet metal there in 2015.
That’s a lot of successes for a company run by someone his age, but Lansdell credits others — and some luck — for much of it.
“I have been in the right place at the right time, been exposed to the right people and really watched what the generation ahead did,” he said.
Those people included the late Phil Myers of Bright Sheet Metal, a former SMACNA president (See “Meyers reflects on past year as SMACNA national president,” October 2001 Snips).
Like many people in sheet metal, Lansdell grew up in the industry. His father was general manager of a large Indianapolis sheet metal shop before starting his own company. His great-grandmother’s second husband was a journeyman worker in Indiana. His uncle left farming in California to become a sheet metal worker in the Midwest.
But Lansdell didn’t think HVAC was the career for him. When he was finishing high school, Lansdell had plans to study sports medicine in college and become a doctor. He even had a full scholarship.
A major change
Before he was to start college that fall, Lansdell changed his mind on sports medicine. Bandaging sprained ankles and knees wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life.
“At the last minute, I got cold feet,” he said. “It just didn’t feel like a fit for me.”
Instead, he worked for a summer in the sheet metal shop of his father’s company. Even then, he didn’t think HVAC would be a long-term career. He had a new plan: to become a real estate developer.
He ended up staying in sheet metal, eventually studying mechanical engineering at Purdue University.
“It becomes a part of you,” Lansdell said. “It’s an interesting trade. There’s so many facets.”
Convincing young people that sheet metal can be a multifaceted, exciting career is something Lansdell is passionate about. In the Indianapolis area, Lansdell has been active in the contractor school SMACNA operates with Sheet Metal Workers union Local 20. He works with Purdue University to make area students aware of the opportunities in construction.
It can be difficult to get people who have been told to go to college since they were young that there are other paths to success.
“We’re competing with the guidance counselor. We’re competing with mom and dad at home, telling a son or daughter that they’re going to go straight to college,” he said. “We’ve got to get that next generation excited about what (we) do.”
Despite all the talk about the looming industry-wide HVAC worker shortage, Lansdell is optimistic the message will get through. The fact many students graduate from college with crushing debt levels — when a construction career often allows students to earn a living while they study the field — will also help fix the imbalance.
“I think over time it will correct itself,” he said.