Gary Heil emphasized a commitment to service.

John Mariotti focused on creating the future.
WAIKOLOA, HI — It’s not that the program offered at the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA’s) annual convention was lame. Far from it.

For instance, keynote speaker Gary Heil gave an energetic discussion regarding the importance of service in the 21st century. Meanwhile, guest speaker Jack Kemp, Bob Dole’s vice presidential choice four years ago, expressed his various political views, including his disgust for the death tax. And, at the same time, the specialty forums offered at the three-day convention were, for the most part, informative. (See related articles.)

Yet despite all of these pluses, it was clear that the majority of the record-number 1,500 SMACNA members in attendance did not necessarily come to the Big Island of Hawaii to be, as one contractor put it, “cooped up inside.” And not with a spouse and/or family members along for the ride; not with pleasant 80üF weather, perfect for poolside enjoyment; and certainly not with a convention site, the luxurious Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel, that had everything from a dolphin learning center to an on-grounds lagoon (fit for snorkeling) to a multitude of restaurants, to …

In short, Hawaii was the draw, but it was also the distraction.

“It’s in Hawaii, what more can you say?” laughed Mark Watson, chairman of SMACNA’s convention committee, when asked about this year’s event. No one was complaining, not even the sometimes lonely presenters.

“I noticed that the attendance at the sessions was a little light for the number of people they had registered,” said David Holt, one of the presenters (see related story below). “I only had about 20 folks in my session, but had already made up my mind that if there were 10, I would be happy considering all of the other options that were available to attendees.

“It is always a difficult decision when it comes to choosing between a two-hour PowerPoint presentation or a line of hula girls! Hah!”


The theme for this year’s convention was “Navigating Into the Future.” In his opening talk, Heil gave one direction: Make a commitment to service.

“The return on investment for companies that impress their customers with value-added service can be staggering,” said the author, educator, and internationally recognized expert on leadership, service, quality, and change management. “These returns are not the result of providing excellent service, but of customers perceiving that a company delivers service that is unique.

“Achieving quality service takes a serious commitment from every employee in the organization to remove the ‘s’ word [satisfy] from service goals and instead work to exceed customers’ expectations to the point that customers are willing to tell others.”

In addition to service, Heil said he wanted those in attendance not to fear change.

“Creative, dedicated, enthusiastic service professionals who routinely make business decisions and improve when necessary are the foundation of excellent service,” he said. “Yet, many companies ignore the benefits of engaging the talents of their workforce. Too often they ask front-line employees to park their brains at the front door and blindly obey predetermined policies and procedures.”

John Mariotti, president and ceo of The Enterprise Group, built on Heil’s remarks in his duct manufacturers’ forum, “When Old Rules No Longer Apply.”

“My mission today is to draw on many expert opinions and open your minds to learn from the past, understand the present, and create the future,” said the motivating speaker. “Don’t be so preoccupied with perfecting the present that you fail to work on finding the future.”

In regard to change, he asked listeners if they thought it was a terrifying threat or a wonderful opportunity.

“What you think determines how you behave,” said Mariotti, who provided the audience many quotes to ponder, including the following from Albert Einstein: “The world we have created today has problems which cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them.”

“The industry is in a time of transition,” noted Mariotti. “Job security can’t be protected. It must be earned. Also, artificial controls do not work for long in free markets. It’s like squeezing a balloon.”

So, what to do about change?

“To ignore it is not a choice. It is a fatal mistake,” he said. “Create the future. Level old and new knowledge to surpass prior performance. Spend energy and resources attacking, not defending. As the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

To create the future, Mariotti suggested that contractors face reality clearly; understand it in detail; seek to know what customers value most; widen perspectives and ask “How can we?” instead of “Why can’t we?”

“Don’t just sell metal by the pound,” he said. “Value is complex and powerful, made up of quality, service, speed, cost, and innovation. Just remember that the best value wins.”

Mariotti asked that everyone read a book by Spencer Johnson, M.D., titled Who Moved My Cheese?

“If you have not already changed, you have to change or cease to exist, just like the dinosaur,” he said. “How to change is the challenge. But don’t wait. Competitors are changing too.”

Publication date: 10/30/2000