DG: Since May 2015, a lot has changed within the PVF industry. Share some of the PVF RT's insights on the current crisis facing the PVF industry?
Joe Pro: I wish that was an easier question. Collectively the PVF Roundtable Board of Directors represents hundreds of years of experience. The one thing we all know is that this economic cycle is not the first time the energy markets have been hit hard. During our networking events we like to meet with as many members as possible to ask about market conditions and forecasts. This is one of the highlights of our networking. The PVF Roundtable members cover many industries. They also cover many regions of the country including exports.
The current crisis is difficult because it has grown deeper than many had expected. We are seeing job losses across all sectors of our industry. Marketing and travel budgets are usually early cuts in a down cycle. We have been extremely fortunate in maintaining our membership numbers. We have had only one PVF Roundtable meeting in 2016 and we had near record attendance. There were about 425 guests for cocktails and networking and about 275 stayed for dinner and our guest speaker. This was a resounding success considering market conditions.
We are watching closely as membership renewals get mailed back with dues payments. Our board remains confident that our annual cost and the value received are still considered attractive and our membership renewals are bearing that out.
One of the concerns we have collectively as a board representing many companies is one of image. It is rare that you hear anyone who describes the PVF industry as glamorous. We already see many companies facing a dilemma of replacing the first wave of baby boomers who are set to retire. A prolonged down turn in our industry will further discourage potential employees from seeking careers in PVF. This could lead many companies into an even more difficult position of hiring qualified workers.
DG: There is so much the PVF RT is doing to help this sector. From quarterly meetings to provoking speakers, it's obvious there's valuable help to be handed out. Share some exciting details about the coming year for PVF RT in terms of events and topics.
JP: One of the most exciting topics is really our quarterly meeting format change. Our members asked us for more networking time and less time with speakers. So what we have done is changed the format from a formal sit-down dinner with a speaker to four hours of cocktails, appetizers and networking time. We have changed at least two meetings a year to this format and are in discussions to add a third evening without a speaker and sit-down dinner.
Other events still scheduled this year besides our May, August and October PVF Roundtable network meetings are the annual Don Caffee scholarship golf outing at Sweetwater Golf Course and the wildly loved Trout Blast fishing tournament in October.
None of the events described would be possible without many tiring volunteer hours by members. In addition we are blessed to have so many incredibly generous sponsors for each of our events. Each and every event is loaded with high quality companies who support our scholarship programs through their sponsorship.
We expect to award $150,000 in scholarships this year. The scholarship money is donated to four different schools:
DG: As a relative “newbie” in this industry, I’m beginning to understand some of the basic tenets of tackling a wide variety of topics in the PVF industry. Describe some the “basic tenets” the PVF RT abides by in maintaining its goals.
JP: The PVF Roundtable has a very simple mission statement that reads as follows:
The PVF Roundtable is an organization of industry professionals involved in the Pipe, Valve and Fitting industry. The membership is committed to providing an open dialogue to exchange relevant information, creating awareness of current industry affairs which affect the entire PVF community. In addition, we prepare for the future of the industry by providing funds to educational and training institutes to encourage the growth of the PVF field.
Our success has been in attracting the most diverse group of members anywhere in the country. We have manufacturers, distributors, engineering firms, master distributors, end-users, manufacturers representatives and media publications such as “The Wholesaler”.
Our goal has been to create an atmosphere where everyone has the ability to network with key individuals and companies in our industry. We feel strongly that our low cost of membership ($850 per company in 2016) has kept our membership base strong. Our membership fee in fact, allows each member to have at least four people attend each of the quarterly networking events.
Another key factor has been that for the most part to leave politics at the door. Certainly a few of our guest speakers have referenced the political world and the impact it is having on our industry. But that is not the agenda of the PVF Roundtable. Our mission remains simple: Facilitate large networking events and provide educational opportunities in our industry through scholarships.
DG: Speak a little about the volunteering aspect of the PVF RT. What types of challenges and opportunities arise here that may influence the members in their day job?
JP: The entire PVF Roundtable Board of Directors are volunteers. All of the company representatives that make our Don Caffee scholarship golf outing and our Trout Blast fishing tournament successful are all volunteers.
All of us at the PVF Roundtable have been on the same page forever about what our purpose is as board members. To be successful and to have the trust of our members when raising money for scholarships we have to be fully transparent with revenue and expenses. Not one member of the board receives any money for serving. In fact, not one of us ever requests a reimbursement for expenses. Our own companies have assumed those expenses. One of the biggest concerns we all have when asked to donate to a cause is how the money gets spent and who benefited. We have removed all of that concern by making sure that every dollar raised after direct expenses is made available for scholarships.
Our volunteers collectively log a lot of hours performing PVF Roundtable functions. This again would not be possible without the generosity of our employers. We have a structure within the Board that requires everyone to participate at a very high level. For example:
Each of these committees could not succeed without the additional support of the remaining board members who volunteer under each of these chairs.
Our Board of Directors meets every month. Four meetings are in person in Houston and eight are via conference call. You can see the level of dedication with this type of commitment.
I’d like to also give you an example of how these volunteer duties can impact your day job:
It is a Monday afternoon and Harold Armstrong calls me all excited. There is a scholarship awards dinner being held at Texas A & M. The recipients of the PVF Roundtable Endowment fund would be there and we were invited to College Station Thursday night.
I told Harold that was great, but that I was in Las Vegas at a trade event that did not end until Thursday. I would have to rebook my flights, plead my case at home and if all goes well fly to Houston, Texas on Thursday. I left the trade show at lunch, flew to Houston, met Harold at his office, we drove the two-plus hours to College Station and attended the scholarship awards dinner.
At 9:00 PM that night we drove back to Houston. I arrived at my hotel near midnight. It had been nearly a 20 hour day.
But I will tell you that meeting those three scholarship award winners at Texas A&M put a bounce back in both Harold and me that made it all worthwhile. The PVF Roundtable members can and are making a difference in lives. We invited Eric Sanatana, one of the winners to speak at our February 2016 meeting. He was appreciative, humble and powerful in his thanking the members, sponsors and volunteers that make the scholarships possible.
It is a long story but a reminder constantly of the impact we can have.
DG: Opportunity, growth, values; these are some the words used to describe large scale, successful groups like PVF RT. We all know why people keep coming back month after month, year after year. But why has this group touched such a chord with you?
JP: The PVF Roundtable has touched a chord with me in many different ways. First and foremost it is the greatest privilege and honor to serve as this group’s president. To follow in the footsteps of Sidney Westbrook, Ron Merrick, and Danny Westbrook is still amazing to me. I volunteered as a board member before being elected president. I was able to participate at a high level as a volunteer and earned the trust of the group. To be selected and accepted by my peers was such a rewarding feeling.
I sit in a room for our board of director meetings and I look around in awe at the people who serve on this board. These are people who share a desire, not a passion, for an industry that we have all participated in for many years. You certainly feel a tremendous responsibility to perform and to meet all of their expectations.
When I walk into a banquet room on the evening of a PVF Roundtable networking event I am still amazed after all these years. The quality of the companies represented in the room can’t be matched at another venue. The calibre of individuals that are present represent the greatest number of years of experience and knowledge that can be accumulated in a single space. As a board member we are all so appreciative of the support we receive from our membership. The current economic cycle has clearly been difficult, yet nearly every PVF Roundtable member renewed. We believe this reflects how they value the opportunities to meet at such a venue and share stories about the industry and catch up with friends and former colleagues.
Finally, there is not a board member here who does not recognize how fortunate we all have been in our careers. We work in a great industry surrounded by incredibly talented people. It gives all of us great satisfaction to be able to give a little of that good fortune back.