Everyone who gathered for the Radiant Professionals Alliance’s Membership Reception on Jan. 23 during the 2018 AHR Expo in Chicago, knew they’d learn the name of the next recipient of the Carlson-Holohan Award of Excellence.
The award, not so much won as it is earned, recognizes an industry stalwart every two years for dedication to help the steam and hydronics industries.
“Mister Bill Gray,” said Mark Eatherton, a Carlson-Holohan alum and former RPA leader, as he gathered other past award recipients to the front of room to make the night’s announcement. “Do you have someone you need to dial up?”
As Eatherton talked about some of the basics of the award, Gray, president of Uponor’s North American operations, could be heard talking on his cell phone: “Hey, how you doin’? You sound terrible. You need to hang on for just two seconds.”
Then, Robert Bean, award chairman, read the proclamation: “In recognition of contributions to the world of keeping the human race healthy, well and comfortable through selfless giving of time and talents, teaching and mentoring to raise the benchmark of professionalism and in raising awareness and funds for industry causes, the legacy of Gil Carlson and Dan Holohan forever hereby includes, Ms. Ingrid Mattsson.”
Known for her energy, passion and commitment to the industry, Mattsson, director of brand management at Uponor, and about the only person we expected to see that night but didn’t, was sick at home with pneumonia.
“Ingrid can’t talk,” Gray told the audience with his cell phone pressed to his ear. “She is literally on the couch at home. I said to a few people that if she had known she was going to be recognized, she probably would have crawled here.”
No doubt about it. At the first AHR Expo in 22 years Mattsson missed, she became the 7th recipient and the first woman to receive the Carlson-Holohan honor.
If everyone in the room had a lump in their throats for Mattsson earning this award – in fact, I guarantee every single person in the audience has a favorite Ingrid Mattsson story – then it sounded like Mattsson had eight or 10 lumps when she finally spoke through Gray’s speaker phone.
“Bill, can you tell them that I’m like shaking because I don’t understand,” she said. “This is amazing. The people who have won this award in the past, I have huge respect and admiration for and I’ve learned so much. I love you guys so much.”
At Uponor since 1995, Mattsson leads the care and management of the brand – ranging from advertising to public relations and communications.
Her role has included managing the company’s change from Wirsbo to Uponor in 2006, and has seen her responsibilities grow as the company has grown itself beyond PEX for radiant flooring to expand into residential and commercial plumbing and residential fire sprinklers.
She served as vice chair on the Radiant Professionals Alliance board for four years, and was an active supporter of the group from the start when it was originally founded as the Radiant Panel Association.
“I learned everything, everything from all of you,” she explained, her voice about to give out. “I just could never … I can’t believe it. The passion, the knowledge … everything I’ve learned is because of all of you. You deserve the award and accolades, not me. I’m so sad I can’t be there. I’m in complete shock and incredibly humbled.”
We caught up with Mattsson a full week after the RPA reception – only to hear her voice sound even worse. Finally, a couple of days later, she told us more about what the night meant.
She was either the 74th or 75th employee of the company; according to a Facebook post by John Barba, her former Wirsbo colleague, fellow recipient of the Carlson-Holohan award and currently director of training for Taco, he or she was one or the other. At that time, the tally included three shifts of workers on the manufacturing floor.
The company easily employs twice that many now. Uponor, in fact, just put the finishing touches on a $17.4 million investment to expand manufacturing capacity an additional 58,000 square feet, making it the 10th expansion since the company began operations at its Apply Valley, Minnesota, headquarters in 1990.
For editors, Mattsson is well known for making annual office visits during the holiday season to discuss new Uponor products and industry trends. With each of us being half Swedish, we used to head into the city afterward for at least one glass of glogg.
Many of us also likely got to know her at one of the company’s former Home Comfort Team meetings.
“Radiant heating was all there was to the business back then,” she told us. “My heart was really touched by the radiant contractors I met then. So many others in the heating business just looked at us like we were this ragtag bunch, but we knew we were on to something.”
She added that she has a favorite quote from Teddy Roosevelt that reminds her of those days: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
“That’s a radiant heating contractor,” she added, “We were fighting the good fight.”
Mattsson has carried on Teddy’s general idea of railing against cynics who want to pick a fight with anyone trying to make the world a better place ever since.
Her original marketing position was created just for her and was to help increase sales and build market awareness and acceptance of PEX systems. Two decades later, Mattsson oversees everything that is brand-related throughout the company. She directs advertising and communications, marketing, media relations, public relations and sponsorships and is responsible for reputation management.
(That broad responsibility is one reason she told us that getting a call from your CEO at 6:30 p.m. as she did from Gray during the RPA festivities isn’t that out of the ordinary.)
To most, she’s virtually synonymous with her company. While researching this column, I was glad I read Gray quoted in a recent profile written after Mattsson had won a local business award that she was the “heart and soul” of the company.
Naturally, the company has grown and changed since I first met her, and there are more than a few new faces I’ve met at Uponor lately. One of my favorite industry memories is attending the first Home Comfort Team meeting at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas with about 200 contractors in 2001. That was a big crowd then. A huge crowd. But it was nothing compared to more than 1,000 who I joined at the company’s 2016 Uponor Connections Convention at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
I’ve been glad to know her back before Uponor was even Uponor and when the “P” and the “A” in RPA stood for something else. It’s still means the same because of her.
Despite the differences, for me, Ingrid defintely is Uponor.
Now if we can only go to the julbord at Tre Kronor this Christmas like we used to.