Mike Heering began his construction career working as a drywall finisher for F.L. Crane & Sons out of Mississippi 33 years ago.
The industry has changed since. "A lot of what we did was by hand," he recalls. "We had taping tools, etc., but now the muscle has been replaced by pneumatic machines, which is a big step in the right direction."
So has been every step Herring has taken, because he is now regional vice president at F.L. Crane—and the next president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.
CD: How did you first become involved in AWCI?
MH: Jimmy Crane, who was AWCI's 1986–1987 president, started me in AWCI in 1984. Jimmy and his brother Johnny have supported my involvement throughout the years and are both happy to see me follow in Jimmy's footsteps as president.
CD: AWCI has seen some changes since then. How does it look to you now?
MH: AWCI looks very healthy today. Steve Etkin and his staff hit another big milestone recently when the Ceilings & Interior Systems Construction Association joined ranks with us for the joint trade show in Long Beach, Calif., this past April. It was very well attended, and we are all headed in the right direction. It was there that my wife Marilyn and I took the stage as the incoming first lady and president.
CD: How did it feel to be on stage after all these years in the industry and now suddenly representing it?
MH: I felt a bit nervous at first, but as the program moved ahead and I started looking around, I saw people with whom I had been attending these conventions for 20 years, and it gave me a feeling of comfort. So many friends made it easy.
CD: It has been said that a man is as rich as he has friends. What do you intend to accomplish as AWCI's president?
MH: We have several things going right now, so our plans are not to jump up and start a lot of new projects. We intend to keep working away at our important programs, such as the AWCI Insurance Company so we can offer it to more of the membership.
We are in the process of finishing our own office condominium space so that we do not have to lease anymore. We will be in the new offices by the end of the year—a major project that is mostly on Steve's plate, with the guidance of past president Ken Navratil.
Our Steel—Doing It Right program is new. We had the first seminar this year in Atlanta and the second in Texas. We are planning additional seminars in Baltimore this September and Denver this fall. This program is key to get the people out there understanding the new codes and to educate them in steel framing.
CD: Good plan that provides continuity. Do you see any areas of trouble in the year ahead for AWCI members?
MH: Probably number one is availability of manpower and training that manpower. Right now those are the leading factor in how much work we can take on. Figuring out how many people we can get is a challenge. There seem to be a lot of workers going to storm damage area, from Florida all the way to Texas, and that is causing other areas to suffer from a lack of trained manpower.
CD: Indeed. Will any action be taken by AWCI to assist in this area?
MH: I think that with the EIFS education and steel framing training, we are taking steps in the right direction. The education we can offer will assist the membership the most.
CD: Along a related line, do you have a take on the immigration legislation and how it may impact the AWCI membership?
MH: I would love to see the illegals in the work force that we have right now, become legal. We try our best as contractors to make sure the people we have are legal citizens. Many industry articles point out the significant percentages that are not legal. They may not be working directly for contractors, but they could be working for individuals. Work is pretty easy to get in these storm-ravaged areas. I believe that if all the illegal workers were to be deported, all contractors and owners would be suffering from that, as well as farmers and a tremendous amount of other businesses that depend on immigrant labor.
CD: Understood. What opportunities do you see in the year ahead for the industry?
MH: There are always opportunities. The areas that have a lot of hurricane damage—I keep bringing this up because it has driven our business for the last year—present a lot of opportunity, even if it is slow right now. And there is still plenty of opportunity around the country, as I understand it from the people I was talking to just a few months ago at the AWCI convention in Long Beach.
Contractors might have to think outside the box a bit and try to pick up a new area of work. We always do that at our company each year: pick up a new phase of work or expand on an old one. If people look at business from this perspective, instead of being strictly a drywall or plastering business, I think they will expand and become more successful.
CD: Good idea. Are there any other legislative, governmental and regulatory initiatives you see impacting AWCI members?
MH: Contract language! At some point in time, there will have to be contract reform so that all liability is not shifted from owners, architects and GCs to subcontractors. It seems like everyone is trying to shift responsibility down. That could be something that would be good to put on the table and try to work out. I am sure I won't get any disagreement from the AWCI membership on that. As people work on it at a state level, it becomes important to distribute information on successes, so they can be replicated or merged with efforts becoming undertaken in other states.
CD: Right. Going back to the subject of hurricanes, your location in Mississippi puts you right between hurricane damage from Katrina and the earlier batch, such as Ivan. In fact, you personally were AWCI's Katrina contact last year, and F.L. Crane & Sons even participated in a "hurricane aftermath" edition of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in April 2006—all of which means you may well have some comments to make about lessons learned concerning hurricanes. Would you care to share?
MH: When helping with the process of rebuilding, please ensure that construction is at least done to code. Maybe we should change the codes, which I believe is in the process of being done, but contractors should be sure to follow the current building code. If buildings are designed for certain areas and designed to code, maybe any future destruction will not be as bad as we witnessed after Katrina.
CD: That sounds quite key. Any other message you'd like to communicate to the membership?
MH: One thing I'd like to tell them is to get their young people involved in AWCI. If Jimmy Crane had not gotten me involved, we would not have had anybody in from company's the ranks right now working with all the AWCI committees—trying to stay on top of what is going on or is new and helping with new programs.
AWCI has plenty of opportunities to get involved: technical committees, awards committees, safety committees, industry-related committees, business forums. I have been a part of the Education Committee since I started. I have really enjoyed it and learned from it. That is one of the places the education process starts: putting on seminars at the convention in the springtime and our Industry Executives' Conference in the fall, and through our Academy in the winter, which is where we bring in the young executives and field supervisors. That is all the learning process, and if they can become involved in that, I can guarantee the rewards will be overwhelming.
It has been good for F.L. Crane, too. I hardly leave a meeting without some idea that we implement; we introduce something new or improve on what we are doing in some way, making it just a little bit better.
CD: Good. Anything else you'd like to say?
MH: Marilyn and I would both like to thank the AWCI membership for the opportunity to serve as president and first lady in the year ahead, and look forward to meeting many of you.
We also have so many good friends in the association; they have all been so kind, offering any help we need. All we have to do is pick up the phone and ask, and I believe they would help in any way they could.
For those who don't know Mike as an individual and family man, the following may be of interest: He and Marilyn, who is one of those lucky ladies able to be a homemaker, have three children: a 23-year-old son who is finishing at Mississippi State as an electrical engineer; a 21-year-old daughter also at Mississippi State, majoring in elementary education; and a son who is just graduating high school, heading for college to major in banking and financing.
He comes from a family of eight children, and 10 years back they began to meet on the Alabama coast, 40-strong, for five days at Thanksgiving. Mike looks forward to that trip and the annual vacation with the children. "That's something I hold dear and would like to keep going as long as I can keep the kids coming with us."
Mike also likes to fish: mostly bass in his bass boat, as well as deep-sea fishing.
And his other hobby is, as he says, "believe it or not, I like to er ... (laughs) ... work on the house. Well, I do. I built it in 1978, have added onto it, and once we were through with all that, why last year, I began renovating every room in the house, one at a time. I have all the pieces sitting there right now, in fact, ready to tear apart the master bathroom and rebuild it. I really enjoy it, and I don't know if you'd call it a hobby or plain crazy."
Maybe one could say that you can take a man out of the field but you can't take the tools out of his hands.