Listen to Your Elders

Mark L. Johnson / January 2018

Fifty years ago, two trade associations served the majority of North America’s wall and ceiling contractors. The international association of the Wall & Ceiling Industry championed lath and plaster construction. The Gypsum Drywall Contractors International served wallboard installers.
    
In 1967, the two associations began talking about uniting to serve a diversified industry. They consolidated in 1976 as iaWCC/GDCI which, in 1979, was renamed AWCI.
    
What if the merger had never taken place? What if drywall firms remained wallboard specialists, and plastering contractors kept touting hawks and trowels? Would the industry have turned out better? Let’s revise history and find out.

John W. Thomson Jr.
In the 1960s, John W. Thomson Jr., a plastering contractor from Miami, believed the plastering industry should diversify and bid acoustical tile and drywall.
    
“It’s up to the individual contractor to determine how far he wants to go in this business,” said Thomson, who was AWCI’s (then CPLIA) president from 1962 to1963. “But if he’s going to stay alive, he’ll increasingly need to be in many different fields.”
    
If we rewrite Thomson’s “stay alive” statement, here’s what we get: “To stay alive, a plastering contractor will increasingly need to serve one field: plastering.”  
    
Would a plastering specialist have gone far in the 1960s and 1970s as drywall, cold-formed steel framing and the drywall screw made the wallboard assembly an affordable way to go? A few niche plasterers maybe. A whole continent of them? No way. Thomson saw no future for single-service contractors. He knew that general contractors wanted full-line subcontractors on projects, not dozens upon dozens of specialists. The merger of iaWCC and GDCI was perfectly timed after all.
    
Let’s take another example.

Vernon L. Raymer
In the 1970s, Vernon L. Raymer, a drywall contractor from Denver, was a member of GDCI and a fastidious guy. He kept digital business records (uncommon in the mid-1970s), had his warehouse floors swept daily (“they appear scrubbed,” Construction Dimensions noted) and he was a drag racer.
    
In racing parlance, the driver with the shortest reaction at the start of the race puts a holeshot on his competitor. Raymer, AWCI president from 1981 to 1982, sought the holeshot in business by steering his company to diversify its services. “If the shell is up, we can […] do the entire interior,” he said about his firm’s capabilities.
    
However, we’re revising history. Let’s say Raymer hesitated at drag race starts. Let’s say he argued for wallboard only and not “the entire interior.” In a world rewritten, Raymer would have lost business. Had the two associations not merged, Raymer would have had only meager support in his competitive time. It’s a good thing he pushed for change.
    
Let’s re-tell one more story.

Theodore J. Vogle
Drywall contractor Theodore J. “Ted” Vogle of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was GDCI’s “Man of the Year” in 1973 and its president from 1975 to 1976. His rise to success was through drywall. Vogle, however, wanted one association serving wall and ceiling contractors. In 1976, he traveled to London, England, on behalf of GDCI, to tell iaWCC plastering contractors meeting there that GDCI supported the merger of the two associations.
    
“We all have pretty much the same problems,” Vogle said. “Our common adversaries—big government, big labor and the united approach of general contractors, architects, engineers and some others—allow them to take advantage of their unity.” He added: “Our added strength … help[s] us against these groups.”
    
Imagine Vogle telling the plastering contractors the opposite: “We don’t have common foes. We don’t need added strength. H0ave fun in London, boys. Say hi to the queen.”
    
That wouldn’t have worked. Being less united against government, labor and general contractors is never good. So, the merger of iaWCC and GDCI advanced opportunities for wall and ceiling contractors. It solidified the industry.

More Lessons Coming
These forward-thinkers from the 1960s and 1970s stepped outside the box when many resisted change. They were not alone. In March 2018, you can read more about Thomson, Raymer, Vogle and others when AWCI releases the book, “Celebrating 100 Years of Industry Growth with the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry,” at its 100th anniversary celebration convention. Having shared in the book’s production, I can’t imagine an alternative to what AWCI has now—a history rich with leadership, vision and courage. You have 100 years of advice to listen to—if you let your elders speak.

Mark L. Johnson writes regularly about #AWCI100. Reach him at @markjohnsoncomm, and at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.