Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry Logo

Brent Allen’s Clarion Call: Education and Involvement!

With many heartfelt thanks to AWCI Immediate Past President Mike Weber for so ably steering the association’s ship through the choppy waters of a recessed economy, we now welcome the new president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, Brent Allen, whose term began July 1.

Born into the construction industry, Brent developed an early appreciation both for the business itself and for the importance of education and knowledge as keys to success.

In fact, training—the sharing and dissemination of knowledge—has been a focus of his career, something the AWCI Nominating Committee surely recognized in appointing one of the youngest presidents ever to take the helm, as we continue to weather an obstinate economic downturn.

With degrees in both civil engineering and construction management, and with 24 years of experience in the commercial wall and ceiling industry, Brent is well equipped for his new mission.

Brent, a 20+ years AWCI member, has served on the AWCI Executive Committee since 2007, and will continue to do so until 2012. He was also elected to the AWCI Board of Directors in 2007.

Further, Brent has served on AWCI’s Construction Technology Council since 1995—a council he now chairs, and in which capacity he has also been an ex-officio member of the board since 2002, a function he plans to exercise for the foreseeable future. He is also on the AWCI EIFS Education & Certification Committee—and has been since 1998.

He is also sits on the “Doing It Right” oversight committees for AWCI’s steel framing and gypsum board education programs, and on AWCI’s Steel Framing Industry Council.

Outside of AWCI, he is a participating member of standard committees such as American Society for Testing Materials and of the American Iron & Steel Institute.

Here, in other words, we have a man who likes to get involved, a man who is used to heavy lifting, and who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty way past his elbows.

He is currently the vice president of Compass Construction in Columbus, Ohio, where he lives with his wife Cassie, his three children, and a litter (of varying size, as pups are born and sold) of Irish Setters.

We caught up with this man of action—and managed to hold him still long enough to ask a few questions, all of which, true to his character, he took to heart and dignified with thoughtful replies.

AWCI’ Construction Dimensions: The last 18 months have been tumultuous in the construction industry—how do you see the situation at present, and where do you see it going?

Brent Allen: I realize that I am the third incoming president to have to address this tough economy. I had hoped that by now, we would have seen some solid indicators of revival, but so far, I only see a glimmer here and there.

March single-family housing starts were up over March 2009 by a healthy 35 percent—don’t you think commercial will follow suit?

These were encouraging figures, especially since non-residential was up as well, but, unfortunately, residential leveled off and commercial took a dip close to December 2009 levels in April.

Most of the recent creation of new jobs has fallen outside our sector—and primarily in roads and highway construction, reflecting an infusion of government dollars. While we have seen a return of 3,400 building construction jobs, we must view this against the 90,000 jobs our sector lost as of March 2009.

I have no crystal ball, nor do I profess to be an expert in this area, but I agree with some of my more knowledgeable executive committee members that we are likely to see this up and down trend for a while before we see a steady climb.

Also, the tax credit incentives coming out of Washington for hiring back workers will not work for us, since we simply don’t have the projects to utilize them. In fact, the real problem lies in commercial lending, where banks are still reluctant to fund even very sound projects.

The few private projects that are going ahead are financed by banks that dare to think outside the reactionary box. We need more of that.

What do you see as AWCI’s biggest challenge in the coming year?

AWCI will continue to be a center point for resolving issues of code compliance. Later this year, we will see a new set of International Energy Conservation Codes affecting building envelopes that will have a dramatic impact upon our industry and membership. Navigating these codes will be a formidable task involving many different entities with differing agendas and needs, and will be one of AWCI’s main challenges in the coming year.

What is your take on the codes proposed in the International Energy Conservation Code?

They are very optimistic, aiming to better energy efficiency over the 2006 codes by 30 percent. Of course, saving energy is an important global issue. However, the way our government is going about it will seriously impact how we build things going forward, especially as regards exterior steel framed construction and the claddings our members install.

The upcoming mandate to move most of the insulation and thermal barrier outside the frame and onto the envelope is a dramatic change. It may spell good days ahead for exterior insulation and finish systems, but it will definitely mean a serious challenge for plaster and stucco, where we will have to rethink fastening and sheathing systems.

AWCI has already recognized this and we have now formed, through our Construction Technology Council, a task group consisting of contractors, manufactures, industry experts and other associations to determine how our members should best deal with these changes.

We are fortunate to have Mike Boyd, a former AWCI president, head up this effort.

What other current or impending legislative, governmental and regulatory initiatives do you see impacting AWCI members in the coming year?

The other big issue now on the books is health-care reform. We have yet to get our arms around this one. I think, however, that it’s safe to say that this legislation will create more obstacles for businesses, our industry included, and the timing is not good.

AWCI has joined the Start Over coalition—a group of like-minded associations—in order to determine and provide political action resources to board and chapter members on this legislation. Open shop contractors, especially, will have some difficult decisions down the road about what benefits they can continue to provide their field forces. We want to provide membership support in this area as well.

Are there other issues looming?

There are code changes afoot concerning interior, non-load-bearing framing as well, which is another huge issue. In fact, AWCI has done a lot of work on this already, and treats it as a priority.

This is the reason we formed AWCI’s Steel Framing Industry Council, which is now working with the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association on the most recent changes as it relates to interior non-structural framing.

Since this effort also involves other trades in our industry, we are also working with the Gypsum Association, the Steel Framing Alliance, the American Iron & Steel Institute, International Code Council Evaluation Service and ASTM.

I hope that by the beginning of next year we will have these new code requirements fully clarified and communicated to our membership, as well as to other contractors, distributors and design professionals.

Are there other issues or dangers you see in the future for the industry?

The current volatility of material prices has caught the industry by surprise. Traditionally, prices tend to go down in times of weak demand. However, the industry is experiencing the opposite of the laws of supply and demand because of global factors. Because of this, and with shortened manufacturers’ job-price protection, AWCI is looking to help manufacturers, suppliers and contractors to better manage this business risk.

How does AWCI itself look to you today?

Despite the hurdles we face as an industry, AWCI has in fact managed to expand its outreach and education efforts, as with our latest Doing It Right addition—drywall.

That said, some of the numbers have been down on recent Doing It Right offerings as well as for AWCI’s Academy, so we are considering offering four of the five Doing It Right programs as a single week-long program so that attendees can better leverage their time and travel expenses.

I cannot stress education enough. Personally, even after 24 years in the business, I have yet to attend an educational program that I didn’t take something away from, something that made me look at my own situations differently and allowed me to seek and find creative solutions.

With new conservation codes coming down the line, and with health-care reform and other issues facing us, we need to know how these things will impact us, and we need to know how to handle them. AWCI will provide the tools, but the membership must take the initiative to pick them up and use them.

Have you seen any fruits from the closer AWCI-EIMA (EIFS Industry Members Association—now co-located with AWCI) relationship?

Being involved with the EIFS Education & Certification Committee as well as the Construction Technology Council, I am very pleased with this partnership.

The new and very open line of communication and information has been most beneficial on both these fronts. I am very impressed with the work that EIMA is doing overall, and especially with its increased government advocacy initiatives with the Department of Energy and with ASTM.

What do you think the membership could be doing more of to improve either their own positions, or AWCI’s?

In my opinion—and experience—education and knowledge are the keys to success. To stay ahead of the game, we have to stay informed. Education and training is no longer optional, it’s a requirement if you want to succeed in this environment. Contractors should be retooling their companies now to better position themselves for when the economy turns around.

Our members see our annual conferences as excellent education opportunities—for networking and content. My advice is to take any opportunity to educate, to gain further knowledge.

Given the opportunity, I would like modify AWCI’s mission statement by inserting the word education: The mission of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry is to provide education, services and undertake activities that enhance the members’ ability to operate a successful business.

We have the know-how, and we have the means to share this knowledge. My mission is to make our expertise available to the membership and to meet any demand in terms of volume that may place on us.

We will help our members navigate this downturn by effective education.

Any other message you have for the AWCI membership?

Well, this is a drum that every incoming president beats, but it is a sound one, and I will beat it as well: Stay involved. Educate. Engage. Join AWCI committees. Share your expertise. You will get out of your membership what you put into it—with plenty of return.

Let’s talk about you personally now. How long have you been in the industry, and what have you done in that time?

I grew up in construction and was exposed to all aspects of the industry early on. As a kid, I knew I wanted to build things, and in fact had aspirations of becoming an architect. Now, my dad, based on his own experience, felt that engineering might be a safer long-term bet, and he steered me in that direction. I took that route.

While in high school and before I started college, I worked with Turner Construction and I began my wall and ceiling career with South Texas and Lone Star Drywall (Columbus, Ohio) in 1986.

What are the low and high points of your career?

They actually go hand in hand. The low was the closure of South Texas Drywall, but that offered me the opportunity to join my partners at Compass. Interestingly, the founders of Compass—Larry Mirgon and Frank Reynolds—worked for South Texas in the 1970s and early 1980s prior to starting Compass.

What is the greatest achievement in your career?

Hands down—being elected AWCI president. To have earned the confidence of my industry colleagues, that is my greatest achievement.

I have to say, though, that this came as a true surprise. When the nominating committee came to me at the AWCI Industry Executives’ Conference & Committee Week in Colorado Springs, I was floored.

It is truly a great honor, and I will strive to do my best to earn it.

How would you describe your personal philosophy on life, and on construction?

I truly believe in the Zig Ziglar approach: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” This little jewel has worked very well for me.

Do you have hobbies or personal interests outside of construction?

My wife, Cassie, and I—along with the rest of our family—have been successful in breeding Irish Setters for many years, and specifically to develop both show and field champion attributes.

Her dad hunted with them, so Cassie grew up with setters. However, the demand for this breed in the show ring during the late 1960s and early 1970s grew so strong that the breed lost its hunting qualities.

25 years ago, Cassie endeavored to change this, and although it took a while, we (she) have been successful. Aside from numerous individual show and field champions, we have also produced a Dual Champion, titles in both. As of today, there have been only 22 Dual Champions in the history of the breed.

Having grown up hunting upland game myself, I like to joke with Cassie that, had she not had a hunting dog, I probably would not have married her.

What’s next for your family?

With our kids no longer children but young adults, we are now at an interesting point in life. Corbin, 20, is a junior, and Carmen, 18, is a sophomore in college, neither living at home. Camden, 16, is a junior in high school and just returned home from Germany as an exchange student.

This empty nest thing is a pretty dramatic change, and so is the novel feeling of being more of a friend than a parent to your children. But I really like that; my kids are wonderful people, and I’m proud to be their friend.

Anything you’d like to add?

I have had the pleasure of working with many great people over the years and I want to thank them for their influence in my day-to-day activities as a contractor, in my involvement with AWCI, and on me as an individual.

I especially want to thank the members of the executive committee and past presidents I have had the pleasure to work with thus far: Mike Heering, Kevin Biddle, Jim Keller and Michael Weber. I very much look forward to working with my AWCI Executive Committee colleagues Tim Wies (vice president), Jeff Burley (treasurer), Craig Daley (secretary), Allen Larson (Continuing Study Committee chairman) and Steve Etkin (executive vice president/CEO).

Both Cassie and I look forward to serving our membership over the next year, and we hope to see you in Tucson this fall at AWCI’s Industry Executives’ Conference & Committee Week in Tucson, Sept. 28–Oct. 2 and AWCI’s Convention & INTEX Expo in Las Vegas, April 3–7, 2011.

And remember: Stay involved!

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.

Browse Similar Articles

You May Also Like

The ceiling installations at Nurix Therapeutics is Marek’s best job ever. Preserving the artistry evident in the architect’s design proved enormously gratifying.
Rob Aird, C. Brent Allen, Lee Zaretzky, Davis Sprague and Travis Vap share a passion for transforming spaces and structures with an eye for craftsmanship, innovation and historical preservation. You’ll
An exterior photo of the Clovis Community Medical Center (Phase 3) Parex
We will spare you the details of how it was done, but we are happy to tell you about the outcome. This article brings you just some of the many