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An Interview with Steve Heller

Steve Heller was hired as executive director of the Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA) in August of 2007.
At the Fall ICFA show, I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Heller to talk about his vision for the association and the industry as a whole.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your experience, and what you bring to the ICFA.
A:  I've spent most of my career working in business associations and non-profit organizations.  I've worked with organizations with a thousand-plus members and know what it takes for them to be effective and efficient.  I want to bring that experience of operating at the next level to the ICFA so this organization can be more effective and responsive.

Q: You've been on the job a little more than a month.  What are your impressions so far of the industry and the association?
A: While I'm very familiar with managing trade associations, I do not come from the ICF industry.  The ICFA is in the process of moving from a start-up to a mature organization, and some areas haven't kept pace.  That's one thing I've noticed, and I'm already working on solutions.
As far as the industry, I'm just going to have to learn the technical issues.  This morning I sat in on the codes and research committee meeting, and it was somewhat daunting to be attacked by hundreds of acronyms.  It's going to take some time to learn the terminology and other technical aspects.

Q: What are your goals as executive director of the ICFA?
A: One of the first things we're going to do is to do an internal audit.  This organization has outgrown the procedures and work methods that used to be adequate, so in many areas, we're choking on work.
I'll be working to upgrade and modernize the systems and make them more efficient.  I want to increase staff productivity by automating many of the tasks we currently do manually, so we spend less time on internal issues and respond more quickly to the members and spend more time on serving the industry.
I'm also looking forward to spending more time out with the members of the association personally, listening and learning about the industry from them.

Q: What are some steps you are planning to take to make the ICFA more effective and relevant?
A: The first issue that I think everybody acknowledges is we need to upgrade the systems. so we can act like a real association. In many areas, we're using outdated inefficient systems, which can easily be improved using widely available technology that's out there.  It's just a matter of putting in some communications technology that will let us do a better job getting details out to members, or update some of our accounting procedures, for instance, so we don't have to do so much manually.  That's just governance.
Most of what I'm going to be focusing on for the next couple of months are behind-the-scenes items that most members will probably find quite boring, but are essential for the ICFA to become more relevant and effective.  I'm looking at ways to improve or enhance procedures, use software to automate some of the more repetitive tasks that go on, and so forth. By 2008, we'll hopefully be working on a new website design that makes it easier for visitors to find the information they are looking for.
I'd also like to improve the flow of information.  Right now, I have several bookcases of information that isn't readily available elsewhere.  I would like to get that out the members so they can use it.  I'd like to have a full-time ICFA staff member assigned to each of the committees and sub-committees we have so the information from those groups can be disseminated as well.
Once we can accurately get quality information out there, it will increase our credibility so we can approach some of those firms that aren't currently members of the ICFA and invite them to join.
So I'm looking at everything over the next 15 months.

Q: In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges facing the ICFA?
A: "One of the challenges ICFA faces in the next few years is the same issue faced by many successful small businesses:  How do we move our organization, systems, infrastructure, governance, products and services to the next level to continue to accommodate our growth. Although I have not come from the ICF industry, I do have a lot of experience in managing trade organizations that have taken that step.  I look forward to making it happen for the ICFA too."

Q: From our perspective, one major challenge facing the association is meeting the differing needs of primary members (manufacturers)--who make up a small minority of total membership--and the associate, distributor, and contractor members, who make up the majority of the membership, but in the past have felt ignored.  Do you see this as a problem, and if so, how do you plan on meeting the needs of all the ICFA members?
A: I don’t want to speculate too much on that.  Obviously, the contractors are feeling like they're a big part of the organization, but don't have much of a voice.  That was made clear at the open session [of the board meeting held at the show].
Times change, and the organization needs to change if it wants fit the needs of the whole industry.   There's various ways you could do it.  They could go back to it being strictly a manufacturers organization, or they can continue to be more inclusive, but the board must decide if they want the association to be a manufacturers group or an industry group.  So far, what I'm hearing is that they want it to be an industry group….
If we really want to grow the market share, which is a fundamental goal that they have, then we need to find ways to get over some of the parochialism of the past.

Q: What else would you like to say to those in the ICF industry, both ICFA members and those who are not?
 A: Please feel free to contact me at the office at any time as your questions help me learn about the issues facing your companies and the industry—the issues that ICFA must address.  I look forward to working with you all to make the organization even better.  Let's go on a crusade to make ICFs the preferred building system in North America.

Steve Heller has spent his career managing business trade organizations, and although he had no prior experience with insulated concrete forms, the board of directors has high expectations.
From 1979 to 2000, Steve served on the staff of the 1000-member Printing Industry of Illinois/Indiana (PII), headquartered in Chicago. He worked in management positions responsible for labor relations, management programs and services, and the overall administration of the association.
More recently, Heller served as vice-president of the United States Business and Industry Council (USBIC), a Washington DC-based non-profit association of more than 500 businesses from across the nation. Steve’s responsibilities at USBIC included industry outreach, marketing, membership development, meeting planning and organizational management.
Heller holds a BA from the University of Chicago, and an MBA from the J. L. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. 









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