The association gained two new leaders last fall: Heather Rhoderick, who is VMA’s new president, and Bryan Burns, chairman of the board. They share their views and goals.
President Heather Rhoderick:
A Passion for Associations and Industry
Ask VMA’s new staff leader Heather Rhoderick, CAE, why she made associations her career, and she’ll give you a multi-bulleted response.
Rhoderick, who took over from VMA’s long-time president Bill Sandler in November, has more than two decades of trade organization experience.
“When you work with an association, you really learn an industry,” she says. “You have the opportunity to witness the impact the association has on its members and the industry,” she says.
“Trade organizations can help members make sense of the external environment and can provide a platform to create discussions on common issues and how to address them together,” she continues. “They facilitate information sharing, education, business connections and government relations,” she adds.
She also loves the business side of the equation, however.
“Relationships with members and staff are a vital aspect of leading, managing and working in an association, but there is a strong organizational, operational and financial management aspect as well,” she says. She recognized that reality early in her association work and pursued her Master’s in Business Administration and then her Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation, and she runs her teams with the bottom line in plain sight.
“One challenge for associations today is to engage the different generations within each organization so that all those in the workforce find value in interacting and connecting with the association.”
HER CAREER PATH
Rhoderick comes to VMA after 11 years with the American Composites Manufacturing Association, most recently serving as senior vice president, events and information. While at ACMA, Rhoderick was responsible for leading the association’s strategies for increasing non-dues revenue, establishing a branding and marketing campaign, and creating an overall strategy for education and conferences, to name a few of her successes.
Before ACMA, she held management positions for four years within the Newspaper Association of America, overseeing large trade shows, directing marketing campaigns and managing member volunteers, and for nine years with the American Chemistry Council, where she directed an affiliate membership program and worked on issues related to the transportation of hazardous materials.
That background gave her a heavy dose of member services experience, issue management and event production, all of which are designed to add value to association membership.
“One challenge for associations today is to engage the different generations within each organization so that all those in the workforce find value in interacting and connecting with the association, both in person and digitally,” she adds.
“The generations that grew up in a digital world are creating many new events,” she adds. “While the events may look different [than traditional programs], this generation has joined with previous generations to recognize the need for and benefits of face-to-face communication,” she explains.
Events and associations can be the place where the new and old are brought together, “but we also need to provide the programs, services and activities that appeal separately to the diverse expectations, styles and experiences of those in the industry—regardless of how many years they have been in the workforce,” she says.
WORKING FOR VMA
Rhoderick says one of the reasons she accepted the position at VMA is that, like with ACMA, the members are manufacturers.
“I grew up in a rural community, and I firmly believe that manufacturing and the trades are vital to our country, our communities and to the individuals. Manufacturing companies make strong contributions to the economy and better our quality of life,” she says.
She also heard many positive things about the association and its efforts to help members network, share information and create education for industry players.
She’s spending her first few months listening and learning, meeting with members and getting to know the industry. Her first event was the Valve Basics Seminar in Houston in November, which she says gave her an excellent overview of the products made and how they function.
What she’s found from listening and that meeting is that, “workforce, technology, knowledge transfer, the current political climate, tariffs, education of end users, and market forecast and trends are some of the vital issues to members,” she says.
What she’s discovered from meeting face to face is that “this is a welcoming industry and people are excited to be part of it. Those involved in VMA are positive about the organization and have ideas to help the industry and VMA provide value and services to a new generation of leaders and employees in the industry,” she says.
She’ll be working with the board and members to set the future direction for the association, but “expects that over the next year VMA will offer new ways to learn and be engaged with VMA and VRC members, whether that’s through webinars, refreshed looks on our website, communication products or new channels for raising the visibility of the industry and its products,” she says. She is also excited to build on the already well-received events, conferences and meetings of the organization.
Rhoderick says she has some tough shoes to fill in taking over for Bill Sandler, who was with the association for more than 40 years, but that she’s already learning she can count on the board and members to help.
“I’m excited to see where VMA can go in the future to support and guide the valve and flow control industry,” she says.
As she does so, she says she’ll put into practice the lessons her mentors have taught her, which include, in no particular order:
- “Start with the big picture, know what you’re trying to do and why.”
- “Ensure that every project or activity addresses more than one problem, issue or goal.”
- “Understand and get to know what energizes those you work with.”
Lastly, “Reflect on what you’ve learned from everything you do and everyone you meet,” she says.
Chairman Bryan Burns:
The Strength of Working Together
Bryan Burns has been immersed in an intense learning experience for nearly a decade. Like Heather Rhoderick, his background before becoming head of DeZURIK did not involve valves: It involved heading up a business. Burns was working for a recreational products corporation in the marine industry when the opportunity to take a position with DeZURIK bubbled to the surface.
“Between that first call from this company and now, I’ve been on a crash course for how this industry, and in particular, the DeZURIK segment of the industry functions,” he says.
What he’s learned is how important both the business and its individual companies are in the grander scheme of the world.
“Although I could never have imagined working in this industry, I’m amazed every day at the role the flow control industry plays in providing clean water and other necessities for modern civilizations around the world,” he says.
“We are at the forefront of helping customers provide these essential building blocks,” he adds.
He’s also proud of the progress the valve, actuator and control industry has made over the last few decades. For example, “In our industry, which is water treatment and production facilities, we are accomplishing what we do more reliably and safely then ever before while having less environmental impact,” he adds.
“I’m amazed every day at the role the flow control industry plays in providing clean water and other necessities for modern civilizations around the world.”
BECOMING DEZURIK’S AND VMA’S LEADER
Burns was hired by DeZURIK in 2010 as vice president of operations. About a year and a half later, he was put in charge of sales and marketing, and just three years after he joined the company, he became president and CEO. He gives credit to those who came before him and those in leadership positions within his company as well as his peers for providing the education he needed.
“I was very fortunate to join an already accomplished leadership team at DeZURIK as well as an independent sales channel. Both those parties went out of their way to help me learn both the industry and our company in a short amount of time,” he says.
He’s also been active in VMA since 2013 and became the Chairman of the Board at the annual meeting last September. That involvement has been a vital step in the education process, he says.
“The connections made through VMA in the last six years have benefitted me tremendously as I learned what makes this industry tick and what other companies have experienced in creating quality products and providing top-level service to customers,” Burns says. “VMA provides the services and the connections that member companies can’t get on their own,” he adds.
Like Rhoderick, Burns says he sees current association priorities as education and communications as well as government affairs and providing the opportunity for peer networking.
“I don’t think the categories of what we need to do in an association have changed tremendously, but the challenges we face in doing what we must do migrate over time,” he says.
Going forward, “We want to build on the strengths that retiring President Bill Sandler and the VMA staff have developed over decades,” he says.
At the same time, Burns says he’s thrilled to be taking over leadership in a year when the transition to a new president is taking place.
“Our new president Heather Rhoderick is learning the organization and the industry very quickly—talking to members to better understand how and why they are involved in the organization and what VMA can do to better serve them,” he says.
The feedback she’s getting will be instrumental in what happens to the association in the coming years, he adds. “It’s exciting to be part of a new era in guiding VMA in ways to serve existing members more broadly, grow the membership and tackle new hurdles,” he says.
THE INDUSTRY’S CHALLENGES
Burns says that several issues have emerged that he feels are near-term priorities for all players in the valve, actuator and controls industry.
Among them is what to do about the people who have top-level skills but are leaving the industry.
“We’re in the early stages of a significant wave of retirements that will affect our companies, customers, vendors and sales channel partners,” he says. “This wave will challenge how we hire and train as well how our customers research and buy products,” he says.
Every player in the industry is facing this issue simultaneously. As a result, “In addition to planning within our own organization, we look to peer groups such as VMA on how to manage the transition,” he says.
Another immediate issue is trade conflict, he adds. “Uncertainty over trade and potential consequences that will arise from how our government and other countries react are challenges for all flow control companies. Staying abreast of the latest moves and getting counsel on likely outcomes are critical,” he says.
Still, these are only the latest in a long history of bumps in the road that valve companies and the industry have faced together in the past.
“There’s always a new industry challenge—trade is just the latest. The constant is that we are part of an industry that’s facing uncertainty but we know that by coming together as an association, we can better educate ourselves, fortify our ranks and influence outcomes,” he concludes.