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Building on a Strong Foundation

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Teresa Witham and her husband, Doug, at a party given in her honor at last year’s NAEC convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Optimism prevails at NAEC with a changing of the guard.

For Teresa Witham, the challenges and rewards of leading the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) as executive director for the past 23 years have been intertwined. Growing programs, expanding events, mentoring staff and volunteers and interacting with other industry groups have been some of those dual-edged components. “Some of the most challenging times taught me a great deal about management, public relations, strategic initiatives and finances,” Witham says. “I recognize all of those times and issues as the most rewarding, as well.”

For 15 years prior to coming to NAEC, Witham worked in the corporate world as an executive assistant at a Fortune 500 company.

That company owned 75 other companies, and Witham helped organize tradeshow exhibits for all of them. When the parent company was disbanded in a hostile takeover, Witham decided she wanted a job that would allow her to stay closer to home to focus on family. An ad in the local newspaper for a membership manager and meeting planner for NAEC, based in Conyers, Georgia (an approximate 40-min. drive from Atlanta) caught her eye. She applied and got the job, starting as a meeting planner with NAEC in September 1991 — three weeks before its annual convention. Despite the short prep time, Witham was able to handle the job ably, thanks to her previous experience.

She is assertive, quick- thinking, customer- service oriented and constantly confirms this was the right decision.
— Teresa Witham on Alesa McArthur

Witham stepped into the executive director role when the outgoing director was forced to resign in 1996, a time that Witham describes as one when healing was desperately needed within NAEC. She helped accomplish this through focusing on clear, open communication, and has since represented the organization throughout North America and Europe and met with industry groups all over the world. “I have been blessed beyond imagination through the opportunities responding to that simple little ad triggered,” Witham says. NAEC membership numbers, convention attendees and exhibitors continue to grow as it expands its services.

It was a good time, Witham realized, personally and professionally, to step back from the executive director role and pass the reins on to a successor. With things going so well for NAEC, she noted it is a great time for a new executive director to take on the responsibilities. Further, she was anxious to be able to spend more time with her growing family, have some time for golfing with her husband, Doug, and, in general, slow down her life’s pace. The time was right to propose a transition plan to the board. “This would be the first time in 40 years that an NAEC director change was able to be planned and a smooth transition executed,” she observes.

My goals are to both continue in the trajectory that [Witham’s] foundation has laid, particularly offering new and relevant member services, continuing the educational offerings and expertise for which NAEC is known, and finding new ways to assist members that help them grow their businesses.
— McArthur

NAEC’s new Executive Director Alesa McArthur came to the organization approximately two years ago with, like Witham, experience as a meeting planner. The more Witham worked with McArthur, the more she realized her skills, management style and educational background were an ideal fit for the executive director role. Witham recommended her, she was interviewed by the Search Committee and approved by the board. Witham states:

As a current employee, she already understood the dynamics of our staff and was rapidly becoming familiar with our products and services, in addition to her intimate familiarity with our meetings and expositions. She is assertive, quick-thinking, customer-service oriented and constantly confirms this was the right decision. This move affords [McArthur] an opportunity to take on new professional challenges and bring new, outside experience to leading the staff and volunteer groups.”

NAEC currently has 705 members: 317 contractor, 55 associate, 310 supplier, 19 subscription and four honorary. Its education programs have experienced high recent growth. From December 2017 to December 2018, there was an enrollment increase of 15% in the Certified Elevator Technician (CET®) program and 48% in the Certified Accessibility and Private-Residence Lift Technician (CAT®) program in the same timeframe. The Vertical Transportation Management Program continues to gain popularity, now with 21 graduates and 82 current students, representing a 32% increase in enrollees compared to last year.

“[Education Manager] Kathy Bell’s intense work with our CET/ CAT students and certified individuals will certainly only increase as the QEI initiative (NAEC is planning to add QEI to its certification offerings by the summer) comes closer to fruition,” Witham says. “Our continued improvement and increased member services have caused the need for staff additions, as well.”

McArthur says she feels fortunate to be a leader when NAEC is on an upward trajectory — thanks, she says, to the strong foundation laid by Witham and dedicated, involved board members, staff and volunteers. Witham is remaining on as deputy director and treasurer, where her role is counseling and serving as a sounding board to McArthur to ensure a smooth transition,

serving on the leadership team, giving guidance in developing budgets, organizing personnel records, growing membership, handling accounts-receivable responsibilities and providing “behind-the-scenes support for all.”

The shifting of responsibilities brought about other staff changes, including longtime employees Shawn Cowden and Amanda Smith now overseeing member services and education, respectively; Megan Ragan, tradeshow management; and Jennifer Simmons, marketing. Simmons tells ELEVATOR WORLD that NAEC members are updated with NAEC and industry news and education information via its recently overhauled Mainline newsletter, its website, naec.org, email blasts, onsite interaction during events (both those of NAEC and other organizations) and mailed, printed materials. NAEC also publishes advertisements in EW and all its international affiliate publications.

NAEC Education and Safety Committees Combine

The National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) has combined its Education and Safety committees to form a joint committee focused on training and safety. Present at the first meeting in Atlanta in late January were several NAEC staff members, NAEC contractor and supplier members and your author.

This was a two-day meeting to bring both groups together to review and explain the rules, policies and challenges they would share. A great deal of work was accomplished, primarily approvals of continuing education. The focus of the committee is to advise and counsel the NAEC Board of Directors and staff on educational needs of the membership. This includes, but is not limited to, technical and safety-oriented topics. This committee will also be responsible for the development and maintenance of educational programs and ensuring NAEC’s membership is represented as appropriate on other organizations’ committees when NAEC is invited to hold a seat. The committee will keep members informed of safety developments and help identify information and materials that may be helpful to NAEC members in their safety and safety-training programs. The committee will review and recommend to NAEC staff any proposals for educational activities and development of educational programs, including CET®, CAT® and Continuing Education. Several subcommittees were formed for specific projects. NAEC is very excited about the collaboration of this committee and looks forward to wonderful resources being developed.

McArthur shared her immediate goals for NAEC with EW:

“My goals are to both continue in the trajectory that [Witham’s] foundation has laid, particularly offering new and relevant member services, continuing the educational offerings and expertise for which NAEC is known, and finding new ways to assist members that help them grow their businesses. I plan to accomplish this through both the assistance of our amazing professional team and bringing in new partners and staff as needed. Our strong board of directors, who are experts in the industry, also promises to be a great help.”

NAEC has come a long way from its beginnings as informal summer meetings called “fish fries” organized by Montgomery Elevator Co. managers in Moline, Illinois, in the 1940s. The fish fries expanded when employees from other companies such as Security Fire Door, The Peelle Co. and Elevator Supplies Co. were invited to attend a few years later. Discussion began in the late 1940s about forming a cooperative for buying components such as guard rails, with the distributors formalizing NAEC during their annual gathering in 1950. Charter members included Berman-Kern Elevator Co., Wright & Mack, Mobile Elevator & Equipment Co. (EW founder William C. Sturgeon’s company) and Lamps Elevator Sales & Service. James Bruce was the first president. Though many of the original players have since been absorbed by the majors, NAEC continues on the strength of independent contractors and suppliers throughout the U.S.

As for its physical location, the board decided in 1991 to stop renting office space and build a permanent location to house staff and allow for future growth. Thanks in part to having a long-term tenant in part of the new office space, NAEC paid off its building loan in only four years, Witham shares. She says:

“In today’s world of remote workers, electronic communications and the need for some staff to travel regularly, no expansion is anticipated in the near future. With the current facility on limited space, the only direction to go is up. How convenient that we just might know some companies that could help!”

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