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Lerch Bates’ Jay Popp Talks Tall Buildings and Traveling

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Jay Popp (JP), executive vice president, International for Lerch Bates Inc. and current president of the International Association of Elevator Consultants, recently took time from his busy schedule and talked at length with ELEVATOR WORLD (EW) about his long, successful career with Lerch Bates and full personal life. An active member of the ASME A17.1 International Standards Code Committee and National Elevator Industry, Inc., JP shared his enthusiasm for consulting on tall buildings and traveling.

EW: Tell us a little about yourself. 

JP: I was born in Toledo, Ohio, but grew up in the mountains of Colorado – a small bedroom community called Pine Valley. My family moved out West when my father followed his job as an elevator installer. I went to high school in Idaho Springs and currently live in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, with my wife, Marsha, and am based at Lerch Bates’ headquarters in nearby Littleton. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Design from the University of Colorado.

EW: How did you get started in the elevator industry?

JP: Upon my graduation from college, the architectural community was in a downturn. Lerch Bates was looking for a design engineer, and I started with the firm right after graduation, performing engineering design and architectural work. Thirty-five years later, I’m still here, taking part in its exciting growth.

EW: What helped you realize this was the right profession for you?

JP: Working with Lerch Bates for more than three decades has enabled me to work on, literally, hundreds of different buildings around the country and the world. If I were working strictly in architecture, I would probably be working on just one building for three to five years at a time. Working simultaneously on a number of buildings around the globe is a lot more exciting to me.

EW: Did you have any mentors along the way? 

JP: Without a doubt, my mentor has been Quentin Bates (ELEVATOR WORLD, March 2012). He encouraged everyone to continue growing and try new opportunities.

EW: What is the biggest challenge you face in your current position, and how do you work toward overcoming it?

JP: There are too many buildings in design or under construction around the world and too little time. I’m very driven to assist the emerging markets and guide them on to build better-quality and more-efficient buildings. Predominantly, my business is international. I structure my days so I can be available at the beginning and end of them. When it’s evening in Denver, it’s morning in China and the Middle East, so efficient time management enables me to continually communicate with my clients. I look at such scheduling as an opportunity, as opposed to an impediment.

EW: What do you find most rewarding in your work? 

JP: Working directly with clients around the world and assisting them in designing and building better and safer buildings, as well as solving complex design problems, is the most rewarding. I’ve found there are many projects that influence the next project in some way or another, such as the Burj Khalifa. Anytime a city constructs a supertall or megatall building for the purposes of establishing itself as a world city is fascinating. These types of buildings drive the economy for the entire region. They may not necessarily be a complete economic success in and of themselves, but all the things that spin off them, like retail and housing, make such projects and the cities in which they are located a success. No one remembers a monotone skyline.

EW: What work do you plan to get involved with in the future?

JP: I plan to continue to have more opportunities to work internationally. I would like to be a more active participant with code standards and industry committees as a way of giving back to the field. I also would like more opportunities to teach at the graduate level. I recently completed an elevator seminar with the University of Nebraska and Tianjin University in Tianjin, China, that focused on the differences between North American and Chinese elevator products and how they affect designs. As a part of the exchange, students designed buildings with Chinese standards that will be built in China.

EW: Is there a particular project you admire that you’d like to tour or pick the brains of those responsible for it?

JP: Federation Tower in Moscow. It has the fastest ThyssenKrupp Elevator TWIN elevator system installed commercially to date. It is of particular interest to what I do.

EW: What advice would you give to someone considering getting into the elevator industry today?

JP: It really depends on if the person wants to explore and get into the business, equipment-design or mechanical side of the industry. I would suggest to look at the industry as a whole and decide where you best fit. A good question to ask yourself would be, “Am I sales or design oriented?”

EW: What is your best advice for surviving this recession?

JP: Companies should be willing to learn how to conduct their businesses internationally. The opportunities offshore continue to grow, and companies should consider expanding their reach into foreign countries. Current successful companies have moved into international projects that have allowed them to grow and expand.

EW: What does the future hold for the industry and for your company?

JP: I’m very encouraged with what I’m seeing in our industry right now. Domestic design projects that have been on hold for some time are breathing new life. A lot of activity, especially in emerging markets, is happening internationally. Opportunities are expanding as more and more markets are urbanized. For us, the increased activity provides more opportunities to expand the firm into new regions and new international territories.

EW: If you could change one thing about our industry, what would it be?

JP: I would make it more customer focused. Because of market contractions, many companies are leaner, and they do not have the adequate manpower to provide consistent quality customer service.

EW: Which trade shows do you regularly attend, and what would you like to see more of at them? 

JP: I attend National Association of Elevator Contractors events on a regular basis. I also attend IAEC and Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat events. I would like to see more senior design engineers with better access for specific questions.

EW: Would you like to share a little of your personal life?

JP: Marsha and I have 22-year-old triplets: Jillian, Stefan and Derek. Our two sons are in college, and our daughter is being interviewed for graduate school. Marsha and I enjoy attending sports-car rallies and car shows. We especially like participating in road trips with sports-car clubs in Colorado. Our latest vacation was to Salt Lake City, and it was associated with a car rally. My personal favorite vacation spots include Europe, especially Italy.

EW: What are your plans for retirement?

JP: I don’t know if I will ever retire completely. Marsha and I enjoy traveling, and it’s often not possible for her to join me.  When I eventually do cut back, I’m looking forward to my wife and me traveling the world together.

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