Mechanical Hub recently spoke with new Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) president Chuck Fell, CFI Mechanical, Houston. This exclusive Q&A reveals that the MCAA is in good hands and is headed in the right direction under the leadership of Fell. The following is Chuck Fell’s introduction into the industry and his vision for the MCAA.
Chuck Fell grew up in Avon Lake, Ohio, just west of Cleveland. He studied architecture at Kent State University. Right out of college, Fell began his career at Natkin and Company, spending the first several years in apprenticeship training at Local 803 Orlando while working in the office as a project engineer. It was at this point that he learned what the trade was all about — from both the field perspective and the management side — working on a little project called EPCOT Center at Disney World.
In 1996, Fell decided to capitalize on the experience he’d gained, so he left his job as assistant VP and Houston operations manager for Natkin to start his own company, CFI Mechanical. His goal was to bring a viable option to the Houston plumbing and mechanical market. CFI has grown considerably since then and has a great team that provides quality installation and repair services to the commercial real estate, property-management, facility maintenance and industrial industries within the Greater Gulf Coast Region.
The following Q&A is Chuck Fell in his own words:
MH: How has your career helped you prepare for a position such as MCAA president?
CF: I have had the opportunity to manage numerous multi-million dollar projects of various types over the past 33 years. That has enabled me to learn a great deal, both from the perspective of a project manager and as a business owner. I believe I can use this knowledge to help further MCAA’s reputation as our industry’s premier Education Association.
MH: What are some of your initiatives for MCAA?
CF: My primary goal for my year as president will be to continue to build on the momentum MCAA has achieved to date. We will continue to provide our members with the industry’s best educational resources. We will further our joint strategic planning efforts with our labor partners at the United Association. And we will remain at the forefront of efforts to ensure congressional passage of much-needed pension reform legislation.
MH: What do you feel are some of the biggest issues facing contractors today? How can they be rectified?
CF: We often hear about the challenge of staying ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in technology and project delivery methods. Building Information Modeling, mobile technologies, modularization and prefabrication are good examples. And then there are the related challenges of enhancing your firm’s efficiencies and maximizing your competitiveness. One issue, which our industry unfortunately put on the back burner during the recent “great recession,” is the ongoing need to replace today’s aging skilled work force with new skilled plumbers, pipefitters and service techs. Our apprenticeship schools need now, more than ever, to recruit talented individuals and our contractors need to put them to work. We also need to provide ongoing training on today’s new technologies and techniques to keep us all competitive and our workers employed.
MH: Why is it important for contractors to be part of a trade association such as MCAA?
CF: Because MCAA provides them with the educational resources, programs and networking opportunities they need to be competitive and to stay ahead of that change curve — resources, programs and opportunities they simply cannot access on their own. This gives MCAA’s members the tools to better address the needs of owners and ensure they get the best value for their construction dollar. We recognize that owners have choices, and it is MCAA’s goal to help its members deliver the greatest value proposition to the owners who rely on them to build their projects.
MH: MCAA has always been a leader in contractor education. Can you touch upon this? What are some key educational initiatives offered?
CF: MCAA is known as the “education association,” and for good reason. MCAA prides itself on developing educational programs and resources that keep our members ahead of our competitors. They include: our Advanced Leadership Institute for senior executives; our Safety Excellence Initiative; our Institutes for Project Management and Advanced Project Management; our National Education Initiative; our web-based Labor Estimating Manual; our Management Methods Manual; our Prefabrication Conference; our Career Development Program; our Annual Convention and many more. Stated another way, MCAA does everything in its power to help its members become the contractors of choice for owners now and into the future. We are always working to help our members become more innovative, productive and competitive.
MH: How would you like to be viewed as MCAA president? Legacy?
CF: I owe MCAA a big debt of gratitude, and I am proud to be of service. To now serve as president is quite an honor. I have some big shoes to fill with the past presidents that have served this association so well. More than anything else, I hope to leave office with the satisfaction of feeling that I made a difference and helped improve our industry.
MH: Mechanical Hub is dedicated to the youth of the trades. Playing off your one of your earlier responses, can you address the importance of attracting young, skilled tradespeople to the trades as a viable career path? Ideas to attract them?
CF: It’s so important that young people be told that this is a great industry. I want them to know that companies such as ours truly help safeguard the health of this nation. We protect the environment by providing potable drinking water, medical gas installations, waste disposal and storm water management systems. We also provide the means for people to live comfortable through our air conditioning installation and service. They need to know that you won’t find an industry with better people. We’re an industry where people get to know each other and often build life-long relationships.
I also sense we are witnessing in this country the reversal of what was a trend toward less vocational education in our high schools, and that is a good thing. More and more, our high schools seem to be encouraging vocational education. Giving our youth the option of attending a trade school rather than a four year college is, in my opinion, a very positive educational reform that will serve our economy and our country well in the years ahead.
MH: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do when you are away from work?
CF: I enjoy spending family time with my wife, Lynn, and our two girls, Catie and Megan. We enjoy the beach, boating and fishing. I’ve also been known to simply float in our backyard pool on a hot Houston day after work. I also enjoy listening to music and organizing my old rock & roll music collection, and I still enjoy live music shows.
MH: The last time you said, “Today is a great day,” you were doing what?
CF: This is a great question. They say your first thought is always your correct response, so I’ll answer this with a two part answer. March 13, 2014 had been on my radar for quite some time. Knowing that I would become the president of MCAA and represent a great association would make for a truly great day. I knew that my family and friends would be very supportive and that it would be a true honor to lead this association.
The second part of my response, which I did not see coming, deals with my children, Catie and Megan, who were with us at the MCAA convention in Scottsdale. The night before I became President, the very popular rock band Train entertained at our closing dinner. My two girls were able to go on stage with the band, and lead singer Pat Monahan gave my daughters the microphone to sing a chorus line to one of Train’s biggest hits. Seeing the joy on their faces that night, and then having them there the next morning as I became MCAA president, was for this Dad, truly a great day!