Ken Carroll: An Industry Pioneer and Leader for WJTA–IMCA

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Ken Carroll: An Industry Pioneer and Leader for WJTA–IMCA

By Adia Walker / Published February 2014



The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word pioneer as “a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development.” Every industry needs pioneers to help advance the profession, which is why the WaterJet Technology Association (WJTA)—Industrial & Municipal Cleaning Association (IMCA) presents the prestigious Pioneer Award during the association’s biennial Conference and Expo event. The 2013 Pioneer Award was placed in the hands of a well-deserving recipient: Ken Carroll, Association Manager for the WJTA-IMCA and longtime advocate of professional trade associations.

Carroll remembers receiving the phone call from WJTA-IMCA Chairman Bill Gaff, informing him that he had been selected to receive the award. “I was very surprised and humbled,” he recalls. “My first thought was, ‘Am I worthy of getting an award that has been given to people who have made such great advances in the industry?’” The answer from leaders within the industry is a resounding yes.

“I cannot think of any single individual who has been more instrumental in growing the WJTA-IMCA in our 30-year existence,” says Gaff in a press release. “Carroll coordinated the formation of the Industrial & Municipal Cleaning Association (IMCA) as a sister association to the WJTA to provide additional services and to increase value to our members. Carroll has provided guidance and leadership to the past board members, and it has been an honor to work with him during my tenure on the board.”

A Brief Biography

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Carroll attended the Trade Union Program at Harvard Business School, the Annual Performance Review System at Wharton Business College, and the Job Evaluation Program at the University of Wisconsin. He spent many years building experience in association management, employer/employee relations, operating policies, and personnel rules.

photo1With an extensive, professional background in the management of trade associations and other companies, Carroll fit in well when he came to work for Birenbaum & Associates, an association management/labor relations consultant firm, in 1988. He immediately got involved in the management of WJTA and has worked hard to help the association grow over the past two and a half decades.

The years of professional experience are much more than a resume to Carroll; they are a part of who he is. “The interesting and different people I’ve met in my work with associations have helped shape my life,” says Carroll. Seeing a variety of people from all walks of life come together in order to accomplish a goal has served as an inspiration to him. “I’ve seen very successful business people who are willing to say ‘my idea is good, but yours is better, so let’s use yours,’” he says. “I’m not accustomed to seeing this idea coming from a board of directors as much as I’ve seen it with WJTA-IMCA.” This unique aspect of the association is something that Carroll treasures.

The Association’s Background

photo2The association was founded during the second U.S. Waterjet Conference held in Rolla, MO, in 1983 when a group of professors recognized the need to create an association that would serve the rapidly evolving technology of ultra-high pressure waterjetting in its many applications. Since then, the association has grown into an immensely influential trade association, serving as a platform for leaders of the trade to enhance safety measures, facilitate communications that help develop new ideas, foster domestic and international trade, promote the waterjet industry, and keep members current on the industry’s ever changing technological trends.

Under the leadership and direction of Carroll, the IMCA was created in 2009 to provide targeted services for WJTA members whose focus lie in the pressure cleaning and industrial vacuum sector. With this addition, the association was able to expand its services and representation within the industry.

Currently, WJTA-IMCA serves a wide variety of sectors including:
Waterjet cutting and manufacturing technologies
Waterjet cleaning and field services (waterblasting and hydroblasting)
Waterjet coatings removal and surface preparation
Waterjet concrete removal/hydrodemolition
Industrial and municipal vacuuming
Industrial cleaning and maintenance
Hydro-excavation, vacuum excavation, tunneling, and mining
And other fluid-jet technologies and applications (including drilling, rock cutting, demilitarization, and more)

Expanding Services

After aiding in the creation of IMCA, Carroll forged ahead with an aggressive plan to provide even more services for the association’s expanding membership. For a long time, WJTA was well known for hosting biennial conferences that brought together leaders from throughout the industry. Since the formation of IMCA, the sister associations began hosting events every year; WJTA-IMCA expos are held on even years and the conference/expos are held on odd years.

“Over the years, these events have expanded to where it is now a show with 800–900 attendees and 65–70 exhibitors,” says Carroll. “We have recently created a one day program known as ‘Boot Camp’ that has educational sessions for contractors and end users. Now we are looking at expanding this to two or three days in order to get in as much educational programming as possible.”

Another popular feature of the expos includes live demonstrations. “This is where people can come out to see the latest equipment in working order outside in the parking lot,” says Carroll. “It gives the participants a chance to see what the equipment can do, which opens up their minds for a lot of questions that they can ask when they return to the exhibit hall floor.”

The yearly events held by WJTA-IMCA are just one of the association’s major contributions to the industry; another includes a constant vigilance paid to monitoring the latest recommendations on best practices for the safe operation of equipment. “We are interested in promoting safety within the industry as much as possible,” says Carroll. WJTA-IMCA publishes Recommended Practices manuals for both waterjetting (orange book) and industrial vacuum equipment (blue book).

Carroll’s Support Network

To ensure that the WJTA-IMCA is able to provide such instrumental guidance to the industry, the association elects 12 qualified members to sit on the board of directors. Each member serves for a four-year term, and half of the board is elected every two years. “The board is a very important part of the organization,” says Carroll. “They represent the interests of the members. They are the governing body, and I report directly to them.”

photo3The board meets in person twice a year to discuss the needs and concerns of the association. “I need to have a good relationship with the board,” explains Carroll. “I want to hear all of their opinions, and I make sure I correspond with them as often as necessary to keep them abreast of any new information.”

The board of directors is obviously a key resource for Carroll in his job of association manager; another crucial element of his successful management includes the dedicated staff at Birenbaum & Associates. “We have a very qualified staff,” says Carroll. “The majority of the work for the association is done by them.” Maintaining a plethora of information on the association’s website, publishing a bi-monthly newsletter, handling clerical duties, and carrying out other various management tasks are all a part of the duties that Birenbaum & Associates staff members take on. “The association and I are very appreciative of the excellent job that our staff does in fulfilling the needs of the members of the association,” remarks Carroll.

Challenges and Rewards

While Carroll does have the guidance of the board and the expertise of his staff available to him, he dedicates extensive time and effort in order to manage the association effectively at all levels. On a daily basis, he spends time promoting membership, monitoring phone calls and expenses, and dealing with individual member’s problems. “If I don’t have the answer to a member’s question, I will find someone else in our firm who does,” says Carroll. He also is responsible for the “big picture” tasks, such as monitoring membership status, determining the needs of those within the industry, and broadening the scope of the association.

photo4Working closely with both members and non-members from various markets in the trade, Carroll has been instrumental in discerning the needs of individuals and companies in the industry and facilitating the collaborative efforts to meet these needs. For example, he organized the first several meetings of representatives from the industrial vacuum sector, which resulted in the production of the safety manual, Recommended Practices for the Use of Industrial Vacuum Equipment, and a companion safety video. To satisfy requests from members working with industrial vacuum trucks, Carroll assembled a faculty and developed a series of seminars on the safe operation of industrial vacuum equipment. He was also a key contributor in the development of the informational Boot Camp sessions and live demonstrations at WJTA-IMCA Expos.

To Carroll, all of his hard work is well worth it to help advance safety within the industry. “When I hear about companies who have been involved with accidents and are immediately taking action to correct the problem and spread the word, that is the most rewarding part of my job,” says Carroll. “We are really working hard to get companies to report accidents so that we can work hard to see what we have to do to make sure these things don’t happen again.”

This is one of the most difficult aspects of Carroll’s job as well. “One of the most challenging parts is trying to monitor the accidents and take recommendations to the committee on how to improve the orange and blues book on best safety practices,” he says. “Safety is an ongoing thing; we have to monitor the books constantly so the best and most current information is available to the buyers of these books.”

Other challenges include issues concerning the growth of the conferences and expos. Carroll must determine where to hold the expanding events as well as how to ensure the continued increase in attendance. “We have seen a slow, steady growth, and now we are looking to pick up the pace a little bit,” he says.

Meeting these challenges is no easy task, but Carroll is ready for the job. After all, he has years of experience, as well as a skilled staff to rely on. “I constantly need to make sure that I’m directing the work of the staff in a direction that meets the needs and goals of both WJTA-IMCA and Birenbaum & Associates,” he says. Meeting this goal is a high priority for him that helps him to succeed in his responsibilities.

According to Carroll, a few of his personal philosophies spill over into his work ethic and also help him to achieve success. “I always try to treat everyone I come in contact with the way I would want to be treated if I was in their position,” he says. “It’s also important to realize we have a vast diversity of members and to try and relate to each of them.” This attitude has undoubtedly assisted Carroll as he serves as both the association manager for WJTA-IMCA and a pioneer for the industry.