'Deeds not words':
Doug Waldman Talks Buisness with TRSA
October 13, 2014
Superior Linen Service President Doug Waldman took over the role of TRSA chair at the recent Annual Conference & Exhibits in Las Vegas, succeeding Jim Doro in this position. Prior to his election, Textile Services sat down with Waldman to talk about his views on the industry and the association. The following are excerpts of that discussion.
- Why do you want to lead TRSA?
- What are some goals that you would like to accomplish during your term as chair of TRSA?
- What do you see as TRSA’s role within the textile services industry?
- How do you hope to increase the value of membership to both current and prospective members?
- How important is the government relations work that TRSA does in DC on behalf of the industry?
- You hold both Clean Green and Hygienically Clean certification from TRSA. How have these certifications benefited your business?
- What do you think about the professional development opportunities and educational programs that TRSA offers? Any ideas for making them stronger?
- How can TRSA develop and cultivate the next generation of leaders for this industry?
- What do you think about the new Emerging Leaders program?
- What changes do you see in the future for this industry?
- You went to school at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. How did that help shape you?
- After graduation, you worked at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. How did you transition from this role to the textile services industry? What made you decide to join the family business?
- What are the special challenges facing family businesses? Can they continue to thrive in an age of consolidation?
- Do you have any succession plans in place at Superior Linen Service to keep the business in the family?
A. First of all, let me say that it’s my honor and privilege to have been asked to lead TRSA. TRSA is an organization that has been around for more than 100 years, and looking back at all the amazing chairmen who have gone before me, I just hope I can live up to their standards. I believe that TRSA is currently in an excellent position. Many previous chairmen have had to deal with difficult issues from day one of their term; however, my predecessor, Jim Doro, has left me an association that is in excellent shape, both in terms of membership and finances. If there was a good time to be the chairman of TRSA, this is probably it. This allows me the opportunity to focus on expanding the role of TRSA in the industry and increasing the reach of TRSA outside the industry. I am very excited about the opportunity I have to lead TRSA at this point in time, and that we can focus on increasing the role of TRSA from day one.
Q. What are some goals that you would like to accomplish during your term as chair of TRSA?
A. I would like to see TRSA further promote the textile services industry. This is an amazing industry that has provided opportunities to hundreds of thousands of people. We have an exciting story to tell, and TRSA can tell it better than any of us can individually. I have spent several years as a member of the strategic planning committee. It has been a rewarding experience to see many of the items we have discussed come to reality. One of these is the promotion that TRSA does for the industry. I would also like to see TRSA become a more global association. We already have many members from outside the United States who make a tremendous contribution to the association. Many of the new guidelines and regulations that are suggested in this country come from ideas that are formed in Europe, Asia and other areas of the world. Since regulations that are created outside the United States will eventually make their way here, I would like to be a part of the creation of these ideas. Also, having talked to several members from other countries, I know that TRSA can be of assistance to them as there are not that many other strong textile services associations around the world. Bringing on new international members increases the membership and dues base and allows TRSA to expand its offerings, without increasing dues to current members.
A. I believe TRSA is the only association that can currently represent and support all sectors of the industry. Our membership base consists of large publicly traded companies, as well as small independents. As such, I see TRSA’s role to be primarily protecting the playing field for all member companies.
A. The most important part that I always remember is that my job is to support the current members. They always come first. With that said, every association knows that if there is so much you want to do, you need a large base of members to support that; otherwise, if you’re trying to run the association on the backs of a few members, it gets, flat out, too expensive. A large membership base is good for both; it brings in new members, plus it’s good for the current members because it helps the association take on more tasks and be of more value without necessarily putting a burden on the existing members. I’ve always supported the decisions that the previous boards have made about bringing in other classes of members, like OPLs, in the nonvoting capacity. To boil that down, it’s really to keep working on new members, to allow the association to do more tasks without necessarily burdening the existing membership. My goal is to increase value to members. I want to use the association as the marketing arm of the industry, as the public relations mouthpiece. PR is a critical role because I look at TRSA as the overall blanket association for the industry, vs. some of the other associations. To me, TRSA is the large umbrella. I look at TRSA as what I need for all of us to have that level playing field, so we can all compete with each other. Sometimes you have to work with your competition to make sure that the markets are open, the regulations are fair, the rules are clear, the taxes are even, all those issues.
A. Government regulators, like TRSA, have the goal of creating an environment which benefits the end customer. These goals are well meaning; however, the regulators simply cannot understand all the businesses that they regulate. Therefore, unless someone can go in and educate them on our industry, they may make decisions that do not result in the level playing field that they desire. They only react to what information they’re given. Only an association that covers the entire industry can have the powerful impact in government relationships that TRSA does. Only an association like TRSA can educate the regulators, both federal and state, so that hopefully they make decisions that are in the best interest of the end customer.
Q. You hold both Clean Green and Hygienically Clean certification from TRSA. How have these certifications benefited your business?
A. Every consumer, whether as an individual or business, is constantly bombarded with marketing and advertising. Every business will say they are good, so how is someone to choose? One of the things we all like as consumers is to look at independent, third-party certifications. For example, if we buy an electric device, we look for the UL logo. These independent certifications give us a comfort level in what we buy. I believe Clean Green and Hygienically Clean are similar. They give our customers a comfort level in us that no marketing on our part can match. Our customers need to know they made the correct choice when they chose us for their textile rental needs. When I hand them copies of our certifications, they immediately know that they made a safe choice. The other benefit of these certifications is for our own employees. Everyone likes to think they work for a company that is doing things right. While independent certifications are important to our customers, they are just as important to our own employees. If you were to ask one of my employees what they like about working for us, one of the things they will probably say is that we are one of the first companies to achieve any new certification.
Q. What do you think about the professional development opportunities and educational programs that TRSA offers? Any ideas for making them stronger?
A. That’s probably one of the strongest things the association offers. As a small business, you do your own training to fit your culture and needs, but there’s that core training of the technology in the industry and the personal development that you have to get somewhere. You can’t do it yourself. You can use some of the local schools, like here we have some great community colleges and business schools that we can use, but those are not necessarily geared toward us, so having an association that creates these educational opportunities and certifications is a wonderful tool. We’ve sent many of our staff to PMI, and for their Certified Professional Laundry Manager (CPLM) education. It’s good for us, because they learn the industry, and get networking opportunities among other people in the industry, so they have good connections. Honestly, they enjoy that opportunity as well. One of the biggest things that we struggle with as a small business is giving our current long-term employees a continual plan of what am I going to do? What’s my opportunity? What’s my growth plan? If you have a company with 100,000 employees, people can see. Well, here’s my growth plan, I can take this job to this job to this job. When you come to a small business like ours, where do you go? I don’t have levels and levels of jobs, and I’m not growing fast enough that everybody is taking over, or building new plants every other week. We struggle with having opportunities for people to continue to develop, expand and grow. That’s where the association comes in with the training programs, where they can meet other people, become part of committees and task forces, and pick up new and interesting ideas that honestly as a small business in our area, we couldn’t do. If you take a small single-plant operator, that’s tough to get that growth path. My ideas for making these programs stronger is honestly to listen. I have my opinions, but I’m not known as a person that has to have it my way or anything like that. I personally believe that the best feedback is going to come from every graduating class, and sitting down with them and asking, what do you think? What was good and what was bad and really learn from them. Ongoing, direct feedback is critical.
A. The same way that it helped cultivate me. This was a family business that I left for almost 17 years, and went to work in the defense industry. When I came back, it was somewhat of a culture shock for me, because in my previous career, I had one customer and that was Uncle Sam. I was used to only dealing with that one customer and in a need-to-know, classified manner. You didn’t go to conferences and start discussing what you were doing that day with random people. There were security concerns. I didn’t really have the knowledge of the industry and what was going on. One of the first things my father and I did, is we went to many of the TRSA events. It allowed me the opportunity to start meeting people, talking to people and visiting other facilities and seeing what this whole industry was about. The biggest struggle we have as this industry grows, is we need to continually bring people in from outside the industry. People don’t know what this industry does; they don’t know what it’s about. It’s difficult as a small business or even a large business, to see what the state of the art is today. Here’s what other people are doing. By having these networking events, certifications, seminars and summits, it gives people a very good opportunity to make one trip and meet 50-60 other operators in one place to discuss topics. If you were going to do that on your own, you’d have to travel to 50 different plants. What we’re doing is the perfect way to get new people and develop new people into the industry by attending these events and making contacts. To me, the most valuable part of being a member of the association is the networking, because you never know what’s going to come up. A random conversation at a breakfast sometime may give you a little nugget that makes the whole dues (investment) worthwhile.
A. Even though I don’t know if I can call myself an emerging leader anymore, I did attend that program and I was really pleased with the energy that I saw there. I think the future of the association and the industry is in good hands. I believe that the upcoming generations are probably going to do a lot better job at this than we did.
Q. What changes do you see in the future for this industry?
A. This may be an industry which has been around for more than 100 years, but in the last decade or so, the technology has simply exploded. It is difficult to keep up with all the advancements being made, not only in the processing of textiles, but the textiles themselves. I’d love to be able to know what changes are coming, but if I could do that I would be a very rich man. All I know is that changes are coming, and coming fast. As an individual, there is no way for me to keep up, which is why I am a part of associations like TRSA.
A. The academy is one of the five federal service academies, like West Point or Annapolis. However, it is by far the smallest and not well known outside the marine transportation industry. What I most remember about the academy is the motto “acta non verba.” This is Latin for “deeds not words.” What this means is that what is really important is what you do, not just what you say and the speeches you give. I have always tried to live by this motto. We all know people who talk a good game, but act very differently. I try to always listen to others and let my actions speak for themselves. I want people to remember me for the good things that I have done (or tried to do), not what I have simply said. Remember that when I give a speech, because they will be very short!
Q. After graduation, you worked at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. How did you transition from this role to the textile services industry? What made you decide to join the family business?
A. The laboratory (KAPL for short) is the prime contractor for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion program. I spent more than 13 years working there with some of the most amazing people and perhaps the most advanced technology in the world. There are more PhDs and scientists there than you can count. As the saying goes, I could tell you what we did, but then I would have to kill you. The work is absolutely fascinating and rewarding, but it is still a government laboratory. As much as I enjoyed working there and working with the other people there, something was missing. As rewarding as that work was, it does not compare to the pleasure that I get working in private industry, where the choices we make have an immediate impact.
Q. What are the special challenges facing family businesses? Can they continue to thrive in an age of consolidation?
A. Not only can family businesses thrive, I think they still have an advantage. The advantage is that sense of ownership that is difficult to keep in a public, or non-family-owned business. This industry is still dominated by family (or independently) owned businesses. Even the highly successful public companies in our industry are still actually run like family-owned businesses. That is what makes them so successful. So many other industries are known for having people change jobs every few years. When you have that kind of turnover, no one ever gets a true sense of ownership and accountability. The textile services industry is one that somehow gets in your blood.
Q. Do you have any succession plans in place at Superior Linen Service to keep the business in the family?
A. While I have daughters who one day may enter the business, this is not the only succession plan. My father taught me many valuable lessons in life. Perhaps the best was to give your staff the tools and authority to run the business as they see fit. If you do that, they will treat the company with respect and make good decisions, usually better decisions than I would make. By doing this, I have the time to take on other roles, such as the chair of TRSA. So if my daughters decide to work in the business someday, that would be wonderful, but if not, the staff has the company in good hands, and can continue to run the business. I consider my staff to be family as well. Many of them have worked for the company for more than 30 years. Even if there’s not a Waldman in charge of the company, it will still be run as a family business, as we are one big family.