The Presidential Commentary

Categories: Business Management, ISSA 100th Anniversary, ISSA Insights

By Jeff Cross | November 20, 2023 << Back to Articles The Presidential Commentary

ISSA, your worldwide cleaning industry association, is about to enter its 101st year. One of the treasures that is part of ISSA’s legacy is past leadership, specifically those industry professionals who have volunteered their time to serve as presidents of the association.

Those who served as presidents usually spent years on the board of directors of ISSA and, with that, witnessed and experienced an evolving industry, with ups and downs and even the occasional crisis. They were instrumental in facing down and overcoming challenges, planning for a better future, and proving that the industry, as a collective, is one we can all be proud of and look forward to being involved with moving forward.

You don’t hear regret or remorse in the voices when you speak to virtually anyone who has given their professional life to the cleaning industry. You hear gratitude and pride. You often hear terms such as, “I love this industry.” It’s a common theme.

In this special centennial feature article, past ISSA presidents were invited to share their thoughts, comments, and predictions on various topics, industry concerns, and challenges that might keep you up at night or that you wonder about moving forward. We have added a little history as well. Read on and join our past presidents as they share what they can to help advance cleaning.

Presidential journeys

All ISSA past presidents have their own unique story to tell, how they got to the ISSA board of directors, and what serving with the board during tenure meant to them. Here is who participated in this article.

Linda Silverman is the executive chairwoman of Maintex in City of Industry, California. She began her career in board activity by serving on the board of directors for the Southern California Sanitary Supply Association, which included a term as president. After that, Silverman began to work with various ISSA programs, such as the Young Executive Society (YES), now known as ISSA NextGen. In 1989, she served as vice chairperson of that program, and from 1994-1996 served on the ISSA board as a district director. In 1999, she was elected vice president; in 2000, she served as president of ISSA, the second female to serve in that capacity. Kay Scott, now deceased, served as the first female president of ISSA in 1983.

Gene Pane is retired from Bobrick Washroom Equipment, North Hollywood, California. He spent years working with an association in California, serving as president at one time. He was then encouraged to do more with ISSA and asked to run for a board position, which he did. After his term was up, he ran for president and served in 1991.

Thomas Lane retired as vice president of the National Sanitary Supply Company in Los Angeles, California, with years spent there spanning from 1964 to 2001. His family had been involved with ISSA since the early 1950s. Lane attended his first ISSA Show with his father at the West Coast regional event at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. His business partner, Robert Garber, was the ISSA president in 1974. Lane became involved with the ISSA board of directors, first as secretary and then as president in 1996.

Grant Watkinson was the president of Coastwide Laboratories in Portland, Oregon, and is now retired. He began his involvement in the industry, serving locally as president of the Oregon Sanitary Association. He went on to serve in the leadership of ISSA’s Young Executive Society (YES) and later the ISSA board as a district director in 1990 and 1991. Former presidents Randy Haviland and Gene Pane encouraged Watkinson to run for president. He was elected vice president in 1997 and served as president in 1998.

Donald Lees is president of Big D Industries in Oklahoma City. His journey with ISSA leadership began in 1993, leading the exhibitor committee. He served as vice president and ultimately as president in 1999.

Gary Gradinger is the chairman at Golden Star Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. His journey to ISSA began in 1978 when Warren Haviland, founder of the Haviland Corporation, insisted Gradinger run for an ISSA district director role. From there, he worked on the ISSA Strategic Planning Committee and Foundation board. In 2001, he decided to do more with ISSA’s board of directors and eventually served as president in 2003.

Bob Stahurski is the CEO of Nyco Products Company in Countryside, Illinois. In 1969, he started attending the ISSA Show with his father, and that year, it was in the basement of the Conrad Hilton in Chicago. Fast-forward some 30 years, and he was asked to serve the vacated role of district director from 1996-1997. He then ran for treasurer and served in that role from 2002-2004. He ran for and served as president of ISSA in 2009.

David Holtzman is the president and owner of Global Concepts. He attended industry events with his father, his first ISSA Show (then known as NSSA) in Boston, and as his career grew, his love for ISSA grew with it. Burton Feinson (deceased), a past president of ISSA (1973), and at the time, the president of American Dispenser, first encouraged Holtzman’s participation in many of the trade associations. This, in turn, led to his participating as a founding father of the Sanitary Supply Wholesaling Association (SSWA), with many years of integrating the SSWA within ISSA, and years of service for the New Jersey Sanitary Supply Association (NJSSA) and being one of the developers of Operation Clean Sweep, in which local NJSSA and ISSA members came together to clean establishments such as an orphanage or homeless shelter. In addition to working as a YES coordinator, Holtzman served three different terms with ISSA, as district director, secretary, and vice president, before becoming president in 2010.

Scott Jarden is president of The Bullen Companies, Folcroft, Pennsylvania. His father, Richards Jarden, who served as ISSA president in 1985, was his inspiration and role model. Scott Jarden began his ISSA journey as his district’s YES representative. He then was elected to all available positions, spanning nearly 12 years, on the board of directors before becoming president in 2011.

Jon Scoles was the president and is now a consultant with Scoles Systems in Wall, New Jersey. He served twice as the president of the New Jersey Sanitary Supply Association, the first in 1981-1984 and then again in 1999-2002. He then served as a district director for ISSA from 2005-2007 and then ran for and served as president in 2012.

Lydia Work is the president of American Paper in Woodland, Washington. Her early days with ISSA meant quick education on all things cleaning, as she only knew the paper manufacturing industry. With her new connections and tapping into ISSA seminars, she quickly built a foundation and tapped into an education journey for her new career in sales. In 2005, she was elected as an ISSA district director, representing manufacturers, and with zeal, energy, and passion for ISSA, she eventually decided to run for vice president in 2012 and won. And a year later, in 2013, she became the third female to serve as ISSA president.

Fritz Gast is the former executive vice president of P.B. Gast & Sons Company, a janitorial supply distributor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was founded by his grandfather in 1894 and is one of the seven founding companies of ISSA. Gast attended his first ISSA Show in Houston in 1987 and was amazed by what he saw and experienced. He has attended every show since then. In 2002, Gast ran for and won a district director position on the ISSA board of directors. After his three-year term expired, he ran for secretary/treasurer for ISSA. After spending years on the board, in 2013, he began his term as vice president, leading to serving as president in 2014.

Alan Tomblin is the CEO and president of Network Distribution in Chicago. He credits fellow industry executives Roger Parrott and Grant Watkinson with encouraging him to serve on the ISSA board of directors. Tomblin was elected to the board as a manufacturer’s representative from Procter & Gamble. He then ran for vice president and, after serving in that capacity, served as president in 2015.

Richard Rones is the former president of Americo Manufacturing Company Inc. in Acworth, Georgia, where he began his career in the cleaning industry in 1986. He has served on the board of the Georgia Sanitary Supply Association and as a director at large for the Sanitary Supply Wholesaling Association. Aside from running a successful manufacturing business, Rones served on the ISSA board of directors as a district director from 2004-2006, then secretary from 2009-2011, and finally president in 2017.

Ted Stark III is the former owner and president of Dalco Enterprises Inc. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John Sullivan, with 3M, asked Stark to succeed him as an ISSA district director, which he accepted, and when that term was over, he decided to run for the executive board of ISSA. The secretary position was open, and he opted for it. With a three-year rotation of secretary, treasurer, and an at-large board role, he served as secretary and treasurer, and then ran for president in 2017 and served as ISSA’s president in 2018.

Paul Goldin is the senior vice president of customer experience and strategic integration with Bee-Clean Building Maintenance, serving all of Canada and now in the United States, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He spent the first 23 years of his career with Avmor Ltd. in Laval, Quebec, Canada. Mattie Chinks, who served as ISSA president in 2005, encouraged Goldin to do more with ISSA, and Goldin served as a YES coordinator. His next move was with the ISSA board of directors, and he became president in 2019.

Ken Bodie is CEO of Kelsan and president of Keller Group in Knoxville, Tennessee. He joined YES in 1996 and served as coordinator from 2002-2004. Former executive director John Garfinkel asked him to run for the distributor director board position. Bodie was elected and served three board terms on the ISSA board of directors, becoming ISSA president in 2020.

Harry Dochelli is the president and CEO of Essendant in Deerfield, Illinois. His journey to ISSA started as a strategic business move to grow the janitorial service division of his company. He became more involved with ISSA both at ISSA Show and working with various ISSA projects. John Garfinkel, the executive director of ISSA at that time, asked Dochelli to consider running for a board of director position, which led to serving as a distributor director in 2017. He then served as vice president in 2021 and then as president in 2022.

Presidential memories

Each past president of ISSA has great memories of serving in their leadership role and of ISSA events they have attended—especially the ISSA Show. Much of what they experienced has driven their corporate business strategies and how they have served the global cleaning industry.

“One of my favorite memories and show is from 1999,” says Lees. “This was when ISSA opened up the show to end users. This was smart as all the equipment manufacturers were traditionally at the show but needed more people to come to their booths. I felt we would lose exhibitors if we didn’t come up with a solution, so we went through the process of opening up the show. It finally happened on my watch, and from there, we have grown.”

Gast recalls during his nine years serving on the board of directors that, despite the 1/3 turnover of board members every year, everyone was able to “check their egos” at the door and focus on honest and insightful dialogue that brought about positive change for the whole industry and all of its stakeholders. “Initially, the trade show and the board included only distributors and manufacturers who had mostly common goals,” Gast explains. “However, in the late 1990s, the board voted to open the show to end users despite the concerns of many distributors who worried about the manufacturers selling directly. In 2002, my first year on the board, we went one step further and opened the board, like ISSA Show, to all stakeholders in the industry, including building service contractors (BSCs) and end users. The result positively affected the cleaning industry and all its stakeholders.”

Watkinson remembers those days as well. “Clearly the most significant change during my term in office was the unanimous vote of the board of directors to open trade show attendance to BSCs and facility managers,” he explains. “This change in attendance was truly transformative. It ultimately led to membership for all players in the cleaning industry, and as a result, ISSA is representative of all participants in the cleaning space and is larger in numbers. We are also stronger financially and, most importantly, our voice and leadership for improved cleaning for human health and safety is being heard.”

A favorite memory for Stahurski was in 2009. “ISSA had developed initiatives focused on combining environmental science, technology, and cleaning for health. No industry-accepted cleaning standards existed, and ISSA, as the cleaning experts, was instrumental in helping create the Cleaning Industry Management Standards (CIMS).” CIMS is now an ISSA program.

Some who worked on the board of directors were instrumental in change that has positively impacted future leadership roles. For Work, during her presidency in 2013, the first BSC member joined the executive committee—current executive director John Barrett. This created an active role in increasing leadership opportunities for BSCs within ISSA.

For Rones, he has many great memories and some more consequential—at times, controversial—memories. “One was to introduce an end-user member class to the association, followed a few years later by changing the board composition to include an end-user member. One of my most memorable accomplishments during my year as president in 2017 was leading the board to unanimously propose a bylaw change to allow an end-user member to serve as president of the association. And, this year, we have had a talented and successful president who is from that important member class.”

Some who previously served as president can point to much of today’s leadership success during their tenure. That plays true to Tomblin. “A favorite memory was me asking the board to choose John Barrett to be the new executive director of ISSA,” he remembers. “It’s always difficult to follow a legend, and when John Garfinkel decided to retire under my watch as president, I immediately turned to John Barrett. This was an excellent choice. John’s credentials within the industry are terrific. His foresight, vision, and strategic thinking abilities are iconic.”

Silverman, serving as the second female president, enjoyed what she calls calm and “no major surprises during my term as president.” However, she points to enduring relationships and friendships she made through her involvement in ISSA. She is proud of a strategic plan the association worked to prepare ISSA for the 21st century, especially with technology, industry consolidation, globalization, and continued trade show success.

Some memories are also peppered with humor. “I recall when I introduced Tom Brokaw as our keynote speaker in 2012, and he came around the corner of the curtain and almost tripped and fell coming onto the stage. When I shook his hand, I whispered to him that he almost pulled a Chevy Chase on me, which he used in his opening line.” Scoles also fondly recalls the great friendships that were developed while serving on the board.

Gradinger says that two memories reign supreme for him and no doubt resonate with many past presidents. “First is the warm camaraderie and genuine caring board members and spouses extended to each other. Lifetime friendships were quickly established, and the stage was set for thoughtful and productive board work,” he recalls. “Secondly, was the subordination of any personal interest for the higher good of ISSA. We were facing a highly contentious issue that had been festering for years … opening the membership and, ultimately, the leadership of ISSA to include BSCs and ISPs. Thanks to the board’s ‘big picture perspective’ of governance, a trade association flourished, with every industry segment having a seat at the table. The resulting vitality, insight, and creativity are the envy of singularly driven associations and industries.”

By now, everyone has heard of the Rethink Clean program of ISSA. Dochelli is proud that this program was launched under his presidency. “We did this to raise awareness of cleaning post-COVID-19 and to drive business to our members. The campaign was a tremendous success, and the team at ISSA did an excellent job leading it.”

With time comes change, and during Goldin’s presidency, the decision to partner with Informa to produce ISSA Show North America is something he points to as a defining moment. “I have many fond memories,” he says, “but the biggest one would be the decision to engage Informa.”

Lane, Jarden, and Holtzman point to the people on the board of directors and their families as important memories, as running the global cleaning industry association is done both at the board table and outside of it as well. Meeting industry associates from around the world with the common goal of making the world a cleaner and safer environment is something they cherish. “One of my greatest pleasures was traveling both the country and the world and meeting one-on-one with many of our members. Almost everyone I met appreciated the visit and spoke highly of both our industry and the association,” says Holtzman. Jarden added: “Some of my favorite moments were meeting new board members and the many meetings, ISSA Shows, and board trips. While there are a few other chemical manufacturers here and there that were on the board, it was a great variety of businesses and people that I learned from.”

And someone had to serve during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic era. That fell on Bodie. “It was my biggest surprise,” he recalls. “I became the ISSA president, and then we had the pandemic. I became the first ISSA president to host a virtual board meeting and be president of a virtual ISSA Show.” When you speak with Bodie, he has no regrets about the pandemic affecting his tenure. The entire board of directors stepped up and handled all challenges effectively.

Watkinson appreciates his time on the board and his term as president, and while it meant much time away from his company and his family, “as is frequently the case, one walks away with more gained and given. I was honored to have served with wonderful, intelligent, and committed people.”

Presidential pontifications

All past presidents were invited to share a few thoughts on the industry, what they value and see, and predictions for the future. Each has a unique perspective partnered with what they see as necessary to help drive the industry forward.

Stark: I feel the cleaning industry is more important than ever. It will be essential for us to keep educating people and try to keep individuals and customers from falling back into old habits. Germ transmission does not go away; in fact, it continues to expand. We must value the continued growth of robotics and other technologies for improved efficiency and effectiveness, along with the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in business applications. Product distribution will continue to expand into other distribution categories, making it challenging for distributors and manufacturers to continue to differentiate. They will need to find new ways to create value for customers.

Gast: My concern going forward is the incredible change in the industry. The number of distributors is much smaller than it was 20 years ago. The new reality is that multi-billion-dollar companies are the new normal. I am just happy to have enjoyed my time when life and business were much simpler.

Stahurski: As an industry, we are becoming too transactional and less relationship-driven. Technology makes us efficient; relationships make us innovate, grow, and prosper.

Watkinson: In all aspects of our cleaning businesses, and with ISSA itself, we must continue to innovate. If we fail to differentiate our products, delivery systems, and services, it is a race to the bottom. With artificial intelligence, there is so much more that each player in the space can do. Think about it. We have “more information on our customer than the customer has on themselves.” Survivors will mine this data for solutions to enhancing sustainable best practices.

Work: Become an active member and share ideas. This will support the continuous advancement of ISSA in our industry. Digital ISSA strategic initiatives—ISSA’s websites, social media presence, electronic publications, and all other digital media, including online ventures—are ISSA’s most important products for industry content and global member connectivity, bringing customers and suppliers together 24/7, 365 days of the year. 

Tomblin: I advise those reading this article to embrace this industry! Never stop learning. We can learn from anyone … from the janitor cleaning the floor to the senior executive at some of the world’s largest, most powerful private equity firms and the many in between. Never forget this is a people business. People matter. Learn from the diverse community around us.

Scoles: I believe ISSA has always been and will continue to be a great resource for all industry sectors. Regardless of your sector, always continue to educate yourself as a consultant, not just as a manufacturer, supplier, or service provider. Helping people get through their day-to-day issues is one of the most gratifying things you can do.

Silverman: I am optimistic about our future. Like all other businesses, the cleaning industry continues to evolve. We see the impact of technology in robotics and AI. Mergers and acquisitions have been occurring at an unprecedented rate.

I believe ISSA and the cleaning industry will continue to flourish. Companies that are dedicated to being trusted partners who provide value will succeed. Our industry is a necessity, and our work makes a difference. My career has been fulfilling beyond what I would have imagined when I began in 1978. Through my involvement with ISSA, I have met colleagues and developed friendships from all over the world. We have a shared understanding of the importance of our industry, including the opportunity to succeed personally and give back to an amazing industry.  

Gradinger: I can’t think of an association that has a brighter one! Serving an industry with boundless demand, exceptional leadership, and all segments with an equal voice is exciting and rewarding.

Jarden: These are very difficult times to be able to look into the future and accurately predict what things might be like in a few years. The pandemic completely changed our relationship with travel and things like trade shows, and now we have alternative means of communicating with our customers. If ISSA can continue to provide knowledge, training, certification, regulatory information, and all those services in the future, it looks like a very good future. Getting involved with ISSA will allow you to meet new people and businesses that will expand your personal and social network.

Bodie: I believe ISSA will continue to be the best voice for our industry, and there will always be a need for clean and healthy workplaces. Our future is bright! When you are away from home and see custodial staff, thank them for what they do.

ISSA is here to serve you and the industry, now and in the future. After 100 years of success, your worldwide cleaning industry association is poised to embrace the next 100 years to continue to advance clean and drive innovation.

About the Author.

Jeff Cross is the ISSA media director, with media brands that include ISSA Today, Cleaning & Maintenance Management, and Cleanfax. He can be reached at [email protected] or 740-973-4236.