Q&A with WQA outgoing president Bret P. Tangley

April 1, 2016

As he moves into a new role with the organization, Tangley reflects upon his time as president and the future of WQA.

In this Q&A, the Water Technology staff talked with Water Quality Association (WQA) President (2015-2016) Bret P. Tangley, MWS about his experience in the water industry and the evolving roles of the association. Tangley is the owner and president of Sterling Water Inc.

How did you become involved in WQA?

I’ve worked in my family’s business, so I was born into it. My grandparents and parents were in the business, so I’m third generation. I never worked in a career other than the water treatment business. As a result, I’ve served in every role of the business.

I became involved with WQA through a combination of my dad, Peter Tangley (Sterling Water Inc.), and John Packard (Culligan Water Conditioning). Their interest in my involvement with WQA started out with looking for ways to develop me and for me to learn from other people. They knew I was eager to learn and wondered, "Where can we send him to learn from great leaders to obtain a different thought process kind of education?" Of course, WQA was the perfect place.

It was the WQA leadership at the time, including Dennis Rupert, Chris Layton, C.R. Hall and John Packard, who encouraged me to get involved in committee work and showed interest and confidence in me so that I might be able to help at the director and committee levels.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments as you move into a new role with the association?

Bret P. Tangley. Courtesy of the Water Quality Association

During my time in leadership, we’ve continued to develop and enhance the education programs. Obviously, the Modular Education Program (MEP) as a whole has continued to evolve. I think that’s been something that has been an accomplishment of the board.

I was pleased to be part of the board at the time when we were raising money for Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF). The fundraising campaign was an accomplishment we should be proud of as well as of the work we’ve done there.

I’ve also been very pleased with the growth and development of WQA’s Product Certification Program. The decision of my forefathers to invest in a product certification laboratory and make that commitment for the association to continue to evolve and bring in great people and regulatory assistance to people has been a big win.

I’ve been happy to see the association taking back exclusive control of its annual convention and trade show. It was a decision that wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing for the association. We had an 11-year run partnering with the Amsterdam RAI, and through that process we’ve learned that we have a valuable show. The partnership between the RAI and WQA was appropriate at the time. Now, we have an opportunity to take what we’ve learned and grow the show.

I’m really proud of the strategic plan that we’ve developed for 2016 through 2018. We really dabbled and nibbled and started and stopped to varying degrees on that strategic plan. The process was thorough and has resulted in very good initiatives.

Another area that I’ve been happy to be part of is the improvements on WQA’s infrastructure. I’ve had the pleasure of working with David Westman to review and improve the association’s governance, processes and operations of so many of the workings of the organization. Prior to recent years, we didn’t have a great human resources environment. As a result, we updated the employee and operating manuals and procedures. It was great to work on all of those back-of-the-house things that are important to the staff. The association’s overall administration is better today as a result of us evaluating the day-to-day operations.

What are some of the initiatives you began that are not completed, but that you will enjoy seeing accomplished?

We haven’t completely finished improving our education programs, but are you ever done evolving education? However, it is on a trend line that is continuing to grow and serve members. Is it perfect? No, but I look forward to the day that it is in outstanding condition.

We are continuing to build a better, more encompassing strategy for advocacy on the federal and regional levels. The federal advocacy role comes with lots of criticism. You spend a lot of time and money on federal initiatives, and the progress is very slow. If the opportunity comes in and you haven’t been involved, it’s very difficult to get a seat at the table. As regulations from the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] and other regulatory bodies continue to evolve on the national level, I hope that WQA will be a part of establishing reasonable and recognizable positions that positively affect people.

What has your time as board president meant to you, and what will you miss most?

It has meant a lot of things. It has been an incredible feeling to be a part of the best people in an industry that my family has been a part of for 66 years. It’s hard for me to not get really emotional about how important that is to be at the table to help and pay forward the energies and efforts that people before you have had. I’ve learned so much about parts of the industry. I’ve learned about manufacturers and the perspectives they have, about advocacy, product certification, and the challenges that face the various regions of the country and world.

This opportunity came at a really good time for me. I’ve been working in this industry for 35 years, and the new faces and new opportunities were a shot in the arm. I loved working with all of the committees, board and staff. I love to learn, and this has been one of those things where I’ve learned a lot. I went to Aquatech Amsterdam and learned so much from the global community.

I will miss interactions with certain staff and board members. I’ll probably miss learning about things before they happen and being on the front edge of some of the developing things in the association. I’ll miss seeing the people in Lisle and on the board. However, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll continue to be active and involved.

Are there any new initiatives that were decided on or on which more emphasis has been placed following the convention?

Emphasis will be placed on year one of our 2016-2018 Strategic Plan. That will certainly get some airplay and attention. It will be driving the direction of the association. I think the committee restructuring and the revitalization and development of the committees will also get some airplay. It will be the first convention with all of those changes in place, allowing the committees to start work on the tasks and initiatives they want to accomplish.

We certainly want to place more emphasis on the show itself. [This year] was WQA’s first show without the RAI/Aquatech. That received emphasis that is noticeable.

In what role will you continue with WQA, if any?

I will continue to serve on the board as immediate past president for the next year. I will still be in attendance and active at board meetings. Additionally, I plan to be the board liaison for the new Communications Committee, which will be exciting and fun. I plan to stay active in that. I look forward to being involved in WQRF in the future. The advocacy and government affairs areas interest me and I will continue to participate in those.

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