In this exclusive interview, Karge discusses WQA’s push for a different type of strategy in the market, some changes during his tenure, the association’s recent accomplishments and WQA’s plans to stay ahead of the curve.
Water Technology: Please offer a little background into your role at WQA, and what accomplishments you achieved as board president.
Sam Karge: This is a huge question. I’ve been on the board for the last seven years, serving first as governor-at-large and then moving through the different executive roles, culminating in this last year as president. During the last several years, I continually came back to the question, "How do we keep this organization relevant in a constantly changing environment?" I’ve always felt that WQA has great staff members who do great work, but they’ve generally been focused on "playing defense" rather than "offense" in terms of the organization’s overall strategy on several fronts.
As many of your readers may know, we implemented a number of leadership changes at the WQA over the past 12 months. This was by far the most difficult, gut-wrenching time in my professional career because I feel so close to the staff and the organization as a whole. However, I knew that if we wanted to keep the organization relevant and moving forward, and keep the great staff at WQA doing great things, we would need to transition from a "defense" to "offense" strategy in the market.
The one accomplishment I value most from my tenure on the board and as president is how we worked closely with the board of directors and staff to reset the focus, structure and overall direction of the staff and organization to align with the industry, the members and our market overall. This refreshed and focused strategy will help drive us forward in the future.
WT: In your opinion, what is the most important issue(s) facing our industry today?
SK: I think consumers are growing more and more knowledgeable every day about water quality. If we want to be relevant in 10 years, we need to acknowledge changing consumer perceptions and expedite our growth and forward momentum as an industry. I feel that new technology has lagged as has new "thinking" about how we approach consumers. Pretty soon consumers may pass us in their knowledge of what it is we do. We need to stay ahead of this as an association and an industry.
WT: How have WQA and its members worked to solve these concerns in recent years?
SK: The WQA has made great strides in providing better industry information for consumers. Some good examples include our newer consumer-directed publications, such as “Water Treatment for Dummies” and “Getting Smart with Softeners,” as well as our Consumer Opinion Study and Modular Education Program (MEP). All of these projects help us get ahead of the curve when it comes to information about the industry. These are also prime examples of our association’s efforts to move from "defense" to "offense."
WT: In retrospect, how have disruptive legislation, such as California’s stance on water softeners, helped to strengthen our industry and incorporate advanced technology?
SK: I think adversity gives us a reason to work together. While many of WQA’s member companies have different focuses in the marketplace, we all provide a great benefit for consumers — clean, safe and enjoyable water for hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. When legislators lose sight of that fact, we need to remind them of the great things we do, while pointing out that our industry can be the solution, as opposed to the problem.
WT: Why is the WQA and becoming a member of this association important for water treatment dealers and manufacturers?
SK: When the association speaks, it’s only as loud as its membership. As members, we can speak much more loudly than as individuals. As the WQA looks forward in the upcoming years and becomes a proactive — rather than reactive — player, people in this industry will want even more to be part of our membership to take advantage of everything the association has to offer.
WT: Has the experience of serving as WQA’s president helped with your own company’s vision planning or your own personal development to better serve customers? If so, in what specific ways?
SK: When I signed up for the role several years ago, I thought all I had to do was attend a few meetings and receptions each year. Boy was I wrong. Being WQA president has basically become a second full-time job for me over this past year. I have loved every minute of it though. Working with the WQA staff, our members and the industry has been a really enriching experience for me personally.
However, I wouldn’t change the experience of what we accomplished as an association this past year. It was difficult at times, but I firmly believe that we moved the association forward strategically and have set up a strong future. I also believe that it taught me about how to manage my time and priorities better than ever before.
One of my favorite quotes is from Roger Seip, who was the keynote speaker at the WQA convention a few years ago. He said, "Don’t confuse that which is urgent for that which is important." That really sticks with me.