March 26, 2015

Jerry, Frankie & Lenny; The End of a Powerful Era

December 7th 1941 was a day that has lived in infamy. But for the the New Jersey Builders Association, December 6th, 2014 will be the day that ushered in the end of an era, a powerful era. That Saturday afternoon, Leonard (Lenny) Sendelsky joined his NJBA brothers, Jirair (Jerry) Hovnanian and Frank (Frankie) Farinella. The three Legends of Housing, and truer legends will never be found, are eternally reunited and Heaven became that much better and feistier.

Lenny fought to the very end and anybody that knew him well knew that it was going to take more than cancer to take Lenny out. Unfortunately, we all learned on that day in December that not even Lenny could refuse God's calling him home. When I received the call, I cried. It hurt. I had become very close with Lenny and I knew he was always there for me... until now. I was comforted by my wife, Kathleen, who knew I was devastated by this news. We all knew it was coming but still, it was Lenny. He would not lose. He never did. Shock came to NJBA staff and NJBA family. Shock because we all thought he would never be taken. My thoughts went to Frankie and Jerry that night and I realized that all three were now gone. That realization hurt as much as the call from Barry Rosengarten, Lenny's long time friend and a past NJBA president, informing me of Lenny's passing.
Even though I had heard many times that time waits for no one I know that time can not take the memories we all have of these three incredible men who fought harder than anyone I have ever met to protect housing here in New Jersey and they delivered their passion to the National Association of Home Builders as well. All three brought a fierce NJ attitude to the discussions and never backed away or down, from anything or anyone, if they firmly believed they were right. Trust me, most times, they were right.

It was a cold day on December 11th, the day Lenny was laid to rest. Cold, gray skies, a snow flurry with  family and friends. The pastor spoke but I didn't really hear any of his words. I just couldn't believe that Lenny was gone. In fact, it wasn't until this past week's Atlantic Builders Convention, an event that was missing Lenny for the first time in more than 50 years, that I could finally say goodbye to my friend. NJBA had a memorial garden for Lenny, with members passing through, smiling with tears in their eyes. Current and past NJBA leadership, along with NJBA staff, sharing memories during the actual memorial service that had Lenny's family in attendance. 
I had the honor of saying a few words but for the first time in my professional life, I struggled with words. How can you explain the loss? How can I relay to those listening that Lenny was not just a mentor, but a protector and father like figure? I did my best but when I concluded I wanted to make sure all listening knew of Lenny's passion and commitment to our industry and that I would hope he touched us all the way he touched me.

When all was said and the service concluded, I walked away from the garden knowing that I can finally, in my mind, lay Lenny to rest and be peaceful within my thoughts knowing that Lenny has been reunited with Jerry and Frankie and I smile because I know that they are having some very candid discussions in Heaven.
This week at convention, and spending time just sitting in the garden area, is was what led me to writing about Lenny today, almost four months after his passing, to bring closure to reality but refresh memories that will live on.

Our NJBA state board meetings will never be the same. These three great men will never be duplicated and we will all miss those three Legends dearly. God Bless all three of you and rejoice that the gang is back together.

Lenny, Godspeed, my friend. 

Len Sendelsky seated, center, with Frank and Jerry's children. Left to right; Steve and Mary (Farinella) Caporaso. Peter and Stephen Hovnanian. All five, NJBA past presidents. Picture was taken in October 2013 when NJBA bestowed on Lenny the NJBA Lifetime Achievement Award.

 The Len Sendelsky Memorial Garden
Just a sampling of pictures and awards from Lenny's life
(A very special thank you to NJBA staff member, Lisa Obolsky, and Lenny's local EO from the Shore Builders Association, Gina Woolley, for making the Memorial Garden a reality. Click on each picture to enlarge) 


 submitted by Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP

March 20, 2015

The Core, and The Core, and The Core

In early Spring of 1962, General Douglas MacArthur gave his last speech to the cadets at West Point. The speech was a tribute to our military and the general concluded with these lasting visions; "Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps." 
The General's passion was the importance of The Corps and he emphasized it as such. It was given to hopefully have the next generation of our military understand the true meaning of their mission so that they can deliver the message to the next, and so on.

I would like to borrow his focused importance and take poetic license with his passionate reminder and apply it to our association.

The Core, and The Core, and The Core. 

What is the core of our association? Why should building industry participants cross the threshold from outside to inside? There are multiple reasons or desires. Some are even reasonable desires.

What are the reasons for joining or maintaining membership?

  • Opportunities - every non builder would like the opportunity to sell to builders and the reason most join is to build their book of business, if not today within the week. There will be opportunities but no guarantees.
  • Networking -  meeting like minded industry professionals
  • Education - Builders join to learn more about their business, whether it's about codes or best practices, education will be readily available at all three levels of membership.
  • Insurance - There are quite a few small businesses that need insurance at reasonable prices. There are some associations that, through a collective, offer insurance, whether it be health, workers' compensation and any other needed insurance that a company would require to supply or construct a home.
  • Someone told you to join - could be a builder making sure that their vendors are members. Could be a lumber company who insists that their window manufacturer join. Regardless, these are now members who have limited choice in the matter.
All or parts of the above may be applied to all your members. No matter what the need of the potential member, or current member, The Core will need to be highlighted somewhere. So, let's start here and I would hope that, as General MacArthur did 53 years ago, a strong reminder is heeded...

"The Core, and The Core, and The Core" is the ultimate reason we are in business within the building industry. The Core is advocacy. None of the above happens without advocacy.
  • limited to no opportunities for business. Without advocacy, environmentalists win, no growthers win, NIMBYs win and anybody else who is against home building. Why? without advocacy we as an industry have no voice in our state capitals or in Washington, DC.
  • If that's the case, no reason for industry education
  • no need to meet new folks
  • you still might need insurance but it will be extremely high because the association itself won't be needed.
  • There won't be much leverage to make someone join if the industry is not healthy.  

Advocacy, Advocacy, Advocacy is THE core of our association. It would be like a brand new car with no engine; nice to look at but just one big paper weight.

My advice to you is to remember the real reason, the core reason,  we have the home builder associations. Everything else is just features of your membership with varying degrees of benefit. The benefit is the core; advocacy.

 submitted by Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP

March 12, 2015

$$$ - Are You Treating the Symptoms or the Cause?

Anybody who has had back pain or a headache will tell you that a good dose of Advil will do the trick. But there comes a time when you have constant flare ups and Advil is becoming more of a mask than a solution to help with the actual cause. What follows, if left neglected, could be potential escalation of the ailment to a point of serious consequence.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), from the national level to the grass roots of our local home builders associations (HBA), is having, within varying degrees, a "symptom v cause" moment in time. The symptoms are in the form of fundraising events and the reasons why we have them. My thoughts go to a particular type of fundraising and it is political fundraising that causes me to be concerned. The symptoms are quite clear; small percentage of members investing in PAC. Let me rephrase; too many members not understanding that political action committees (PAC) are not a type of a reverse ATM machine. Most members have this idea that all the HBAs are doing is trying to pry cold hard cash from their wallets and bank accounts.
The symptoms exposed to a volunteer, when asking for a PAC contribution, are quite clear; stiffness in the arm limiting access to the wallet, a cringing of facial muscles, tightness in chest, hot flush on skin and a mild aggravation in the throat when they say "I would love to, but..."
And what do we keep doing? We keep treating the symptoms with Advil, AKA as fundraisers. Golf outings, business card trades, networking events, a cocktail reception at a well known builders home, maybe a "meet the builder" type of pay for play event. That's right, all treatments designed to help the aching backs of our PAC's perception in the real world of politics. Eventually, treating the symptoms will catch up on any PAC if you don't understand what is actually causing the symptoms. The actual cause is lack of awareness of what the PAC truly does for you, the member, and more importantly for you, the building industry professional. 

Do not read into my opinions and deduce a hatred for fundraisers. I personally love a good fundraiser, having chaired many and hopefully will again. I especially love them when the emphasis is on FUNdraiser. However, and maybe it's just me, but I sense that it's the same people coming to these events, and more importantly, when the same people attend, they leave enjoying the evening but not understanding the purpose. The cause of the ailment is not the lack of new members at a fundraiser or lack of substantial contributions coming from others that are in leadership. Those are the symptoms. The cause, again? Lack of awareness and understanding. In a perfect world, members, all members, will enthusiastically invest in PAC. There wouldn't be a need for PAC fundraisers and life would be so much easier for our volunteers. 

How do you treat the cause? You have to have purpose of PAC discussions, all the time. Not just once or twice but always. You have to make sure that when you have a fundraiser a letter is sent to the attendee explaining the importance of the event and their role in helping to work towards a healthy building industry. Conversations at the general membership meetings can not be en masse; selected well spoken members must have small group discussions while networking, whether at the dinner table or in small groups. It has to be persistent, but not over bearing. 

Video messaging is another great way.

Think about it; videos from YouTube (as an example) go viral. When's the last time you heard of an email going viral or a newsletter?

My advice to start would be to pick up your smart phone and hit the reverse icon so you can see yourself. Press record and talk to yourself about the true value of PAC. Play it back then tweak the message until you can say "nice job." Download and send to maybe four or five members asking them to play video. They will hear you, see you, feel you (if passionate enough) and they will, more importantly, understand you.

My point to all of this? Fundraisers should be utilized as a luxury, not as a primary source of PAC investments. Give a man a fish and it will feed him for that day. Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself and his family for many days and years after. A fundraiser is like receiving a fish. You'll have to keep asking time and time again because no lessons are being learned. To teach a member will help them feed themselves by understanding that paying a little to PAC today will feed them constantly. They will also know that it's not a one and done scenario. Because you have taught them that politics is never one and done. The symptoms of
stiffness the arm limiting access to the wallet, a cringing of facial muscles, tightness in chest, hot flush and a mild aggravation in the throat when they say "I would love to, but..." will slowly go away because the cause has been treated. 

One member at a time. It requires patience, persistence and commitment. 

There was once a stream, that turned into a river that cut through rock and sand to eventually form the Grand Canyon. Time and patience can eventually lead to magnificent accomplishments.

submitted by Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP

March 5, 2015

Builders and Associates United in Legislative Decisions

The week of March 9th will be marked by builders and HBA staff meeting with members of Congress. I would take it a step further by making sure your engaged associate members are not only included in these visits but relay their concerns about the building industry to the legislators as well. This is about builders, who take the risks involved with obtaining land and building a home, and those that the builders employee. Associates, if they are directly impacted by housing, are without question part of the builders' team and are as affected by legislative decisions as the builders themselves.

Back in the mid to late 1990s, the associate members volunteering at the national level delivered a message to builders and associates around the country. The message was clear, to the point and helped to have associates sitting on the sidelines to get up and take part in the defense of our great industry. The message? "It's our industry too!" 
Around 2009 the national associates, utilizing the great recession as their example, developed the awareness phrase "if it affects builders, it will affect associates." What greater example to demonstrate what happens when builders can't build or are greatly hampered? No one in our association could ever forget the nationwide layoffs, or closures, for any company directly affected by the housing crash and the deep recession that followed.

Which leads us to the importance of communicating with our legislators, both federal and state. For this article we are going to focus on federal, the House and the Senate. In just a few days, the National Association of Home Builders will "Bring Housing Home."  

As current national associate leadership we would like to help you, our fellow associates, take part in "Bring Housing Home" week. Make sure you speak with your local and/or state president and ask that you be included in the congressional meetings. "Its our industry too" means that associates are every bit a part of what happens with housing and "if affects builders it most definitely affects associates." The power of the associate member should be utilized by builders in their congressional meetings as associate members represent all facets of home construction and enhancement supply and service. What a great one-two punch!
Just a few facts that legislators should understand when visiting...
  • There are currently 86, 161 associate members (roughly two-thirds of NAHB membership)
  • Each associate member accounts for, on median average, 9 employees
  • On average, there are 1.5 votes per employee household (not including relatives or friends that could be influenced to your concerns)
  • Quick math: 86,161 x 9 = 775,449 x 1.5 = 1,163,174 votes (all approx.)

How legislation and regulation on housing affects associates?
  • Less land to build on means less houses that could be built = less product or services to be sold
  • More costs added to the overall cost of house construction means the builder a) has to eat costs because house won't sell at higher number, leaving less money for potential future projects b) builder passes cost on to potential home buyers causing a potential problem with acquiring a mortgage at the new sale price, risking less qualified buyers c) asking associates to shoulder part or all of the extra cost burden by "sharpening our pencils" which affects the associates profit margin. It could also be a combination of all three!
  • Houses, that are turned into homes, provide quite a few jobs. Less houses causes, as the Great Recession demonstrated, quite a few less jobs.
It is so important to take the above associate talking points and blend them into the overall  conversation that is based on NAHB talking points. Remember, the congressmen you meet with represent your districts so how it impacts you locally, will impact them, meaning you support those who help you support your family, your employees and your employee's families.

When meeting, here are a few Dos and Don'ts;

  •  Understand the reason for the meeting. Know NAHB talking points. If you don't understand the talking points ask someone from your HBA government affairs staff to clearly explain the meaning of talking points and how they affect you.
  •  Stay on message. You will have roughly 15 minutes to get your message through to your legislator. Keep him/her focused on the issue(s) at hand for the home building industry.
  •  Make sure you have at least one builder AND one associate in attendance who understand the issues and can speak to how the issue(s) affects  their own businesses so the legislator(s) understand that it is a building industry issue, not just builder related.
  •  Have one or two of your group's members be the key speakers in the group, but make sure that they identify all in the meeting and how they are each related to the building industry.
  •  Bring updated building industry literature, specific to reason for meeting, to leave with the legislator and have HBA staff follow up with whatever you could not answer for the legislator(s).
  •  Invite your legislator(s) to one of your HBA events when their calendar permits.
  •  Don't be unprepared. Shooting from the hip is great in old TV westerns but not when our industry's survival, your income, is on the line.
  •  Don't discuss campaign contributions when discussing your reasons for the visit. Ever.
  •  Don't allow a fellow member(s) to stray off message. It confuses the issues and the reason you set up the meeting will become lost in other discussions.
  •  Don't forget to follow up with the legislator(s) on issues that were unresolved or he/she said would be taken care of (like co-sponsoring a bill).
submitted by:

Michael Kurpiel,  NAHB BUILD-PAC Associate Vice Chairman
Dianne Beaton, National Associate Vice Chairman
Michael LeCorgne, National Associate Members Committee Chairman