can we talk?

Stacy Stryjewski

May 1, 2001

Every person in life faces the challenge of confronting change. For high profile decision-makers and average people behind the scenes, the decision to initiate change is weighty and not to be taken lightly. Great leaders in our history have gained their named recognition for their ability to balance change. As the proverb implies, change for the sake of change only, is not always a good thing.

Preparing for Change

Bob Fults, the new president of the National Insulation Association (NIA), has successfully balanced the opportunity for change throughout his life. He has carefully assessed when to sit quietly and content and when to take action and stir up the waters. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Manhattan Beach, Bob has always cared for his home state of California. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world and has never desired to live anywhere but home. His love for the water, the beach and the ocean air will keep him content in California-there’s no change required here.

Bob attended Occidental College and graduated with a B.A. in business administration. He started college, however, pursuing a physical education degree. He comes from a family of teachers, including his father, and thought about following a similar path. Bob soon realized that this career was not for him, so he embraced a new direction and changed his major to economics and then to business administration. The change felt right and he soon was well on his journey to become a business professional.

Graduation posed excitement and anticipation. A young, well-educated business graduate is presented with a gourmet buffet full of options. So many choices can be tempting yet overwhelming. Bob took care in thinking about his selection. He was presented with a myriad of sales jobs and instead decided to take an inside marketing position with a smaller, family oriented company in the mechanics hand tool business. At Pendleton Tool Industries, Bob held various positions in marketing, distribution and corporate administration, including director of distribution and vice president of long range planning. He worked with many people in many capacities in order to gain a well-balanced perspective on what it takes to operate a business. After 11 years at Pendleton, Bob’s entrepreneurial spirit was calling him and he decided it was time for a change.

In 1970, Thorpe Insulation Company was the setting for Bob’s next activities. Through family associations, Bob learned of the opportunity to join Thorpe as vice president of administration. Taking no time to climb the ranks, Bob became a director in 1971, president in 1972 and chairman in 1984. Bob has found it very satisfying to run his own business and truly believes in the value that each person brings to an organization. He has always worried and cared about Thorpe’s employees and has offered creative incentives to help them reach uncommon goals. "Good people who are happy, challenged and satisfied with their jobs produce good results," remarks Bob. He views the construction industry as a terrific challenge and embraces the dynamics of a constantly changing environment. The opportunity for success is great for those who engage and get involved. Thorpe employees do just that and are rewarded for their efforts.

A Time for Change

After taking a lead role at Thorpe for many years, Bob was presented the opportunity to step into the shadows just a bit and focus on a variety of activities in his life. His son Eric joined Thorpe in 1997 and is now president/chief executive officer. Eric took some time to explore his interests before deciding to get involved with the family business. He spent 11 years in the investment management business and found great success. Bob is particular happy that Eric went out and discovered his own self worth and explored his interests before taking over at Thorpe. It’s in line with Bob’s philosophy for himself and others, not just for his family. Bob recognizes that your success and enjoyment of the job will be truly greater if you have come to the job on your own. The Thorpe team is strengthened by this practice. Bob’s son David is still out practicing this philosophy and recently joined CB/Richard Ellis in industrial property sales.

Now with a strong, young team in place and Eric’s leadership, Bob can devote more of his energies to other things-his private life and NIA are at the top of the list.

Something Fishy

The full image of Bob can’t be conveyed without mentioning his zest for life. Bob works hard but he knows when and how to have fun. He strikes a balance in life by exploring a lot of it. Bob and his wife Debbie have been married for ten years and explore the world side by side. When they’re not traveling all over the world, they’re hanging out at the beach, which is conveniently located in their front yard. (Bob admits that he is indeed a "beach rat.")

Bob’s love for the outdoors does not stop at the shoreline. He loves to ski and golf, and if you ever get a glimpse of his screen-saver you’ll soon discover that he is especially passionate about fly-fishing. He has traveled to Bolivia to track down Peacock Bass, has waded in the streams and rivers of the western United States, and heads north to Alaska every year for salmon. Bob likes a fight every now and then and wrestles with the great fighting Tarpon for a workout. He won a few of those fights and can boast a 140-lb. catch after 2½ hours of battle. Now if you’re particularly concerned about the fish in these encounters, fear not. Bob sends them all back to the waters after he marvels his worthy contenders.

Connecting with NIA and the Industry

For a variety of reasons, Thorpe Insulation Company was not involved with NIA when Bob first arrived there. Bob did some research into the Western Insulation Association and NIA and saw that Thorpe could benefit from getting involved and knowing what industry events were occurring. His philosophy was and is that sitting on the sidelines will not keep you well informed in order to react to change in the industry or to initiate change yourself. Of course, the benefits and results for Thorpe’s involvement with NIA were mixed at times, but Bob felt strongly that prolonged involvement has been a very positive experience.

So now, as the new president of the board of directors for NIA, what will Bob’s background, philosophy and attitudes about change bring to the association and to the industry? Balance, care, communication, enthusiasm and change when necessary.

Bob has carefully assessed what is working well for both NIA members and the industry at-large. He knows what needs to be left alone to go on working the way it is. But he also has a strong desire to initiate changes that will benefit the industry and its members. Bob’s message is that through improved communication from the association, members and industry participants will have access to information that is invaluable to them. This information will prompt reasons to become active and find out more about what is going on and what is ultimately affecting their businesses. Bob feels strongly that we need to break open the usual channels of information within the organization and allow the exchanges to flow beyond the usual participants. Everyone should feel the enthusiasm that emits from the active groups. Bob takes pride as an industry participant in the story that NIA has to tell. Let’s tell it-effectively, constantly, and to as many people as we can.

So how should this happen? There are some existing tools in place to foster this goal; the Growing the Insulation Industry Program (GIIP), the committee activities, Insulation Outlook, and regional association missions are all programs that communicate the industry activities. Bob wants to strengthen these programs by getting volunteers excited and integrated into the current activities but to also help create new ones. Bob’s goals for the association rest on a basic concept-the more unified and integrated the organization is, the more it can promote the benefits of involvement in the industry.

Through enhanced budgeting strategies and long range funding strategies, NIA will grow financially more effective. Through coordinated and integrated efforts on behalf of all of the association committees, NIA will deliver a solid message to a larger audience. The benefits of insulation are numerous and it is too costly for people in the commercial and industrial construction industry to sit on the sidelines.

These enhanced communication strategies are indicative of the type of beneficial changes Bob embraces. If you’re not sure how your involvement might fit in this scenario, Bob is happy to talk to you about it, maybe even on the golf course, beside a stream or while walking along the beach.