Steve Jordan interviews Chuck White who will take over from Terry Head as president of the International Association of Movers (IAM).
At the end of this month Terry Head will stand down as president of IAM (International Association of Movers) and his friend and colleague Chuck White will take over the role. Steve Jordan had a chat with him to find out a little more about his plans for the world’s largest moving association.
As I sat down in the bustling IAM office in Washington, DC in October, the day before the world’s biggest conference was about to kick off, I was very much aware that there would be a very large proportion of the moving community worldwide who had not heard of Charles White. I have been around the industry longer than most but, even so, our paths had only crossed obliquely. I was looking forward to getting to know better the man who, arguably, is stepping into the industry’s most influential role. I didn’t quite know what to expect.
I got the important stuff over with straight away. “Do you prefer Chuck or Charles?” I asked. He flashed me one of his beaming smiles and said that he really didn’t mind. “People usually call me Chuck but, for some reason, the name really doesn’t resonate with people from outside the US so then I’ll typically use Charles.” It was clear that he was happy either way and just wanted others to be comfortable in his company.
Before joining the moving industry Chuck was, for 15 years, a high school teacher and American football coach. He looks every inch the football player and I immediately thought that I wouldn’t have much fancied being on the opposing team. But Chuck is open, with an easy, engaging style that makes you want to talk to him and lets you know, from the first moment, that he wants to talk to you. In my experience that’s a rare talent, one shared by Terry Head, and I wondered how much the two friends had influenced each other during their time working so closely together at IAM.
In 1994, when Chuck had a family to support, he realised that he might need a steadier job than coaching football. His father had a friend in the moving industry who introduced him to Executive Moving in Washington, DC - a moving company working as an agent for many of the large US forwarders. “I stayed for 11 years and learned to love the business,” he said.
During his time working with Executive, the company’s owner suggested that Chuck get involved with what was then the Household Goods Forwarders Association of America (HHGFAA). “He really believed that information was the key to success in business,” said Chuck. “So I ran for a volunteer position on the Board of IAM in 2000.”
He served on the Board for four years until a staff position with IAM became available. Chuck joined the organisation in 2005 to help Terry Head by handling the US military and government side of the business. It was a role that he came to make his own and continued to enjoy until Terry announced his intention to step down.
“Terry started talking about stepping away about four years ago,” he said. “We have been working on the transition, slowly, since then.” This involved Chuck taking a closer interest in other sides of the business such as marketing, communications and finance to help make the change as smooth as possible when the time came.
In June IAM took on Dan Bradley to take over much of Chuck’s role on the military and government side. Dan is a former US military officer and previously the director of personal property for the US military. He and Chuck had spent a lot of time together professionally and, when Dan retired from the military, they became firm friends. “Dan was an obvious contender for the position when it became available,” said Chuck. “He is ideally placed to be the liaison between the US government and the Association.”
Chuck is very mindful and appreciative of the work that his predecessor has done over so many years. However, he does not want to rely on that legacy and understands that any organisation has to move forwards if it is to flourish. “We need to keep the organisation relevant to our members and I see our new Mobility Exchange platform (IAMX) as providing a unique opportunity. One of our past failings is that we have not offered educational services to the industry. The IAMX platform gives us the opportunity to reach out to the entire worldwide community, with more education with certification at different levels. In this way we are hoping to bring a very professional feel to the moving industry.” IAM has also recently launched its IAM Learning programme that will provide educational opportunities to the industry at all levels.
I asked Chuck if he thought the industry in the USA was in good shape. He said that it was not. He said that labour was a huge issue with unemployment running at under 4%, getting good people was difficult. Millennials move more but own less. Constraints on pricing also made it difficult for companies to grow. He worries too that global consolidation is making it very difficult for smaller companies to compete effectively in the market. He feels that the industry needs a new image and that will be achieved through education. “The industry is not always seen as a profession. So one of our goals is to try, through education, certification and standardisation, to create a more professional look. When customers see us as providing the necessary quality of service I believe that the economics will adapt and grow to bring some health back to the industry.”
IAM has been closely involved with government lobbying in the US for many years and has had notable success in ensuring that legislators take the views of the industry into account. “I believe we have done a very good job in the US,” he said, “but with 65% of our membership now outside the USA we have to find a way in which we can partner with other organisations to do that on a more worldwide stage. In that way we may be able to provide a voice for our members wherever in the world that it is needed. We have already entered into partnerships with FIDI and I am hoping that in the future we will be able to collaborate with other organisations, such as FEDEMAC and LACMA, to support them in their efforts to influence their governments.”
A feature of IAM in the last few years has been its openness and willingness to share for the greater good of the industry. In the past it’s true that associations have tended to hang onto what they saw as commercial advantage, but Chuck doesn’t see that as the way forward. “There are numerous organisations that support the moving industry. I hope that we can find ways to bond, despite being competitors for the ‘association dollar’, because I think there is such power in numbers. If we can find ways to collaborate, to agree on topics and act as one, then I think we bring so much more power to the industry.”
I had no wish to drag Chuck into a political discussion (actually I would have liked to, but I figured he was a far too experienced interviewee to get dragged into unnecessary controversy), but politics affects every industry, and moving possibly more than most. Chuck said that he was interested to see what the effect of tariffs and Brexit and other worldwide issues will be. He said that recent tax reform in the US, for example, is aimed at encouraging US companies to bring their business back to the US. “Maybe we will have a small wave of people coming back to the US but then I’m worried about the outflow of people who will move back in the other direction,” Chuck admitted. “There may be short-term gains but the subsequent tariffs and tariff wars could have a negative effect on our industry.” He did acknowledge though that the industry does thrive on change so difficult times can sometimes be good for moving companies. “It’s also good for associations. When there is upheaval, then companies will turn to their associations for help and guidance.”
In concluding, Chuck said that he is unbelievably excited to step into this role. But he did have one concern. As he has been focussed on military and government moving for so long he hopes that people won’t think that he intends to take IAM back to its military roots. “Terry has done an incredible job of changing the image and focus of the Association into a worldwide, corporate organisation,” he said. “I am hoping that people won’t feel that, because I have previously been focussed on the military work, I am going to take the Association back in that direction. I am really hoping to build on what Terry has done in his 21 years and continue to enhance the reputation of IAM globally.”
There is little doubt that IAM has changed dramatically in recent years. From a relatively inward looking, niche organisation it has been transformed into a global industry powerhouse. It’s not necessary to spend long in Chuck White’s company to know that the transformation will continue unabated. IAM is in safe hands and, if the whole moving industry worldwide does coalesce to increase its influence and enhance its image, IAM will be at its heart.
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