To be a successful CEO, be it Compass Group or ISSA, and lead the team with its talented staff to the victory-these and other achievements feature John Barrett, CEO of ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry Association.
John, as we know, you held leadership positions in various well-known companies. Please tell our readers about your experience: what positions? when and which companies?
I started my career with the Xerox Corporation where I learned from the best of the best about sales and marketing. A generous employer, Xerox always encouraged its managers to seek professional development and as a result, they funded my MBA at the University of Chicago. After graduation, I really wanted to see if I could be a successful general manager, so I joined Ogden Services as a VP in their facilities division. After 8 years, that company was sold to Boston based Unicco, where I served as Division President. I then enjoyed a stint in private equity before returning to the cleaning industry to become CEO of Kimco Corporation. Kimco was sold to Compass Group and I became their North American CEO where we made a number of follow on acquisitions. My final role in the business world was as Vice Chairman for SMS Assist, a technology-based facility management company that created a technology platform that managed a portfolio of 140,000 sites. Today, I am proud to say I am the Executive Director of ISSA, the world-wide cleaning industry association. I still serve as board director for a number of startup companies in our industry.
You have worked in leading companies in the fields of technology, manufacturing, services, distribution and private equity. But in one of the interviews you declared your love to Cleaning Industry. What is this all about?
Nothing beats the cleaning industry. The work really matters. It’s one of the largest addressable industries on the planet and there is a rush of capital bringing exciting new technology and innovation. Perhaps the best part is that an individual can still make a difference.
Probably, that’s the reason why you have been a member of ISSA Board Directors for 6 years already. And thus, two years ago, you became general director of the largest Cleaning Association. What attracted you in ISSA? Can you share your impressions on the very first meeting with ISSA?
My companies have been members of ISSA from the beginning. It’s always been the very best place to network, see the latest technology and develop your people. However, when I joined the board of directors and saw just how talented the staff was, I gained an even greater appreciation for the work that is done here.
My very first meeting was with my predecessor, John Garfinkel. John was Executive Director for 25 years and had an incredible vision for the association. Who knew that I would become his hand-picked successor. I’m pleased to report that John is still on staff and at 77 years old, he is very much a trusted advisor.
During your directing ISSA undergone a lot of changes. What are they?
Like any successful organization, we have to maintain a focus on the customer. We have 9000 member companies in 105 countries. Each one is in the throws of dealing with the massive disruption that is typical of the new economy. As a result, our offerings have had to become a great deal more segmented…by member class…by geography…and by company size. Having said that we have a deep appreciation for our traditions. ISSA has been around for nearly 100 years and we plan to even stronger the next 100 years. Globalization is clearly one of the most visible strategies, but we are making great advances in training, education and certification and digital analytics.
What benefits ISSA got from the revision of the agreement with INTERCLEAN, RAI? Can you briefly describe the state in which the association was “THEN”, i.e. before this event, and the state in which it is “NOW”?
We have great respect for the Rai and we cooperate to this day. The thing is, as a global not-for-profit, sometime our decision-making runs into problems versus a strictly for-profit orientation. The good news is that there is plenty of room for both perspectives and I believe companies in the cleaning industry will continue to value the offerings of each organization.
Share the financial success and benefits that the Association has gained since that time?
The split was not about money. It was about focus. We want to provide a very country centric offering and that often times does not mean a big, profitable exhibition. Training, certification, networking and educational forums are typical of the kind of offerings we will now produce in much greater numbers.
On May 30, Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF) took place where you were the main speaker opening the meeting (forum). In the WORKING ON THE ENGINE WHILE DRIVING DOWN THE HIGHWAY report, you said about the global strategy of the association: “To own global cleaning community”. What is the main point of this strategy?
It’s all about being a safe place to unite the global cleaning community. Country associations will always be important, but with the backing of ISSA, we can transcend their offering while allowing them to maintain local control.
You’ve also mentioned that the key focus of this strategy is to create under the authority of ISSA new events that serve as a platform for the trade association program: training and education, certification and membership. Can you tell us what these events are?
Our map tells it all and we will continue to add countries at a rapid pace. The demand is there and ISSA is anxious to contribute the very best of its resources.
It’s a well-known fact that ISSA holds trade shows in the USA. In the report on the ECEF , you say that “you broke away from the exhibition’s dependence in North America”. Why?
That’s not exactly true. Our tradeshow is growing and vibrant and we want to keep it that way. However, because it was such a substantial part of our budget, there was inherent risk in depending on a single event for our funding. The ratios are much more attractive now because of the growth in our other programs but our tradeshow will continue to be our marquis event.
ISSA is constantly growing Association, expanding, changing its boundaries and still not ready to rest. Thanks to your strategy, efforts of a large number of talented employees, you unite with various cleaning associations, institutes etc.no matter what the size of these organizations are. Among the last significant events were the mergers with IEHA, SCRIA. John, please, tell, what does ISSA get from these mergers?
Issa wins in a number of ways. We get to grow our membership which is effectively distribution for trade association programs. We also almost always inherent a super talented staff that we can support with additional resources. We have also been able to tap into some adjacent markets such as healthcare, carpet and restoration. We have a number of new partnerships planned and they will each serve to make us more capable.
Recently, you have united with “Cleaning for a reason” Charity (free cleaning for women battling with cancer). What is the purpose of this cooperation?
This one pulls at your heart. The work is beautiful, and very necessary. But it also has the ability to transform the way people feel about cleaning, and the association. The cause marketing aspect of this is not lost on people as well.
The Association organizes several large-scale trade shows in America (ISSA Show North America, CleanBuildings Expo), Mexico (ISSA Show Mexico), Australia (ISSA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo), South Africa (ISSA Show Cleantex), Canada (ISSA Canada). What next?
Through our recently announced partnership with the Italian Trade Association, Pulire, we now have a number of new shows in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
As we know ISSA Cleaning and Hygiene Expo 2018 was very successful, wasn’t it?
It truly was. Our exhibitors were delighted and the number of qualified attendees blossomed. Next year, we hope to build on this success with some new show features and value added co-location partners.
For many years the trade show was held in Los Angeles, North America. Dallas, TX, is the host city for the 2018 ISSA Show North America and ISSA Convention. Why ISSA decided to hold it in Dallas, despite the fact that the last show was held in this city in 1997?
We love to move it around to give locals a taste of our national show. And the city of Dallas has been remarkably accommodating. We have a former President, a Shark Tank member and a venue that fits our needs perfectly. I think folks will be pleasantly surprised. And the city of Dallas has an urban vibe that is hard to believe.
This year ISSA Show North America is going to surprise us with interesting events, including Topgolf Event – ISSA Charities Party for a Purpose, Blacklot Event Bash, Evening Roundtables, as well as VIP AT&T Stadium Tour: Home of the Dallas Cowboys, ThurSTAY, ISSA Bistro. The head is going round and round from such a variety of events! Who is the encourager for such interesting ideas? And what are must-attend events in your opinion?
Well naturally, each of these events is worth attending and the schedule affords that. We have a remarkable team at ISSA and they are very creative. That’s where the best ideas come from.
«ThurSTAY» – original name for the event, which sounds like English word «Thursday». What is the point?
The last day of shows is often slow because some people leave early. That’s unwise because you would miss some of the very best show features. We actually changed the show pattern to Tuesday-Thursday to encourage people to stay for the duration and still be home for the weekend with their families.
Well, we can’t but mention that on November 1, an unusual guest, the Former President of America, George W. Bush, is invited to ThurSTAY. It will be a really insightful chat! Why did you make such an interesting choice for this speaker? What is the topic of his speech?
I will be interviewing him and the questions will come from our members. We have a history of having major personalities in business, sports, entertainment and government. We had his father a few years ago.
John, if some day you decide to write a book for businessmen “3 wise lessons of John Barrett,” what advice it would be?
- Listen carefully
- Work hard
- Take risks
As I. Kant said: «Having a rest after the labor is a doubtless and pure joy». How do you spend your leisure time?
I’m 60 this year so I try to remain active. I love to run, bike, hike, climb, scuba dive, ski, boat, fish, hunt…there is very little I won’t do…except skydiving. I’m also an avid reader and have 5 or 6 titles going at a time. I am the proud papa of 3 kids and 4 grandkids and very little is more satisfying that spending time with them. I should also mention I’m getting married next year so I guess it’s never too late for love!
We have a wonderful tradition – to pass a “baton” to a person whose interview you would like to see. Whom would you pass it on to?
Toni D’Andrea of Pulire. Great, great guy.