Interview with John Barrett: Flexibility, speed and mobility as basic principles of ISSA

“Are you a part of the problem or the solution?”, – this time John Barrett is talking about outbreak challenges, requests for cleaning industry, new ideas of ISSA and the only cleaning industry’s accreditation in the world.

2020 was marked by fallouts. The whole world faced a raging force of COVID-19 andeconomical, social and political changes subsequent to pandemic. Of course, we and our followers are interested in your own experience, and the experience of ISSA gained during this difficult year. Was it a challenge for you personally and the Association in general? 

There were days in 2020 where it was difficult to move past the pain and suffering so many people were experiencing. As professionals, we knew we had to prevail and made it our mission to help the cleaning industry fight an invisible threat. Cleaning professionals quickly became the front line of defense and faced unseen risks and mounting pressure to reduce the spread of a deadly virus. To meet the demands COVID-19 placed on the cleaning industry and the world at large, we implemented new content, education, accreditation, and much more to ensure the industry had all the resources they needed to address a global pandemic and protect public health, safety, and wellness. Generally, our workforce was essentially remote, so that was not a difficult transition for our team. Before the pandemic, we only came together as a group once a month. As we recognized the mounting need to support our industry with content and up-to-date information, we quickly moved to weekly staff meetings to keep everyone informed and on pace with the rate of change everyone was experiencing. Not until recently have we felt comfortable returning to every other week staff meetings.  

What conclusions did you make from this unpleasant situation? Did any transformations take place in the Association?Isthere any changes which have worked for your favour?  

We had to be agile and quickly pivot and adapt to whatever the day was going to throw at us. The threat COVID-19 placed on our industry forced us to move exponentially faster and reshape the way we imagined and delivered solutions. There was little time for traditional planning, testing, designing and production of most programs. To meet the challenges the pandemic presented, program development had to shrink from months to weeks, and in some cases, days. It was a massive shift and one I am proud to say we mastered. It is remarkable how committed, competent professionals can adapt, and we see this as part of a new organizational competency. 

When do you think the world will be able to recover from COVID-19 and get back on track? Will the Cleaning Industry be the same as it was before the pandemic? Can we distinguish Pre-pandemic and Post-pandemic periods in the Cleaning Industry?

Recovery is moving along rapidly in the U.S., with a rate of re-opening that is startling. By summer, it will be possible to do almost everything we did pre-pandemic. For example, Chicago is planning to host the Lollapalooza music festival this summer in some capacity. As vaccinations continue to roll out, and people tire of virtual meetings and crave ‘normal,’ there is a strong sense of hope that family and friends can gather soon. The cleaning industry has forever changed—and for the better. Not many will question our value today, and the shift away from hygiene theater (i.e., “pretty and nice smelling”) to the practical application of removing harmful pathogens across every built environment is obvious. Ask yourself how many times a day do you wash your hands now? How frequently do you consider cleaning and disinfecting when deciding to enter a facility? Major brands understand this, and for the first time, organizations are competing for revenue based on the quality of their cleaning protocols. 

In your previous interview with Internewx, you have said that one of your prospects is to open new horizons and contribute to the development of the Cleaning Industry in Asia. And we cannot miss such great events as the conclusion of cooperation with Informa in China and India. Firstly, we want to congratulate you on a successful plan implementation! And secondly, please tell us briefly the history of ISSA – Informa Cooperation.

ISSA and Informa partnered in fall 2019 to work together to deliver the ISSA Show North America trade show. Since that time, our global cooperation has only accelerated. As we sit here today, we have announced events in virtually every major developed and developing region for 2021/2022. Because of the strength of Informa, we have accelerated the schedule of live events in a way that could not have been conceived by ISSA alone. We are truly indebted to Informa. I know this sounds crazy, because they are a massive for-profit organization, but they have the heart of a nonprofit in the way they have embraced our mission. 

What are the benefits of this cooperation for ISSA, exhibitors and members of the association?

Our primary focus right now is on opening safely and ensuring show attendees and exhibitors feel comfortable in the live-event environment. There are so many questions about what that means generally, and our members count on ISSA to cut through the fog of this for practical advice. Naturally, as more openings and in particular events take place, this triage will give way to a more sustainable, more resilient strategy to keep the built environment safe. 

Can you share the details of a strategic partnership enforcement in China and the conference which will be held in India?

Local markets have embraced our brand and our efforts are truly integrated across events, training, education, and the certification spectrum. With more than 100,000 attendees, the event in China is impressive. While the event in India is new, the timing is perfect. The country is pivoting to a newfound awareness of the importance of hygiene in its development, and the government has invested deeply in the change. It is exciting to see India improve public hygiene and societal advancements. 

We would also like to highlight GBAC STAR whis is the Cleaning Industry’s only outbreak prevention, response, and recovery accreditation. Tell us more about this accreditation? Who is able to get it? How many facilities have already gained GBAC STAR accreditation? What countries are they from? 

GBAC STAR™ is the cleaning industry’s only outbreak prevention, response, and recovery accreditation. GBAC STAR is the gold standard of prepared facilities and GBAC STAR accreditation means that a facility or facility service provider has established and maintained a cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention program; has proper cleaning protocols, disinfection techniques, and work practices in place to combat biohazards and infectious disease; and has highly informed cleaning professionals who are trained for outbreak and infectious disease preparation and response. The best way to learn more is to visit the GBAC website at and check out our directory where you will find that nearly 2,000 facilities in more than 80 countries across six continents have earned accreditation—and another 2,000-plus are pursuing GBAC STAR. It is a who’s who of some of the most important brands in the world including American Airlines, Wrigley Field, Hard Rock Stadium, TD Garden, LA Convention Center, McCormick Place in Chicago, Visit Dallas, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Hyatt Hotels worldwide, and the Dubai Mall. Additionally, our media coverage of GBAC STAR has been impressive with over 4,000 pieces of earned media and tens of millions of impressions in the last year alone. 

How can accreditation be obtained and what are the benefits of GBAC STAR ™ Facility and GBAC STAR ™ Service accreditation for the facility and service?

The GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation Program is performance-based and designed to help facilities establish a comprehensive system of cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention for their staff and their building. The program relies on GBAC’s comprehensive training, which teaches the proper protocols, correct disinfection techniques, and cleaning best practices for biohazard situations like the novel coronavirus. Successful GBAC STAR facilities are able to demonstrate that correct work practices, procedures and systems are in place to prepare, respond, and recover from outbreaks and pandemics. The GBAC STAR Service Accreditation Program is for building service contractors and other outsourced cleaning service providers that want to demonstrate their commitment to building occupant health and safety through a respected, third-party accreditation. GBAC STAR Service Accreditation validates a cleaning company’s cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention program to help its facility customers prepare, respond, and recover from biohazards and infectious agents, such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. To get started, take our readiness assessment on our website at 

2020 was an experimental year for the most important event of the association, that is ISSA Show North America and you decided to make it virtual. What are the highlights for such a format? Can you share what are the advantages of this format and what are the disadvantages besides the obvious ones that exclude the possibility of a face-to-face meeting?

It would be hard to find someone that liked virtual events even less than I do, but heck, I am a dinosaur! One of our largest pivots in 2020 was the transition from face-to-face events and networking to virtual events due to increased risk and uncertainty around COVID-19. To ensure the safest possible experience for ISSA members, the industry’s most anticipated show debuted a new format and a new partner, Informa Markets, one of the leading trade show organizers in the world. The ISSA Show North America Virtual Experience ran from November 16-19, 2020, enabling participants to access educational sessions, learn about new products, and connect with peers all from the comfort of their home or office. Live and on-demand content preserved some of the in-person elements while also offering expanded opportunities. The show welcomed more than 250 exhibitors and secured more than 71,000 virtual exhibit views. The Virtual Experience provided matchmaking capabilities, thought leadership sessions, certification workshops, roundtable events, and the 11th edition of the ISSA Innovation Awards Program, which spotlighted 18 cutting-edge products and services. While everyone is anxious and ready to get back to in-person events, it is now clear that we will always have a virtual component to reach those folks who are unable to travel and attend the event live. 

ISSA Show North America 2021 is scheduled for November and finally it is going to be held in a live format and the opportunity to have meetings at the exhibition area in Las Vegas. The Cleaning Industry market has been waiting for this event! And what are the expectations of the association regarding exhibitors andvisitorsinflow? What are the preliminary estimates and projections? 

The demand and interest for the live ISSA Show North American 2021 is strong from exhibitors and attendees alike. As everyone gears up for this live event, we will ensure safety protocols are in place, and we are developing both live and virtual training sessions so that all industry members have an opportunity to participate in the event in a manner that makes them feel safe and comfortable. Attendee registration opens in mid-June, and our exhibitor floor space is filling up fast, with only a handful of open spaces left. There has been a stunning amount of investment in the industry (the bankers call this “clean tech”) and it will all be at the show. While it is decidedly a place of commerce, I believe one of the chief reasons people attend is because it is viewed as a safe place to evaluate innovation without all the hype and snake oil that we have seen in certain corners of the market. In addition to innovation, there has been a seismic shift in the way in which products are consumed and we expect an enthusiastic level of participation from end users. This is driven by an interest in the latest and greatest product, but equally important is the content we have curated, and it has never been more important than this year. 

As we know, the show usually provides a very busy agenda and implies meetings with interesting speakers, as well as exciting entertainment events available to both exhibitors and visitors. The industry is slowly returning to its usual life. Surely the organizers have come up with something special to announce this comeback! John, can you lift the veil on it for our readers?

Funny you should ask. There will be some major announcements about the latest offerings of GBAC we cannot wait to share. However, the energy level of this show is going to be off the charts. There is still so much real work to do around the globe and our members are anxious to fill the gap. The international presence this year is like never before, and the global cleaning community recognizes that this is a once in a lifetime challenge to overcome. Of course, by the fall, I will expect that our partnership with Informa will undoubtedly be expanded but you will just have to wait for that. As I am fond of saying…we are still painting! 

Last year you gave an interview to the Trade Show Executive, American edition, in which you noted that if you were not the director of the ISSA, you would have become a teacher. If for one day you had the opportunity to become the headliner and hold a conference on a free topic in front of a large audience, for example at a TED conference. What idea (subject) would you like to highlight and why?

Take risks. It is funny, but part of this job is to encourage risk taking. This is grounded in the belief that there is very little an individual can do to bring an organization to its knees. Companies have been transformed by investing in one good idea. There are so many examples both inside and outside of our industry that would make for an interesting lecture, and our experience at ISSA is that it can become part of the culture/fabric. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we receive hundreds of ideas each year, and while most come from within, a great many of our members share their ideas as well. Super interesting. 

John, in interviews you often point out that books are your hobby. And if you published a book, what would you write about?

Not history! Have you ever seen the annotated footnotes from a serious historical piece?! Clearly, mine would be a series of interviews about great accomplishments authored by people I have met. There are great examples in business, of course, but there are just as many great stories in education, science, sports, politics, religion, philanthropy, etc. My thesis would not focus on the accomplishment itself, but rather the circumstances that led up to events that gave birth to the idea. Humans, as it turns out, are excellent at pattern recognition and I think it would be a hoot to explore that alchemy. 

Let’s give you the opportunity to write the opening lines for an imaginary book “3C:Covid.Cleaning.Challenge” with John Barrett’s advice. What would your introduction be?

It is not about you! This phrase will come as a great surprise to our millennial readers, or those that think in those terms. It is far bigger than that. It is time to make your mother proud and get serious about the tenant of your existence. Are you a part of the problem…or the solution?

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