Even as Steve Kelly prepares to assume the chairman's position for the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) this October, he's getting the Political Action Committee (PAC) for the Kentucky Building Materials Association (KBMA) off the ground and is still serving on that association's board of directors and Government Affairs Committee, capping a nearly 15-year run in leadership positions at KBMA, which by all accounts is an unofficial record for the regional group. “Steve has done just about everything that a member can do for this organization,” says KBMA executive vice president Chris Quinn. “He has served in every capacity that we have. He is the president of our PAC, he is the chairman of the Government Affairs Committee, he's still on our board, and he served 10 years on our executive committee. He was the national director for us for six years in addition to his service in other offices including president.”
It's quite a résumé for the owner and president of three-unit Kelly Bros. Lumber, based in Covington, Ky., especially considering that he didn't even join KBMA until 1990 and first attended an NLBMDA Legislative Conference in 1992. While Kelly credits former KBMA executive director Gene Muller with the encouragement to launch onto the association leadership track, he says it was the 1992 NLBMDA Legislative Conference, with its Washington politics, its Capitol Hill visits, and, most importantly, its dealer-to-dealer networking, that spawned his desire for both regional and national association participation and leadership that culminates in the passing of the NLBMDA chairman's gavel from Kevin Hancock to Kelly this October.
“I fell in love with ‘Leg Con' in 1992, and I haven't missed a convention since,” Kelly explains. “I really enjoyed the involvement, the fellowship with other dealers around the country, and I enjoyed the political side of it, lobbying and going to the Hill and meeting with Congress.” In fact, Kelly's open interest—and aptitude—for association politicking led to an invitation to become NLBMDA's Government Affairs chairman in 2001–2002, and he hasn't looked back since. “That's really how I got involved with the leadership side of National,” he explains. “That chair's position puts you on the executive committee, which in turn led [me] to the various rotations to the chairman's spot.”
According to Hancock, president and CEO of Casco, Maine–based Hancock Lumber, the qualities that make Kelly such an invaluable asset on the Hill, including intense initiative and a charismatic but hard-driving spirit, stand to make him one of the association's great leaders. “He has the unique ability to be very aggressive and competitive and focused on wanting to make the organization he is involved with better and yet relate to people in a very sincere, relaxed, credible, and trusting way,” Hancock says. “I think he is an incredible leader and I think NLBMDA is very fortunate to have his leadership at this point in the organization's history.”
Significant Terms To be sure, all concerned see the coming decade as an important period for NLBMDA, with landmark dealer legislation already introduced on Capitol Hill and momentum gaining behind the creation of the Lumber and Building Materials Institute, whose core purpose and focus is industry research, employee safety and health training, and funding programs complementary to educational efforts currently offered by regional associations. “This is an exciting time for NLBMDA,” explains association president Shawn Conrad. “We have many projects in the works, and now with the introduction of the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (ISFA) in Congress, we have a very busy time ahead of us. We feel fortunate, as we pass into a new stage of growth, to have Steve Kelly as our leader. His dedication to the association and the industry as a whole is remarkable and very much appreciated by those of us who work with him.”
Kelly describes the ISFA—product liability legislation introduced May 25 in the U.S. House of Representatives and aimed at putting a stop to frivolous and unjust lawsuits that penalize innocent retailers who merely sell legal products to their customers—as “huge” for the association. “The fact that we are introducing our own legislation is major,” he says. “The association has come so far in the last two or three years, and in five to 10 years I think we are going to be a force to be reckoned with. We are becoming a voice for the industry, and dealers all over the country are starting to get involved.”