Michael O'Brien took over Aug. 11 as president and CEO of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA). O'Brien will guide NLBMDA's organizational performance, provide strategic leadership, and serve as the association's spokesperson on national legislative and regulatory issues. His main goal is to work with the federated members to develop NLBMDA's national policy agenda, and grow the lumber and building materials dealer industry presence with key lawmakers.

Michael O'Brien comes into his job as president and CEO of NLBMDA with a long history of association management. For nearly 10 years before joining NLBMDA, O'Brien served as chief operating officer of the Manufactured Housing Institute, a trade association for the manufactured and modular housing industries. Before that, for 10 years, O'Brien was the assistant vice president of state and local affiliate services for the 200,000-member National Association of Home Builders. He is a certified association executive.

More recently, Paul Hylbert, CEO of ProBuild, took on a new leadership role for NLBMDA when he became the organization's chairman.

Here, O'Brien gives readers insight into his background and goals for the association, while Hylbert offers his perspective on O'Brien's role and plans for the changing administration.

NLBMDA: Michael, you have significant industry experience. How do you expect it to benefit NLBMDA and its members?

O'Brien: Having been in building and housing industry trade associations for more than 20 years, I bring a keen understanding of the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing the industry. My knowledge of both broad issues, such as housing, immigration, tax, labor, environmental, and trade issues, combined with specific experience on such key NLBMDA issues as OSHA, code and standards, and green building, will let me hit the ground running. Plus, I'm a known quantity, which will certainly help when working in industry coalitions, and which is extremely important for advancing NLBMDA's agenda in Washington.

From an association management perspective, I have been involved in every management and operational role necessary to bring NLBMDA to the next level. I believe a national association is only as strong as its members. The heart and key to the strength of NLBMDA is its federation of state and regional associations. I can attest to the importance of that since, in my last two positions, I was responsible for federation relations and for developing programs and services to make the federation stronger. To accomplish our goals as an industry, NLBMDA must do whatever it can to support the state and regional associations to make the federation as strong as it possibly can be.

NLBMDA: Paul, from the perspective of an NLBMDA member, how will the association benefit from Michael's leadership?

Hylbert: A key initiative for NLBMDA is to represent dealers in Washington. Michael has a great background in doing that. On one side is his strength in government affairs and regulatory issues, and on the other is his work in the industry, both from a builder perspective and from the manufactured housing perspective, including land development. Through his previous work, it is clear that he has the skills and knowledge to effectively lead our organization to serve our members' needs.

Paul Hylbert has become NLBMDA's new chairman. He is CEO of ProBuild. NLBMDA: Paul, what do you feel are the two or three top priorities on which the NLBMDA must focus during your term as chair?

Hylbert: NLBMDA's focus is more confined than it has been with past administrations. In the past, there has been confusion about the roles of state, regional, and national associations. In the last year, we, the organization leaders, have all worked to decide what is most important to serve the membership going forward. The three items we'll focus on are the legislative and regulatory portion, growing the voice of the industry to advance our policy agenda, and bringing people together for two meetings a year, the Legislative Conference and the Industry Summit, so that our members can share and learn from one another in different settings.

NLBMDA: Michael, one of the priorities Paul listed, and one of your action items as president, is to advance NLBMDA's national policy agenda. What plan do you have in place to increase the industry's presence with key lawmakers?

O'Brien: NLBMDA has had an impressive, widely known presence in Washington for decades. I remember quickly becoming aware of the influence of the association as a young lobbyist in the 1980s, when I worked for the American Subcontractors Association. Soon we will be dealing with a new Congress and administration, while at the same time we're facing a major housing industry downturn. Since there will continue to be a major focus on housing issues, we have a tremendous opportunity to leverage the influence of NLBMDA to advance our agenda.

But we must develop a cohesive national policy agenda that will clearly lay out the position of the industry on the wide variety of issues we'll face in 2009. The national policy agenda needs to be developed with the input and guidance of the NLBMDA leadership and federation, and be widely communicated to not just policy-makers but also the media. There will be no housing recovery without lumber and building material dealers. Our voices must be heard.

NLBMDA: Paul, how do you expect you and Michael will work together?

Hylbert: As the full-time leader, Michael is going to have to take the lead role. [Former chairman] Harold Baalmann has generously given his time, and Steve Kelly before that, and we are going to do everything possible to support Michael. Where I can help the most is to come together with the regional associations and NLBMDA's directors and staff to support the process. As an NLBMDA member, I can provide insight into what we are dealing with in the field on a daily basis. We have already done, and will continue to do, a lot of listening as well as introduce Michael to many of the NLBMDA members.

NLBMDA: Michael, how are you working to improve NLBMDA member services? What should the members expect?

O'Brien: No association is doing its job if it's not helping its members be more successful in their businesses. I plan on spending time in the coming months assessing the NLBMDA member services and getting input from the members and federated associations as to what services they would like to see added or improved.

Further, you don't want to compete with state and regional associations on services. Rather, I think you want to be focused on those services that are national in scope, such as presenting a top-notch Industry Summit or developing key industry economic, statistical, and benchmarking reports so we build the necessary demographics needed to leverage our legislative and regulatory influence.

Networking opportunities are also a key service for dealers and manufacturers and suppliers, so we need to see how we can improve those opportunities. You will also see a more aggressive communications program from both an internal and external perspective.

NLBMDA: Michael, in what ways do you recommend NLBMDA members and ProSales readers get involved with the national association and contribute to the NLBMDA's lobbying efforts?

O'Brien: NLBMDA will only be as strong as its members, but at the same time everyone has a limited amount of time they can spend on association activities. Recognizing that, I want to encourage all members to become politically active on behalf of the industry to the degree they feel they are able, whether it's coming to Washington to visit their member of Congress during our Legislative Conference, serving as an resource on a regulatory issue, hosting a member of Congress at their businesses, making a PAC contribution, or simply sending a letter or e-mail to their representatives. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved on the national level to advance the industry's agenda, while also taking advantage of the services NLBMDA provides to help you succeed in your business.

You Have the Power: Vote Nov. 4

Be an informed voter–visit BuildtheVote.org, our grassroots action Web site, for information about candidate voting records on issues important to lumber dealers. If you haven't registered to vote, you can do so in moments with a few clicks of your mouse. You can also find information about early voting, absentee ballots, or overseas voting. We will update the site on election night as poll results come in.

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association represents its more than 6,000 members in the public policy arena, with emphasis on promoting the industry and educating legislators and public policy personnel; and assisting legislative, regulatory, standard-setting and other government or private bodies in developing laws, regulations, and policies affecting the industry.