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The Next Generation of Excellence

The sun was hot, but the shade was perfect.

When I stepped out of the terminal I began to understand why everyone insisted that I’d love the blissfully dry heat of Phoenix. Home for me is Houston, Texas, “The Bayou City,” so the drop in humidity was a welcome change. The best seminar and exhibition that I had ever attended was only an Uber ride away, and I had no idea.

This was my first full AFSA seminar to attend. I had just started to get involved in the Next Generation Workgroup, and didn’t know what to expect. To my surprise, it was the best week of my year. I finally got a chance to meet the people that I had been having phone conversations and sharing emails with, trying to narrow the direction for our workgroup. As suspected, I instantly appreciated the conversation, the banter, and the information that we began to share freely. We weren’t competition, we were fire protection family.

I’ve been to many trade shows, and yet, somehow, none have felt as comfortable or inviting as this one. My first activity at the seminar was to play in the golf tournament on Saturday afternoon. By chance, luck, or by Buck Buchanan’s attempt to keep the golf teams fairly handicapped, I was paired with our upbeat, passionate Chairman of the Board Joe Heinrich. Be it the atmosphere of the golf course or his personality, he like everybody else I met over the next four days was welcoming, excited, and happy to have me involved. That doesn’t usually happen at trade shows. Groups of people usually form that are already familiar with one another, and new faces are left to themselves. That is usually where trade shows fall flat on their face and attendees wonder why they went in the first place. This was so very different that it overwhelmed me.

The NextGen workgroup put together two events that were extremely successful. The panel discussion on Sunday morning, “Real Talk: Navigating the Generation Gap,” was a great opportunity to hear multiple points of view on how we can all work together on topics ranging from succession planning to how the job requirements for most key personnel has changed over the last decade, and how companies adjust to the new expectations. Sunday evening we hosted a Next Generation reception. The attendance was fantastic with somewhere around 100 members in attendance. I met people from all over the United States, and got a chance to learn a little about them and their companies.

Building relationships with peers is, to me, the largest benefit of attending seminars. Being able to network with like-minded individuals who have become successful at their specialty is a rare opportunity. I was able to create blossoming professional relationships with a handful of members. We are learning to share ideas, successes, failures, all types of experiences with each other in the interest of benefiting not only ourselves and our companies, but the industry as a whole.

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, said, “Success follows those adept at preserving the substance of the past by clothing it in the forms of the future.” I believe that this is the exact mindset that will continue to drive the Next Generation workgroup. Our industry is full of hard workers, with a strong sense of pride in what they do, the companies they’ve built, and their tangible, solid presence. Now we have to open everyone’s minds and find our own form of the future.

Conor-copyABOUT THE AUTHOR: Conor J. Kauffman is a third generation fire sprinkler contractor. He is the vice president of Kauffman Co. Fire and Life Safety in Houston, Texas, and member of the AFSA Next Generation Workgroup. He can be contacted via email at or phone at 832-367-2885.

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