William A. Verkest

Make APWA a "WOW" association

William A. Verkest, P.E.
APWA President

Editor's Note: President Verkest gave the following address at the APWA Congress Banquet on September 13, 2006.

Last year at this time APWA President Bob Freudenthal spoke to us about three C's equaling a D. Certainly, over the past year we have witnessed Bob making a difference through communication, cooperation and commitment. I'd like to take one more opportunity to congratulate and thank Bob for a more than highly successful year as President of APWA. [Applause for Immediate Past President Bob Freudenthal.]

Frank Delano, in his book Brand Slam, speaks to achieving a "WOW" organization, which he defines as "delivering a devastating blow to your company's competitors." Whether we want to believe it or not, we are in competition—with our sister professional organizations, with our community policy makers at budget time, on Capitol Hill as we advance our legislative priorities, and with society's desire to volunteer for a worthy cause.

As President of APWA, I would like to ensure that APWA is recognized as a "WOW" association. I would like us to fine-tune an already superb association such that our membership and our competition see us as the true benchmark for the public works profession. I would like people to say "WOW, this is APWA, and I'm proud to be a member." I would like nonmembers to say "WOW, that is APWA, why am I not a member and how do I join today?" I would like both Houses of Congress to say "WOW, we better ask APWA for their position on this emerging legislation."

How do we make APWA a "WOW" association? It is going to take a concerted effort at the national level, at the chapter level and at the personal level. I suggest it is going to take a certain amount of vision, courage, determination and talent.

Vision is simply knowing where we are going and staying focused until we get there. The best definition of vision I ever heard is: "One's ability to look at a blank canvas and imagine the painting that's yet to be painted, knowing full well that as the painting progresses it will change and take on different characteristics from the original thoughts."

Yes, we have a new strategic plan; yes, we have an association mission statement; yes, we have an APWA vision statement. But true vision is not just accepting these resources as givens. It is knowing how these pieces help bring the blank canvas closer to reality. As Dr. Stephen Covey says, "All things are created twice"...mentally (the vision) and physically (the product of our vision).

Our path to a "WOW" association is also going to take courage. Courage to use the cumulative wisdom inherent within us to ensure we are on the right path, addressing the right things. Bob Freudenthal's Governance Task Force is an example of that type of courage.

We need to continue that courage by implementing the Task Force recommendations to ensure that the painting progresses. Can you imagine where people would have to find happiness today if Walt Disney did not have the courage to pursue his dream of a place where his granddaughter, and ultimately millions of other people, could be happy?

It will take determination to make APWA a "WOW" association. Truly our lives have been enriched by people who were clearly determined to make their vision a reality. "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a C, the idea must be feasible." This was a Yale University instructor's response to Fred Smith's paper proposing a reliable overnight delivery service we know today as FedEx.

Determination is really continuity of focus as we look at that blank canvas and ask, "What do we want APWA to be?"

Finally, creating a "WOW" association is going to require talent. Talent is about people who paint the picture they see as no one else can. Perhaps it is the people who can respond to the statement: "Suppose you had a dream that only you can imagine." People like Tiger Woods, Danica Patrick, J.K. Rowling, and a host of APWA Past Presidents have lived their dream. We have great talent within APWA. Creating a "WOW" association is dependent on how we make the best use of that talent and how we capitalize on the cumulative energy that exists within us to fill the developing canvas.

Again, quoting Frank Delano: "Forget about strategies—run with ideas that are daring, untraditional and have 'WOW' potential." We can be a "WOW" association. We are so close!

I thank you for the opportunity to serve you as President of APWA. I look forward to visiting with you and working with you over the next year. Let's use our collective vision, courage, determination and talent to make APWA a "WOW" association. Let's make that canvas a true work of art.

Thank you very much!