Barton James, president and CEO of ACCA
Originally published: 05.01.19 by HVACR Business Staff
We sat down with Barton “Bart” James, newly appointed president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). James, who previously served as ACCA’s senior vice president of government relations, discussed his personal ties to the industry, his background in politics, industry consolidation and how ACCA is committed to serving the contractor.
1. What did you do before you came to ACCA?
I was running a small trade association that had 100 large member companies. Prio to that, I was the National Rifle Association’s lead for sportsman’s policy and with another association called the Land Trust Alliance. I built their advocacy programs.
2. What’s your political background?
I served as a political appointee in the President George W. Bush’s administration at two different times. In between there, I was running political operations in Broward County, Fla. for the Republican Party, working for former U.S. Senator George Lemieux, as well as spending time as a political operative and opposition researcher of the Republican National Committee.
3. How did you get your start in politics?
I grew up with my grandfather involved at the local level with campaigns. As a political science major, that interest turned into an internship for my home district Congressman, and that quickly lead to a full-time job doing a little bit of everything, flipping back and forth between the congressional office and the campaign. I went to college two days a week while working full time for the Congressman.
4. Could you describe your management style?
It is evolving, but I’ve always been a believer of letting people set their own path. My management style is to let people go, lead and make change happen.
5. How do you motivate your team?
I’m a big believer in leading by example. That’s always been my style. I want to know as much about the office as possible and what everyone does because I believe that we’re stronger by knowing and learning.
6. What’s the biggest challenge in the industry?
There’s the ever changing, evolving consolidation in the industry. Across the industry, the impact that has is exciting to see but that definitely makes our work here challenging because we constantly need to grow our base to keep up with those losses.
7. What’s your personal connection to HVACR?
My wife grew up in her father’s contracting business that he started 40 years ago. My brother-in-law is a part of it, and also building his own in this industry.
8. How does that help you make decisions?
My father-in-law still talks about the equipment, not the work that he does. We need to remind manufacturers that it truly is all about the contractor.
9. What is ACCA’s new strategic plan about?
It really is about us not only growing our members, but it’s them being happy. It’s a higher rate of retention for us, growth. That’s really at the heart of it. It’s viewed as a pathway, but everything there is happening at one time.
10. What is ACCA’s main focus going forward?
We’re not changing a lot of what we’re doing; we’re just focused now. It’s the clarity and it’s the members, so I think working with the states could be an important part to do that. At the heart of it, it’s about focusing on our members. We got distracted before.
11. What are some of the changes?
We’ve done away with the for-profit IE3 name of our conference and magazine. Pretty much everything you’re going to see from us will be about ACCA and connecting. Our magazine is now going back just to members … if you want a hard copy of the magazine, you have to be a member of ACCA. But, we’re mindful that we do have a role to do things for the entire industry.
12. What’s the long-term goal?
We want every contractor out there to be part of ACCA and have the people that are committed to supporting those contractors to be part of ACCA. That includes manufacturers and distributors as well. We need to make life easier for people not harder, and there’s far too many efforts in this industry that just make things more complicated than they need to be.
13. What might contractors not know about ACCA?
I don’t think a lot of them, sadly, understand what a pillar we are in their business. The whole idea of putting products in correctly and having a way to do that we refer to as Manual J. Whether they’re paying in ACCA or not, they’re benefiting from it when they can look a customer in the eye and know they did it correctly. Every time they get a competent person out of trade school or someone’s looking to improve, it’s probably ACCA’s materials that they’re using.
14. What are the current legislative issues?
Right now, refrigerant changes around the country, protecting tax reform with the Democrat majority in the House — they were not involved with the tax reform package that passed that was signed into law in 2017, so are they going to try to put their mark on that and repeal some of the business-friendly provisions? So, how do we protect that? The overtime rule that the Secretary of Labor released on March 7th … are the Democrats in the house going to try to fight that?
15. How can members get the most out of ACCA?
Read and engage. We have a weekly newsletter, we have a magazine and a lot of online resources. It truly is about engagement that’s the starting point and making that commitment.
16. Can you tell us about the online resources?
We have our contractor forum, and I find it unbelievable the discussions that happen there. We try not to jump in too much as staff, let those go and people ... because we have an opinion. We don’t allow vendors in there to see what contractors are talking about, it’s strictly peer-to-peer … it’s an unbelievable resource for contractors.
17. What are your personal goals at ACCA?
I want to blow our goals that we’ve set for ourselves through our strategic planning out of the water. I’m not going to do that alone, but that’s what victory looks like to me, and I want to have those year-over-year where it’s not always about growth, it’s about having happy members telling those stories about how ACCA is better.
18. What’s your most important job?
Empowering those around me. At the end of the day, I’m just one person, so the team of staff, the team of volunteers, the board committees, I want to get them engaged and excited. Then, when they leave because they made the time commitment, they’re excited to pass that torch on to the next person.
19. What do you like to do for fun?
I’ve got twin boys who are close to 7 … I love spending time with them and, obviously, my wife. And I love the outdoors hunting, fishing, and just being outside.
20. What kind of hunting do you do?
I love to bird hunt. It’s hard to beat a day out in the field. I’ll trade a lobbying down the Hill any day for a morning in the duck line where we know the names of dogs, and kids, what truck you drive and stuff like that. I can work that for years for the advantage of ACCA’s members.