A Conversation With ... Norm Plotkin

Norm Plotkin was hired in July to be the executive director of the metal finishing associations in Southern and Northern California, as well as San Diego, which include about 25 percent of all plating shops in the United States.


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Q: What led you to want to become the MFASC executive director?

NP: After 24 years in Sacramento, I was a little burned out on the political grind and looking for a new challenge. I believe I can bring my experience to bear for the benefit of the associations and industry. I also have broad experience in the association world, and an exec position held a great deal of appeal. The other skill set that I hope to bring to bear for the metal finishing industry is messaging and public relations. Few people understand the benefits derived from this industry because processes go on behind the scenes on component pieces, and the general public has little knowledge that pieces of the systems that transport them, defend them, pin them together after accidents and calculate and compute for them are made more durable, efficient and valuable by metal finishing processes. There is a fascinating story to be told, and I want to help tell it.


Q: What is your top priority for the association?

NP: Provide compelling member services and a positive association experience. It is by this path alone that we will establish and build upon the value of membership. And once industry participants understand the value of membership, growth occurs. To be sure, we have a top-shelf lobbyist in Sacramento and first-rate consultants who provide continuing education opportunities to members. But there is more we can do. And of course, we must get the message out. Value in a vacuum doesn’t work.


Q: How has your experience in state and national politics prepared you for this position?

NP: I have represented petroleum, automotive, medical and energy clients before the legislature and bureaucracy with similar legislative and regulatory challenges that the metal finishers face. I have successfully deployed grassroots and messaging campaigns in support of client initiatives. I have navigated sometimes-treacherous group dynamics. Mostly though, I have developed a really thick skin and a ‘get things done without the need for credit’ approach that will ensure that I never get too far out in front of my boards.


Q: How difficult is it to manage essentially three groups in such a large geographic area like California?

NP: The very question is recognition that it can be difficult. The vast geography of California is the force behind there being three organizations; meetings and training need to go on where members and their employees can attend them. But from an administrative perspective, we have to do everything three times. Nevertheless, we have a model of successful consolidation before our very eyes in the NASF. Three organizations consolidating and creating efficiency and more value for their members is a model that we have seen successfully carried out. Is it the right move for us in California? We’re beginning to have that conversation as we contemplate the same type of strategic planning going on at the national level, and indeed by associations across the country and from every walk of business and industry.


Q: How do you see the relationship between the MFASC and the national NASF office evolving?

NP: NASF has developed a definite, demonstrated leadership role for the industry, and I think it is very important that we work closely together. We’re their biggest membership subdivision here in California, and we have much to offer each other. Personally, I want to learn from their successes and apply some of their winning strategies, and I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with Christian Richter, Jeff Hannapel and their team. At the same time, I want to raise the voice of some of our thoughtful leaders so that it can be heard by those at the national level. In the end, we need each other and we are all best served by a close, mutually beneficial relationship.


Q: What’s the best piece of advice you were given, either personally or professionally, and who gave it to you?

NP: “Don’t confuse motion with progress,” from former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, and “Don’t close doors,” from my dad.


Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?

NP: I’ll tell you when I get there! I had the usual dreams—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief—variously as a kid. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to own my own business one day, and I did. That first month that I didn’t have a paycheck was scary, but for 12 years I made it rain. It’s why I can identify with members who want to run their businesses without undue burdens from well-meaning bureaucrats who are detached from the real world.


Q: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

NP: I grew up on a ranch, so I was taught hard work from an early age. But my first paid job was for a neighbor’s residential construction company summers during high school. I started stacking lumber, sweeping floors and rolling cords, and I earned my way to framing through hard work and paying attention. So I learned that hard work and paying attention created value. I also learned that I liked to earn money.


Q: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?

NP: Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org) to honor and empower wounded warriors. The scars are beyond the physical wounds for these heroes, and engaging them in meaningful endeavors is small price to recognize their sacrifice and devotion to our country.


Q: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?

NP: My first car was a Toyota 4WD that my friends called the “Toyota Test Truck” because I drove it into the ground hauling firewood and hay, and four-wheeling. I’ve had a lot of cars over the years, including a couple of Porsches, but I traded my 996 in for a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. I love the new muscle cars. I’ve rented the Camaro and the Challenger; they’re heavy, but with plenty of horsepower, and if you turn the traction control off you can get to a “seat-of-the-pants” experience. But if you get right down to it, my absolute dream car would be a Porsche GT—acceleration that will give you whiplash if you don’t keep your head against the headrest.