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HPAC 'On The Air': How Boiler Firms Have Survived and Thrived, with Scott Lynch

April 20, 2021
*PODCAST*: ABMA's President & CEO talks about the myriad challenges his group has faced in the last crazy year and the shifting strategies that so far have managed to succeed.

For our third podcast, HPAC Engineering's Rob McManamy chats with Scott Lynch, President and CEO of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association (ABMA). Incredibly, the 133-year-old organization has now weathered two global pandemics, tested mightily by the persistent crisis that continues to challenge us all in myriad ways.

Incredibly, Lynch reports that ABMA has actually seen a net increase in total membership over the past year, testament to the heightened value of staying connected to industry colleagues and advisors while navigating the ultimate shared crisis.

Here, ABMA's chief also discusses how the association, itself, has had to become as nimble as possible, shifting annual meetings online, increasing webinars, and rescheduling its planned launch of Boiler 2021 in Dallas this fall to become Boiler 2022 there next April. "I definitely learned to never include the actual year in the title of an event again," says Lynch with a laugh.

Of note, this special joint episode will also appear in ABMA's own podcast series, Inside the Boiler Room...


What follow is a partial transcipt of our April conversation...

HPAC: Scott, welcome to ‘HPAC on the Air’. Thanks for joining us. Let’s just open up, if you would, by giving our listeners a bit of an overview of ABMA’s programs and services.

SCOTT LYNCH: Well, thanks for having me. Yes, you may not know this, but ABMA was actually founded in 1888. So we are the longest continuous trade association in the country… We were brought together as an industry due to the safety of boilers during the industrial revolution. And safety is still at the core of what we do. It might sound like it’s energy efficiency or technology changes, but all of our focus in the end is on trying to build the most safe and efficient boilers in our industry. And our organization is focused on facilitating that, and bringing our industry together to tackle issues like codes and standards. Other issues involve things like workforce development and finding the right people, building the leadership within our organization, and developing the programs and services for our members that are most relevant to their needs. This industry is very different than it was 20 years ago, and very different from what it will be 20 years from now.

HPAC: How many member companies do you have now at ABMA?

CEO SCOTT: We have 110 members now, and they include our main manufacturing members, those who make the large components, like the burners and boilers, themselves, as well as the suppliers… Look around any boiler project and you’ll see 10 to 15, even 20 components in that room, and all those companies are members of our organization.

HPAC: This last year has been extraordinary by any measure. Could you please speak for a moment about how the pandemic has affected your organization and the work of some of your members?

CEO SCOTT: Yes, the impact has been significant. Our fiscal year begins May 1, so when this all broke in March a year ago, you can imagine what that did to our budgeting process in the last few months of that year, as we were all still trying to figure out what this was… Initially, the most important thing was making sure that our members stayed in business. So, we worked with the National Association of Manufacturers to create letters for our members that said the boiler industry is a critical part of the manufacturing sector and has to continue, even during times of a global pandemic. And a number of our members have told us that our letters got to their governors and members of Congress, and kept them in business, where otherwise, they would have had to shut down.

The other challenge for them was to remain safe during the pandemic, and they had to evolve on that like any other company would have to evolve. What happens if one of their employees gets COVID? How would they handle it? Based on the feedback that we received from them, I would say that our members took it as a challenge to both be safe and to still manufacture product and serve the end-user community. It was really a challenge for them in the beginning, so we facilitated that by creating a Coronavirus Resource Center on our website. That would update them on news coming out of NAM or the federal government on things like how to access PPE dollars, what programs are available, what’s not, etc. There were a lot of challenges for us, even just trying to figure out how to host a meeting!

HPAC: No doubt. And those meetings included ABMA’s big plans for BOILER 2021, now BOILER 2022, which was originally planned for this fall. Tell us how that evolved.

CEO SCOTT: Well, one thing I learned is that in the future I will not name an event based on the year that I propose it… There was a lot of material created for that event with the ‘2021’ branding, so we have had to cross that out and put in ‘22’… But we had announced this in January 2020, and had huge momentum coming out of our annual meeting… There was a lot of excitement, but then March hit… Still, we shifted really quickly, and soon realized that if we were going to do this as an inaugural event, it cannot be during a pandemic, or even coming out of a pandemic. So, we worked with our partners, the Hyatt Regency Dallas and pushed it from October 2021 to April 2022.

And that’s where it is now. And we think we’re well-positioned, actually, to address a huge need out there, because what we are hearing from end-users is that they have held back on a lot of projects during the pandemic. So we really think things are going to open up in ’22… and our members will have the opportunity to engage end-users. We’ll be able to say, “Look, we’re going to have an event where you can meet all the leading manufacturers in one place.” In addition, we’ll also be giving tours of boiler manufacturer facilities and end-user facilities that are ‘best in class’. So, they will come and see a ‘best in class’ boiler room, maybe one on the industrial side, and another on the institutional side, like a hospital or a college campus... There will also be educational sessions focused on things like the trends in decarbonization and energy efficiency, and trends in technology.

HPAC: So will this be a hybrid event? Will there be virtual presentations and tours, too?

CEO SCOTT: Well, we’re still trying to figure that out… Our annual meeting last year converted to a virtual event, in keeping with the times. And we shifted on the fly a number of times for that, and had great success. So we’ll have to see. Right now, we’re still planning for a face-to-face, pretty much ‘normal’ event for BOILER 2022. But if we get to the end of 2021 and see the need to adapt, we feel that we can do that and still meet the needs of the boiler supply chain.

Keep in mind, this event was created because there is no event solely for the boiler supply chain. A lot of events include boilers, where we are a small component of the activity, but the educational sessions and the tours are not related to our industry. So, we felt that if somebody at an end-user, or a consultant, or an EPC firm really wants to understand what’s going on, then they can come for two days and really get a lot out of this.

HPAC: And your annual meeting is still happening this June, correct? Will that be a hybrid event?

CEO SCOTT: Yes, it is. And yes, that is our plan, but it is a much different conversation when you’re talking about bringing together 75 to 100 people and spacing them out and doing a lot of outdoor activities, versus having a thousand people together for BOILER 2022, a much larger event.

HPAC: Things in general do seem to be improving and the pace of vaccinations so far this year has been incredible. Has that changed things for your members?

CEO SCOTT: Yes, it has. Healthwise, and in terms of financial and business outlook, it is changing and people are seeing a change here. Our members are telling us that they are starting to see some stuff pick up; projects that were delayed earlier in the year, but now are getting green-lit and moving forward.

HPAC: I understand you have been engaging more with the hydronics sector of the industry. Can you tell us more about those efforts?

CEO SCOTT: That’s one of those things where an industry evolves and you have to keep up with it… Our members who are making larger boilers are adapting and making smaller boilers now to meet the needs of end-users who are interested in a smaller footprint, maybe duplicative boilers instead of having one giant one… On the other end, we also have the smaller members who were making boilers for the residential market now moving into commercial, so they are growing their footprint. So whereas they were only into light commercial before, now they are heavily into commercial now and maybe even the light industrial sector. So they have evolved and it was really our components members who said we should reach out to them.


For the full podcast, please listen to the Podbean recording at the top of this page.


To listen to our previous HPAC 'On the Air' episodes, visit the growing Podcasts archive on our Members Only page.

About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].