It is often said that construction is all about relationships. And one of the many ways contractors build these great relationships with clients, vendors, and owners over time is through trade associations. The Briq team was lucky enough to sit down with the top dog from a major trade association. In this article, we chat with Stuart Binstock, President and CEO of the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), about CFMA’s long standing history, how they have helped the construction industry, and new initiatives they are proud of.
Let’s dig in.
Stuart, you have been the President and CEO of CFMA for almost a decade, but prior to that you were with other construction trade associations. Tell us a little bit about your background prior to CFMA.
“I went to the school of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, and a lot of my peers knew they wanted to be labor lawyers at age 12. I went to the IRL School at Cornell because I didn't have to take a language or math or science class. So, I was not quite as focused as some of my peers.”
“I ended up at the Associated General Contractors (AGC) many years ago- it was totally fortuitous. A guy I worked with at a legal publishing company, he went to this place called AGC. I had no idea what that was. He said they had a job open for an EEO lawyer and at that time I was a labor lawyer. I interviewed for the job, and little did I know I would spend the next forty years in the construction industry. It’s interesting to see how things evolve in your career, and most of the time they are happenstance.”
“Then from AGC I went to the American Institute of Architects. They needed someone to work on some federal regulatory issues. The CEO needed someone to manage his incoming president. I interviewed for the job and that was one of the highlights of my career- being the head of Government Affairs at the American Institute of Architects.”
“The other big move I made was when I went to the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and I was the manager of their Management Education Institute. It gave me another area of expertise in the industry that I never had before.”
Stuart, you’ve had an illustrious career. Thinking back on your first year or so at CFMA, what were a couple of immediate challenges you encountered?
“Well, I think culture was one of the main challenges that I encountered. They say ‘culture trumps strategy’, and if you don't have the right culture then you really have a hard time accomplishing anything as an organization. There was a bit of an entitlement mentality. We had to remind people: ‘We are here for the members. We would not be an association if some of the staff did not serve our members.”
“There’s a core group of people now, who I've worked with for many years, who have been very valuable. While there were challenges with some, the vast majority of the staff have been terrific and the volunteer leaders have been incredible, particularly the time they’ve spent on behalf of the association.”
“Another one of the challenges was, most of the groups I worked with before were serving CEOs, but in CFMA we serve CFOs- and they look at things very differently. I have learned the value of data. I have told officers, ‘I’ll bury you with data because ultimately that’s what you want.”
CFMA is the ONLY construction trade association that focuses on finance. Why is that so important?
“I’ve had many employers come up to me and say ‘I was an electrician and I can put work in place. But I don't know anything about finance.’ If people don’t understand cash flow or the finance part of their company, it's really irrelevant how ‘successful’ they are, because they’re not going to survive. Finance is at the core of every construction business. The good ones all understand that- and they all understand the value of a good CFO and what they bring to an organization.”
CFMA was the first association to step up and tackle the topic of suicide prevention in the construction industry and you were integral to that effort. We now see that CFMA is stepping up in the area of Diversity, Equality and Inclusivity and has formed a National Committee to address this challenge. Tell us about how CFMA is getting involved and how they're going to roll out this initiative.
“I’ll speak for a second about suicide prevention. One person makes a difference. Cal Beyer made a difference. Cal cared fervently about suicide prevention and, about five years ago, he brought an article about it to us. The editor of our magazine walked in to discuss it with me, and I said ‘Well we usually talk about tax law and succession planning, but let’s publish it and see what happens.’ And there was a tsunami of activity that followed from our efforts in suicide prevention.”
“As for our diversity and inclusion initiatives, I don’t compare that to our suicide prevention initiative except to say that it’s not usually ‘in our wheelhouse’, it’s not something that’s central to construction finance. But there’s a couple of parts to it. First, it’s the right thing to do and it's important for the industry. Most people, if they want to be honest, would say the industry has failed miserably in this effort.”
“I’m also very proud of what we’ve done because we’ve been working on this for about six months without saying a word. We didn’t want to just throw out a press release. We wanted to work on it, and think about where we wanted to take it.”
“The other part of this that is similar to suicide prevention is that there is a business case to diversity and inclusion. I’ve found that while most contractors want to do the right thing, it's not always going to drive their decision. But if you can convince them from a business standpoint it's the right thing to do, they're on board one hundred percent. It’s not only the right thing to do but it’s good for business.”
CFMA is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, with 100 chapters and over 8,500 members. Can you give us a glimpse into CFMA's future?
“Ten years ago we decided to focus on value. We wanted to increase the value of the membership. ‘Increase the value and they will come’. And that’s what has happened over the last ten years, and I think that we will only continue to provide more and more value.”
“I’m very proud that we have become much more of a voice in the industry. People know who CFMA is. With a lot of work by a lot of people, I think we have made CFMA a much more common name in the construction industry. We've partnered with a lot of other leading associations, and there’s even more to come. I encourage our members to push us to become bigger and better!”
The Briq Team would like to thank Stuart Binstock for chatting with us. Briq is a financial intelligence and forecasting platform built specifically for construction. Briq joins modern technology, with hundreds of years of combined construction experience to give you deep insights into your business.
By automating repeatable tasks, connecting disparate software, and predicting trends, we enable more efficient workflows, more accurate forecasts, and more profitable outcomes. Contact us to see what Briq can do for you.