EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2016, NASSCO will celebrate its 40th year of setting standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As we look forward, we also look back to those who have made significant contributions and have impacted the continued acceptance and use of trenchless technologies.
This month’s story features Irv Gemora, former NASSCO Executive Director from 2002-2010. He became a member in 1988 and served for many years on NASSCO’S Board of Directors. Gemora currently serves as a trainer for NASSCO’s PACP classes and consults for industry contractors all the while paying close attention to his golf game. “The only thing I’ve ever failed at is retiring,” quips Gemora.
This is the fourth installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders:
I received my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. I started my college career in 1955, but I was married with children and had my own business as I worked my way through school, so by the time I graduated it was 1962.
My early career was in the semiconductor business where I started and grew a successful manufacturers’ sales rep firm. In order to cover a larger geographic sales area, I received a private pilot license in 1964. I took additional pilot training from a retired military instructor who worked me to a higher standard than most civilian pilots received. I became certified in single and multi-engine aircraft with a commercial/instrument rating. I flew until 1974 and amassed nearly 1,800 hours. I quit flying in 1974 because of concerns about cost and safety in the private aviation industry. I enjoyed flying, but it’s not something I miss.
I’m a Type A personality, so it wasn’t unusual for me to work 15-hour days, six days a week. In addition to flying myself across the country, I also traveled the world with much of my business in Europe and Asia. I racked up an average of 140,000 airline miles each year. In 1987, I had a heart attack and my wife, Paula, said to get out before it killed me. So I did. But it turned out I was too young to retire. My friends were still working, and I didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of old guys! I needed something to do.
Around that same time, my cousin was retiring as a patent attorney and we came together with another friend, who also was a client of his, who had just retired from the University of Virginia. It turns out the three of us had complementary talents. We spent the better part of a year traveling around Europe, Asia and other parts of the world looking for products or processes we could purchase, finance and help grow.
We all became fascinated with a company in Australia called Danby that offered a rehabilitation process for lining large diameter, man-entry pipes. This process tied in perfectly with what we understood about the business at that point. We purchased Danby, helped it grow and I left the company in 2001. I decided to retire again. ‘I’ll be old enough this time,’ I thought. I wasn’t.
NASSCO is good fit
I first became involved with NASSCO in 1988. I joined because I didn’t see our industry as being well-focused. I saw many niche organizations, and NASSCO was the only one I could find that brought it all together. It fascinated me!
Over the years my involvement with NASSCO became greater. I served on the Board of Directors in the early 1990s. One of my first personal crusades was to change the way members voted. At the time, associate members had no vote and could not serve on the board, so I was able to be part of that positive change.
During my early years with NASSCO, I became close friends with Mike Burkhard who served as NASSCO’s first full-time executive director. Prior to that, NASSCO’s executive directors were part-time consultants. Mike did a great job, especially with the launch of the Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP). Shortly before the launch of PACP, right after my second retirement, Mike decided to leave NASSCO to do other things. He asked if I would be interested in taking over the position of executive director. You can probably guess my answer.
I started working for NASSCO full-time in 2002. Being the executive director of NASSCO was the highlight of my working career – it was one of my greatest honors. I truly believe all of my earlier experiences and training were preparing me for that role.
When I took over Mike’s position as executive director, PACP was approximately 85 percent complete. With the help and dedication of Heather Myers we got it wrapped up and in the hands of trainers and users. We then moved on to supplemental training programs. Gerry Muenchmeyer played a key role in the development of the Manhole Assessment and Certification Program (MACP), Lateral Assessment and Certification Program (LACP) and the Inspector Training Certification Program (ITCP). He has led some important initiatives for NASSCO and is, in my opinion, one of our superstars. If NASSCO had a Hall of Fame, Gerry and Mike would be right at the top of the list.
Passing the torch
In 2010, I decided to retire again. Not so much because I was tired or burned out, but because leading NASSCO takes a certain skill set that is difficult to describe. Mike had the right skills to conceptualize PACP. My skills allowed me to develop that concept and bring PACP and other training programs to the marketplace. And I knew in 2010 that the next step was to help NASSCO and PACP grow and be everything it could be. I saw that skill set in Ted DeBoda. I knew he was the one to move NASSCO forward, and I was right.
My hope for the future of NASSCO is that our mission – to set industry standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure and to assure the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless technologies – stays strong. In order for this to happen I also believe that the entire community – civil engineers, electrical engineers, cities and contractors – must take the time to do real research when it comes to specifications. I have seen occasions when a manufacturer’s specification has been used for other competitors to bid against, and that is not in the best interest of anyone involved, especially the system owners. My hope is that NASSCO’s ongoing mission to set standards will continue to grow, strengthen and bring everyone together for mutual success.