A new era has begun at NASTT. Matthew Izzard is now leading NASTT as its executive director, succeeding Mike Willmets, who retired at the end of 2019. We gave Izzard a little time to settle into his new position before asking him to introduce himself to our readers, offering some insight and perspective into his plans to lead the trenchless association going forward, as well as his goals and priorities.
Please describe your background—education and professional background, most recent duties, etc.
I started in the trenchless technology industry working in the school holidays in 1988 for Tracto Technik (UK) – the U.K. distributors for Tracto Technik (TT Technologies in the United States) – for its range of moles, pipe rammers, pipe bursters and HDD equipment. I progressed from sweeping the floors to fitter, store man, demonstration engineer, trainer and finally into sales and management. I then worked for U-Mole, and suppliers of the HammerHead product line in the U.K. before leaving the industry and working for a bespoke visiting-tailoring company in London. Following a management buy-out due to our success and a change in business model, I started a similar company and for several years developed the company to have two shop locations in London and several prestigious clients including McLaren Motorsport, soccer teams such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur and also the Royal household. However, I still couldn’t walk past an excavation without looking into it and after a change in personal circumstances came back into the trenchless technology industry with PSS Hire, acquired by Ashtead Plant, which operate Sunbelt in the United States. I was approached to work with Kobus Pipe Pulling and then Vermeer UK before rejoining TT UK as business development director. During this time, I became involved with the United Kingdom Society for Trenchless Technology (UKSTT), which led to opportunities to work on writing accredited training courses for horizontal directional drilling (HDD) and an International Standards working group for the installation of pe pipe. I became Chair of the UKSTT and I was elected as U.K. representative to the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT) and onto its Executive Committee where I became vice chair, overseeing the restructuring of the society. This gave me the opportunity to write and present papers around the world, promoting trenchless technology and meeting so many new people who are now friends.
How did you become involved in NASTT?
As two of the largest and most active trenchless technology organizations, the UKSTT and NASTT have always had a close working relationship. Representatives from both societies have visited and participated in each other’s shows so I had a good awareness of the NASTT. My work with the ISTT also meant I had worked with Mike Willmets on projects and I became an International Member of the NASTT in 2017. I became active with the Centre of Excellence for Pipebursting, led by Alan Ambler, and when I moved to the United States became an Individual Member and got involved with the Pacific Northwest Chapter, Chaired by Carl Pitzer.
What led you to seek the role of executive director of NASTT?
Throughout my career, promoting trenchless technology has been a passion. This is a special industry and an example was attending the No-Dig Show in Chicago shortly after moving to Seattle. It was quite daunting being in ‘my’ industry but not having the network of colleagues that I was familiar with in the U.K. The welcome given to me and inclusion in events by everyone made me feel immediately part of the family and an organization I wanted to be involved more in. When the executive director position was advertised, I discussed the opportunity with my family, as I was fortunate to have several great companies approach me for employment. My skill set and experience with both the UKSTT and ISTT, running businesses and my sales and marketing background suited the roll and inspired me to put myself forward for consideration. Knowing that there was a great staff team and the diversity of projects the NASTT is working on only furthered my determination. The interview process was thorough, involved a great amount of preparation and there were many outstanding candidates. I was so incredibly proud and excited when I heard I was successful in applying.
NASTT is more than 30 years old. What do you see as the major impacts that NASTT has had on the market?
The NASTT mission statement is “To continuously improve infrastructure management through trenchless technology.” I remember doing a demonstration with an impact mole back in the early 1990s and explaining how it worked to a passerby. They got very irate thinking our company trained real moles to tunnel and pull in pipes. To go from that to municipalities and public utilities having the confidence to sign off multi-million dollar trenchless rehab projects truly reflects the expansion in demand and knowledge of the industry. NASTT has consistently been a central part of that growth and development. It is now recognized around the world as being the leading resource for knowledge, education and training in trenchless technology.
The guideline training courses, publications, library resource of papers, webinars, center of excellence, conferences, recognition awards and of course the No-Dig North and No-Dig Show events have all played a significant part in this and leading innovative programs such as the municipality and public utility scholarships and academic support programs enable a broad access for all. I would have to say though that the biggest impact the NASTT has had in the market has been through our members and volunteers. Their endless passion in going into companies, talking about trenchless technology, pioneering projects through assessment, design, engineering, construction and equipment developments have literally changed the world we live in.
What are your immediate priorities as executive director?
Firstly, I have a lot to thank my predecessors for — John Hemphill and Mike Willmets — in providing such a good structure and staff team for me to come in and work with. I am enjoying developing their legacy to provide our membership with the best possible access to information and support. We are fortunate have a very active and dynamic Board of Directors, currently chaired by Craig Vandaelle, who have a lot of exciting ideas and plans for us to deliver, building on the platform that previous Boards have developed, so we need to be in a position to deliver these. As a not-for-profit and with a dedicated staff team, it is important that we work effectively with the resources we have and prioritize our tasks. Part of my role is to work with the Board and staff in delivering these objectives by providing suitable policies and procedures, ensuring we are operating in a responsible way, both internally and with our outsourced operations. This provides the platform to enable us to maximize the benefits of membership and grow the NASTT in a healthy environment.
What role do you see NASTT having in national discussion on issues that impact your membership (i.e. Infrastructure package, etc.)
One of the great things with our active volunteers is the diverse markets that they work in and connections we have with other organizations. This provides us with a far-reaching platform to be involved with, deliver our message and participate in discussion groups. We are non-political and as such cannot be involved in government groups for this reason, but those apart we are looking to work in forums such as infrastructure, utilities, pipeline, environmental and military groups to enable them to understand and utilize trenchless technology. That will generate time, labor and financial savings for their members and provide commercial opportunities for ours.
How does your background in roles with the UKSTT help in your position as executive director?
Being involved and having experience with many committees and organizations such as the UKSTT and ISTT over the years gives the option of providing a variety of solutions in certain situations. The U.S. and U.K. regulation for not-for-profit organizations are similar so the knowledge and understanding of how similar organizations work and the operating structure is of great benefit to me in this position. Often executive directors are appointed from outside the industry and need to go through that learning curve so to have practical experience in both areas has enabled me to become familiar with the position quicker. The NASTT are also a member of the ASAE — an organization for association management — which allows us to interact and gain knowledge with other organizations, learn from successful business models to have the latest information, innovative products and contacts available to us.
What are NASTT’s strengths as an association today?
Keeping up-to-date with the latest relevant trends and disseminating that information in an accessible manner is vital and something I believe we do well. Our means of communicating are rapidly expanding through our website (nastt.org) and Talk Trenchless online community. There have been some really good discussions on there recently, even members questions answered by other members which is providing great resource. Providing non-commercial and un-biased information makes us a credible and respected body and the value of our training courses and publications, written by the best in our industry, makes us the ‘go to’ trenchless technology association for education and knowledge. We are supported by a strong team of service providers, all of whom we have a strong relationship with, and this ensures that we run as a professional, properly regulated company and which I am sure has contributed to our longevity. Every single year — for 30 years now — countless resources and volunteer time is put into NASTT to make sure the Society is providing the essential resources for its members and professionals working in the trenchless technology field. People only do that if they care about what they do – and are proud of it enough to want to share it. Our biggest strength is our members and we must never lose sight of that.
What areas do you believe NASTT’s must build on or improve to continue moving forward as a strong association?
Without doubt we would like to work as closely as possible with our amazing network of Regional Chapters. It is through them that we connect with our network and through them that we have local knowledge being shared and discussed under the umbrella and security of the national body. In our recent survey to Regional Chapters, the one thing that all raised was the need for more support in carrying out administrative tasks such as keeping their website up to date, event registration and promotion of events. Therefore, I am delighted to announced that , in addition to our constant support on event timeslines, elections and marketing campaigns to the Chapters, we are now launching an optional Menu of Services available to all Regional Chapters at the forthcoming No-Dig Show (nodigshow.com) April 5-9 in Denver, which has been put together specifically to provide Chapter Boards with the tools they have asked for to deliver their programs. A great example of this was the inaugural No-Dig North (nodignorth.ca) last year, in which all three Canadian chapters worked with the NASTT staff and Benjamin Media to put on a hugely successful event, led by Greg Tippett. This year’s No-Dig North in Vancouver BC, Oct. 19-21, promises to be an even larger event with the interest already registered.
Discuss the roles that the student and regional chapter have had on the success of NASTT?
The student chapters are simply the future of our society. They will be the ones solving the problems we are creating today, maximizing effectiveness of resources. This will make the demands for trenchless technology greater than ever before and it is therefore vital that we attract and engage the interest and passions of the best seeking a career. They are our Hall of Fame nominations of the future! The support of professors and academics enables us to provide education and training of the highest standards and we are pleased to support this by funding the Chapters through grants and project donations. For students there are individual scholarships and programs, as well as access to a huge library of data and papers through their free membership. Apart from the No-Dig Shows, the NASTT is mainly represented to everyone through our Regional and Student Chapters. The message we send must be consistent, reliable and easy to access. Engaging our industry, by increasing the benefits of membership to the NASTT, is achieved through local level and they are therefore vital to our continued success. The NASTT has achieved so much in the last 30 years, I am excited and proud to be playing a part in the future.