MSN’s Q&A With Incoming ISSA President, Matt Vonachen
Following is an interview with Vonachen, who discussed his background, past involvement within the jan/san industry and ISSA and his vision for the association’s future.
MSN: Please provide your background as it pertains to your company and the jan/san industry.
Vonachen: “I began my career as a manufacturers’ representative for Rubbermaid Commercial Products in Chicago. In 1993, I was asked to take a leadership position in the family distribution business, Vonachen Industrial Supplies. In 1999, the Vonachen distribution business became part of AmSan, where I was a regional president. In 2008, I purchased the commercial contracting cleaning business, VSI, from my father, Jay Vonachen, and turned the Vonachen Group into what it is today.
“The Vonachen Group is a full-service facility maintenance leader that provides janitorial, healthcare and logistic support services.
“Since 1947, our family business has been involved in the jan/san industry. My grandfather started a distribution business in 1947 that distributed janitorial supplies and healthcare products. In 1968, my father founded the contract cleaning company that is now known as the Vonachen Group.”
MSN: How long have you been affiliated with ISSA — both from a company perspective and a personal perspective?
Vonachen: “I was an ISSA YES (Young Executive Society) coordinator in 1993, then executive coordinator in 1999. The Vonachen Family of businesses have been members of ISSA for over 70 years. My uncle, Rudy Vonachen, was a director of ISSA, and my father, Jay Vonachen, chaired the ISSA Foundation.”
MSN: What made you decide to seek the ISSA president’s post?
Vonachen: “When I was on the (ISSA) board from 2018-2020, it was decided that BSCs (Building Service Contractors) would be put into the rotation with distributors and manufacturers, where a BSC would be the president every third year. The opportunity to be the first BSC as ISSA president really intrigued me.”
MSN: What are your personal qualities that will make you an effective ISSA president?
Vonachen: “My experience as a manufacturers’ representative, distributor, and now building service contractor, has given me a good perspective of what challenges, and opportunities, exist for our members.
“I would say the following traits have greatly helped with the success of the Vonachen Group: patience, integrity, ability to delegate, gratitude, learning agility, and influence.
“In our business, we deal with thousands of headaches, multiple moving pieces, and interesting dynamics — whether that be with customers or employees. Being patient in those situations, having integrity to follow through on our promises (regardless of potential business loss or economic loss), the ability to delegate the right duties to the right employees that in turn allows those same employees career and personal growing opportunities, having gratitude for our people in what they do and how they do it, learning agility to guide a large organization through things like inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, and finally investing the time to influence and help the BSC community on a global scale (e.g. worked with the U.S. House of Representatives in Congress to push for bill legislation that helped out BSCs in allowing businesses to receive tax credits for expenses spent on cleaning services during the pandemic) — all of those characteristics have helped me succeed, and the Vonachen Group prosper.”
MSN: What, from your perspective, is the role of ISSA in the cleaning/maintenance industry?
Vonachen: “ISSA exists to add value to our members and the cleaning industry as a whole. The association does this by helping members make business connections through trade shows, events, and networking opportunities — both in-person and online.
“ISSA also seeks to increase industry professionalism by offering the industry’s top education, training, standards, and certification programs — and keeps the industry informed with its multimedia programming.
“Additionally, the association’s legislative and regulatory services help ensure the industry’s viability in a dynamic business environment.
“ISSA’s brand promise is ‘Changing The Way The World Views Cleaning,’ and the board and staff are committed to delivering programs and services with that promise as our North Star.”
MSN: The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. As ISSA president, what are your thoughts on how ISSA will move forward in guiding the cleaning industry through this crisis?
Vonachen: “ISSA has done a fantastic job leading the industry through the pandemic, especially with the development of its COVID-19 resources for the cleaning industry, introduction of the successful GBAC STAR accreditation program, and key industry advocacy initiatives like the Cleaning is Essential campaign and introduction of the Healthy Workplace Tax Credit.
“As we look ahead, we know many members continue to be adversely affected by the pandemic. That’s why the ISSA Board of Directors authorized a $5 million industry marketing campaign, ‘Rethink What Clean Means,’ to build consumer awareness about the importance of cleaning to protect public health, and drive demand for ISSA members’ products and services among B2B buyers.
“The consumer portion, which will premier this fall, includes a fun and informative video series featuring celebrity Howie Mandel. The B2B component will follow and run through next summer. ISSA members will have access to a promotional toolkit to leverage the campaign with their customers and partners as well.
“We are thrilled to launch the campaign this fall and measure its impact for the industry well into the future.”
MSN: As this year’s ISSA Show is at McCormick Place, what are some of the precautions, if any, that will be in place to help keep attendees and exhibitors safe and healthy?
Vonachen: “As the worldwide cleaning industry association, it’s important that we provide a safe and healthy environment for our show participants, just as our members do for their customers. To that end, we’re pleased to host the show at McCormick Place, which is a GBAC STAR-accredited facility for its cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention protocols.
“Additionally, the show’s GBAC STAR-accredited cleaning service provider will perform proper day and night cleaning throughout the event.”
MSN: You have a great deal of leadership experience. How will that help you lead ISSA in the coming year?
Vonachen: “The cleaning industry is a people business. It is all about how to treat customers and how to treat employees. As one of our board members has stated, ‘The numbers are all about stories and the stories are all about people. By emphasizing the people and their stories, the numbers will take care of themselves.’
“Front-line management is the most critical, and the most difficult, position in any company. We need to provide training for front-line managers so they can develop the people skills that will make them, and their organizations, successful.
“Being the first BSC to be president of ISSA, my viewpoint is going to be different than past presidents. My focus has always been on operations as it relates to customer and/or employee safety, health, and satisfaction. Better put, my focus has really been on people and not products.
“With that said, I believe my understanding of people’s needs, related to the jan/san industry, coupled with product expertise from other board members, really will, in my opinion, bring more desirability as it relates to joining — and participating — in ISSA.”
MSN: What improvements can be made to ISSA?
Vonachen: “ISSA has done a terrific job being the nucleus for the cleaning industry, with great leadership and staff. My goal would be to continue to build upon the excellent foundation that already exists.”
MSN: Other than COVID-19, what are some of the most prominent challenges and concerns in the cleaning/maintenance industry today, and how can those issues be addressed by ISSA and its members?
Vonachen: “The most pressing challenges in the industry today are labor concerns, supply chain disruptions, and business continuity issues coming out of the pandemic.
“Related to labor, ISSA continues to take a leadership role in education and training both managers and frontline workers. The association also plans to launch a reimagined job board to help members find much-needed staffing. Additionally, we are optimistic that the ‘Rethink What Clean Means’ industry campaign will help drive demand for the industry, and help members stay competitive in an evolving business climate.
“The labor force is front-of-mind on a daily basis. Over the past 24 months, people have a different perspective on work — life balance and what they expect from a job. The Richard Branson quote is so applicable today, ‘Train people so they can find a new job, and treat them so that they want to stay.’ We need to promote doing both — by providing training for people to grow and by providing training throughout the organization on how to lead, not just manage, people.”
MSN: How is the sustainability (green) movement impacting the cleaning/maintenance industry?
Vonachen: “Sustainability continues to be an important topic, and the association is committed to providing industry leadership in that area. To that end, the ISSA Board started the ISSA Sustainability Committee about a year ago. This summer, we invested additional resources to grow the committee and develop new programs and services to help ISSA members on their sustainability journeys.
“From my perspective, the green movement is a huge driver of purchasers — both in the product space and the services space. Many consumers in both spaces now make up the younger generation, and they have an extreme focus on the green movement. They want to make sure their respective companies are following best practices, while also ensuring their spending, each and every year, is going toward companies that are also focused on sustainability.”
MSN: Please discuss the importance of ISSA reacting to ongoing industry changes.
Vonachen: “For the association to stay relevant and continue to grow, it’s imperative that ISSA adapts to industry changes, and be willing to develop new programs and services to provide competitive advantages for membership.
“As the association celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023, the board and staff will start work on a strategic planning process to ensure the association continues to thrive. The leadership is committed to making a lasting impact and ensuring ISSA remains relevant, valued, and respected for the next 100 years and beyond.”
MSN: What plans do you have, as ISSA president, for the coming year? What would you like to see accomplished?
Vonachen: “We are a member-driven organization. I will support the association’s incredible objectives to better serve our members. As we move into 2023, the organization will begin a strategic planning process that will determine the role of the association in the future. These are extremely exciting times.”
MSN: Is there anything else that you would like to speak about?
Vonachen: “I consider being the next ISSA president both a privilege and an honor. ISSA is the center of the universe for everything associated with cleaning. Our industry is so fortunate to have an association where everyone involved can come together and collaborate on all needs.”