Collision Avoidance

By Jim McCloskey

In recent months, news has too often come as a shock.  I am happy to say, however, that one piece of it I received a couple weeks ago actually came as a relief.

The press release was headed “APSP & NSPF boards announce unification process ends,” and I have to say I wasn’t surprised.  As I wrote in my blog on November 16 (click here), I was “marginally disappointed that the process of merging the National Swimming Pool Foundation and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals” wasn’t quite so far along as I had hoped it might be after six full months of conversation.

Although I was “impressed,” as I observed after the pool show in New Orleans last November, by what I saw as the emergence of a good organizational and philosophical infrastructure, I was also concerned that negotiations would get stuck on the mechanics of unification rather than on what came next – that is, on “opportunities for market growth and of ways to work together for individual prosperity and the common good,” as a previous press release on unification had declared.

I have no idea what derailed the process.  It could have been the tax issues inherent in merging a foundation with a trade association, although I would think those questions should have been asked and answered way before talks began in earnest.  Or it could have been the difficulty of reconciling the missions of an entity serving customers and an entity serving members.  Whatever it was – and I never want or need to know, believe me – I am pleased that the two groups were able to face facts and make what can only have been a difficult decision.

To quote the press release, the “APSP and NSPF Boards have decided to align their efforts, where both entities will still remain independent, but strive to enhance the collaboration and synergy between the organizations.  They will continue to seek opportunities to work collaboratively to positively impact the aquatics community.”

Sounds good to me.  Not as grand or ambitious as unification, of course, but more sensible and certainly better than open conflict.

Short term, the challenge for leaders of both groups will be to set aside the “unification experience” and, in collaborative ways, refocus attention on market growth and the success of individual businesses and people participating in their organizations.  As I wrote in November, there’s much left to accomplish on both fronts, as these are tasks and missions the industry has had trouble addressing for all 31 of the years I’ve been paying attention.

But look at it this way:  NSPF and APSP had spent several years on something of a collision course.  Let us all be relieved that they avoided that cataclysm.  Let us also hope that the close call has, within each organization, startled up a general awareness of unfinished business, opened a few long-neglected doors, and helped each organization remember why they continue to exist.  If this experience has shaken things up, in other words, both NSPF and APSP will be the better for it.

“From the beginning of this process,” declared Bruce Dunn and Jack Manilla – chairmen, respectively, of the boards of NSPF and APSP – “the goal was to create more swimmers, more swimming pools and more hot tubs that will allow users to gain from the health benefits of swimming activity, aquatic immersion, and hydrotherapy. Although the outcome is not of one unified organization, both APSP and NSPF recognize and embrace that this is the time to create accelerated change through enhanced collaborative efforts.”

Amen to that.  If NSPF and APSP actually do find pathways to collaboration, cooperation and synergy as an outcome of this whirlwind flirtation, all the better.

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