November 22, 2013

Werner Braun: CRI hosts annual meeting in Dalton

Dalton Daily Citizen

— Look up the word volunteer in your standard dictionary and you’ll see that volunteers are often described as those who “offer themselves for a service or undertaking,” and, more often than not, who “work for nothing.”

While it’s true that the very nature of the word denotes someone who works without being paid, it’s not at all the case that volunteers “work for nothing.”

At least not here at the Carpet & Rug Institute.

Last week, CRI held its annual membership meeting in Dalton, a one-day event which provides an opportunity for our members to learn about our accomplishments over the past year, welcomes new members to our board of directors, and publicly recognizes and thanks those who are rotating off the board for their outstanding service.

Most years, only one person “wins” the Joseph J. Smrekar Memorial Award, which is presented annually to recognize a volunteer who most nearly “embodies the spirit for exemplary service to CRI” that was set years ago by the late Joseph J. Smrekar.

This year, however, we had two winners.

Let me provide a little background on the award first. The Joseph J. Smrekar Memorial Award was established by Milliken & Co. to honor Smrekar, who served on a number of CRI committees before his untimely death in 1998.

According to Steve Williams, chief financial officer for Milliken’s floorcovering division, Dr. Joe “set the standard” for service to CRI and the carpet industry. This award recognizes individuals who show similar exemplary service to the carpet and rug industry as did the late “Dr. Joe.”

I had the privilege of getting to know Joe back in 1990 when I came to work in Dalton for a few months at the behest of my manager at Dow Industries. Back then, we were dealing with the unfair designation by The New York Times of being producers of “Killer Carpet.” The newspaper wrote a blistering and unsubstantiated piece that was highly critical of the environmental sustainability of our town’s chief product.

My task as a chemical engineer was to work with others in the carpet industry to address those “concerns” and set the record straight.

As such, I got to know Dr. Joe quite well, and during my brief time here I found him to be one of the most personable and memorable men I’ve ever known.

Joe seemed to have never met a stranger. And not only was he easy to talk to, but he also understood technology and the issues facing the carpet industry better than anyone I knew at that time. He was able to communicate that knowledge to just about anybody. That’s a gift.

So it’s indeed an honor to be able to present an outstanding volunteer — or two volunteers, as is the case this year — with an award that recognizes the essence of Joe’s volunteering spirit.

The Smrekar award recipients are chosen by CRI staff members, and this year, for the first time ever, two deserving volunteers tied for first place. Those gentlemen are Eric Nelson of Interface and Russ DeLozier of J&J Flooring Group.

Each man is truly worthy of both his nomination and his selection. I say this because I know these two men well, and what I find most remarkable about both men is that they are able to leave their “corporate hats,” so to speak, at the door and then put on their “what’s best for the carpet industry hats” during our meetings.

That speaks volumes not only for them, but also for the companies they represent.

Eric is vice president of strategic alliances for Interface Americas. A graduate of Georgia Tech, Eric joined Interface in 2006 and has 15 years experience in the fibers and carpet manufacturing industries. He serves on the CRI Strategic Issues Leadership Council and is a member of the Caprolactam Advocacy, Landfill and NSF-140 Task Groups as well as the EPR and CARE Panel. He is also active in the Carpet America Recovery Effort.

Russ is director of sustainability for J&J Flooring Group and oversees all aspects of the company’s corporate sustainability. Another Georgia Tech graduate, Russ joined J&J in 2012. He serves on CRI’s EPR and CARE Panel and Landfill and NSF-140 Task Groups. He is also the longest serving carpet mill representative on the Carpet America Recovery Effort Board.

The carpet industry represents an incredible depth and breadth of talented people. In Eric Nelson and Russ Delozier you see two of the best. CRI is blessed by their energy and support.

At CRI, as with many nonprofit organizations, the key to success lies not just with those who are responsible for administering the day-to-day tasks inherent in running an organization. So much of the success rests on the shoulders of its able-bodied volunteers.

We believe that our organization is only as strong as the volunteers who serve us. Thank you Eric and Russ for your good work, and thanks to all who have made this year another outstanding one for CRI.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.