Dave Clarke’s good business

Dave Clarke’s vision for The Industrial Fabrics Association International starts with strengthening its market-specific groups–known as Divisions.

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“Generating new revenue streams without losing focus on your mission is a challenge for any organization but it can be done,” says Dave Clarke, incoming chair of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) and global group director of TenCate Advanced Composites USA Inc., Morgan Hill, Calif. “Much of IFAI membership is made up of smaller entrepreneurial companies, but as the association has grown and diversified, larger companies are sitting at the table as well. Both perspectives bring value—you have to have a strong P & L to be able to do what you need to do for all the members. And we think the Divisions within the association are the key.”

This way to the boardroom

Clarke got his start in the specialty fabrics industry in 1982, working for an industrial sewing thread company. He became president of the company ten years later. Shortly after that company was sold in 1995, he went to work for the specialty materials company TenCate in its Atlanta office. In 1998 he gained global responsibility for its worldwide geosynthetics and industrial fabrics business. “That was when I first became involved with IFAI,” Clarke says. “I was asked to serve on the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) executive council. There were (and are) so many exciting things going on in geosynthetics. We set up a new model for the board—increasing its funding and increasing the number of board members.”

Since Clarke began serving on the IFAI board of directors in 2007, his job at TenCate has shifted from working in geosynthetics to working with composite materials for aerospace applications. Clarke was instrumental in introducing IFAI to JEC (a for-profit worldwide composites association), which co-located its conference with IFAI Expo in Boston in 2012.

Finding value

While co-locating future shows with other industry trade organizations is a possibility for IFAI (one that Clarke says would be good for the association) his focus remains on the foundation of IFAI—small business members. “It’s less important to me that we grow through co-shows and partnerships with associations than it is to provide more significant value to our smaller member companies,” Clarke says. “The bigger member companies generate revenue, but it is the smaller member companies that drive this association, and that entrepreneurial spirit is vital.”

An important part of providing value is to strengthen the ties to membership and understand what’s most important to members. “Board members who are leading companies with fewer employees often have a much better feel for what’s needed for the majority of the association’s membership,” Clarke says. “We’re now having Division board meetings at IFAI headquarters in conjunction with the IFAI board’s summer meeting. We meet separately and also together, and every issue is on the table. It’s constructive in terms of what we can do to help each other.”

Some of the ways IFAI is investing in Division support include: restructuring staff and internal resources; working on a bilingual web presence for IFAI Canada; generating a market research report for NFI; and providing financial support for lobbying efforts and consumer awareness programs.

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn. She is also the associate editor of InTents magazine, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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