Terry Head: the next chapter

Oct 02 | 2018

At the end of December this year, Terry Head, IAM’s charismatic president (International Association of Movers), will retire from the role. Steve Jordan spoke to him to get his thoughts after 50 years in the industry and 21 years working with the world’s largest moving association.

Terry Head - The next chapter


At the end of December this year, Terry Head, IAM’s charismatic president (International Association of Movers), will retire from the role.  Steve Jordan spoke to him to get his thoughts after 50 years in the industry and 21 years working with the world’s largest moving association.

It was back in May 1969, a few weeks before Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, that Terry Head joined the moving industry.  He’d been laid off from his factory so took a summer job with a local moving company in Washington, DC to keep him going until he could find something permanent.  “I fell in love with the work from day one,” he said.  “I was going to different places and meeting different people every day.  I was also intrigued by the international aspect: talking to people who had lived in Japan and India and Africa.” 

His first job was as a driver’s helper (porter), then a packer, a warehouseman, an estimator and, in 1972 he joined Victory Van as a salesman.  In 1976 Terry took on the role of general manager of Victory’s forwarding company where he stayed until he joined Panalpina in 1982 to work in business development.  He returned to Victory three years later. 

21 years of success
In 1994 Terry was elected as a member of the IAM Board (HHGFAA as it was then).  In 1997 he became its president.

At that time IAM had around 900 members, mainly in the US, had an annual turnover of around US$1m and was primarily involved in the movement of US military personnel.  Today, IAM has upwards of 2,500 members, 75% of which are outside the US, and its turnover has grown five-fold.

So, to what does Terry put down IAM’s obvious success over a period when other industry trade organisations have seen their membership stagnate or even shrink? “We are an inclusive organisation,” he said.  “If a company meets our qualifications, which we have strengthened over the years, we welcome them in. We look to embrace anyone who has an interest in the international moving industry. It’s taken time, but we have now built very good cooperative relationships with the other organisations in our industry. IAM is like an upside-down umbrella organisation, we support the whole industry.  Again, that’s our inclusive nature. We recognise that we compete with other organisations for their members’ dues dollars and their engagement time, but we have found our niche, we don’t try to be everything to everybody.  We try to support the industry as best we can.”

The draw of IAM
I asked Terry what he felt was the big draw of IAM?  What was the main benefit of being part of the organisation? He said that IAM does a member needs survey every four years and the answers have not changed.  “It’s the directory listing and the annual conference that people want,” he said.  “You can come to our meeting and in four or five days see people from all over the world.  We bring the world together at that one time every year to educate, entertain and inform.  It's of huge value."

MilestonesIn 1997 there were only two other members of staff, now there are 11.
There have been many changes at IAM during Terry’s time there, not least of which would be the name change itself which must have given him and his team a few anxious moments.  Others might say the RPP (Receivable Protection Program launched in 2007) was a significant contribution. But when asked of what he was most proud, Terry didn’t hesitate. 

“There is no question, it’s the Young Professionals Group,” said Terry.  “It was not my idea but I immediately saw the value of what it could be, not just for the Association but for the industry and, more importantly, the people in the industry.  The young people would have a platform on which they felt comfortable operating with their peers.  I am very proud of the people who came up with the idea and ran with it.”  The IAM-YP (originally called YP-35) was launched in 2000.  “I remember the moment, where I was standing when Michael Gilbert approached me about it. I thought this is going to be big.  And it has been.”

Terry said they put one of the YPs on the Board right from the start, got them involved in activities and the AFW Scholarship Fund.  “Personally, I am very proud of what we have done to attract and retain good people in the industry. The IAM-YP has been a bridge to the other associations, LACMA, FIDI, ERC, etc.  It’s given them a platform to know each other, do business together and a sense of profession.  Now people enter the industry and they see people at their level making way in their careers.  Where else can you get the opportunity to live and travel all over the world and meet people and be exposed to so many different cultures?  That’s what intrigued me when I started.”

There have been, of course, over the last 21 years many rewarding moments for Terry, but one he remembers particularly was not relating to IAM, but FIDI.  It was in 1995 that he was invited to Brussels to attend the very first FIDI Advanced Management Seminar which, he believes, became the prototype for the LiM (Leaders in International Moving).  “It was a great group of people including Ray DaSilva, Ernst Jörg, Antonio Gil, Max Ajroldi and Al Mithal.  I really got to know people there and that’s where the idea of FAIM came from.  We called it FIDISO 2000 because we wanted to have an ISO Standard for international moving by the year 2000.  I think that week just brainstorming with people was the most rewarding time for me in the moving business.”

There have been tough times too.  Terry said it was very difficult for him when he first became president.  “I was only the Association’s third president and I didn’t have a background in military moving.  Many people were loyal to my predecessor who had been unceremoniously released from his position. I was fighting an uphill battle with the membership to be accepted as the guy who was going to lead the organisation forward. I prevailed with the backing of the Board, in particular Rick Curry who was the chairman at the time.”

He also remembers very clearly the terrorist attacks on 11 September, 2001.  It was only three weeks before the IAM meeting in Las Vegas and Terry seriously questioned whether it would be acceptable to ask people from all over the world to fly to the USA at that time. But in a notable act of leadership, Terry decided that the meeting would go ahead.  “I didn’t even ask my Board, I told my Board ‘we are going to have that meeting’,” he said.  “That year we had a record attendance.”

Industry threats
Terry sees the constant need for high quality staff as a potential threat to the industry in the future.  “We have got to keep the job exciting and attractive.  I don’t think it will ever be a sexy job but keeping good people is very important and a constant challenge.”

Another threat is the commoditisation of our industry by corporate accounts and RMCs that just see the service as a commodity purchase. “We need to make sure we don’t give away the store,” he said. “Unfortunately, the industry has always attracted business by price and we need to be more quality oriented. I just don’t understand why the laws of supply and demand don’t relate to this industry.  In the summer there’s such limited capacity but we are still pricing as if it’s winter time.  We are our own worst enemy.”  I suggested that maybe we need better sales people but Terry said that they only sell what managers tell them to.  “So maybe we need better managers too.”

Driving IAM
Terry runs IAM with the Board’s support.  The Board provides strategic direction, is a resource for the staff and approves the budgets that allow the organisation to do what it needs to do.  “IAM is a staff-driven organisation,” he said.  “We listen to the members and of course we listen to the Board and put things before them that we believe meets their strategic direction.  It's always been a mantra here that we are a non-profit organisation but we are run as a profit-making business.”  It wasn’t always the case. When Terry joined IAM in 1997 the organisation was pretty much bankrupt. “They didn’t have enough money to pay me when I took this job.  They had less than $60,000 in the bank.”

Saying thank you
Terry wanted to thank all the Boards he has served with over the years.  He said that without their backing it’s impossible to achieve anything as the president and CEO of an association.  “I am grateful to all the boards for putting me in the job, keeping me in the job and letting me do the job,” he said. 

In 1997 there were only two other members of staff, now there are 11.  “I couldn’t have grown the Association without the contributions of people like Chuck White and Brian Limperopulos,” he said.  “But there are also people here who are not household names such as Jamila Kenney who’s our ops manager who has been the rock on which this organisation has been built; and Julia O’Connor who’s our director of membership and database management, who keeps the engine running and gives us the information we need on which to make decisions. Without that the whole thing could fall apart in an instant.”  He also wanted to thank Bel Carrington who was his general manager.  “He’d been with the Association for many years when I got here, he was my right hand and left arm.”  

Taking over
Charles White will take over from Terry on 1 January, 2019.  “Chuck will not be the same as me and that’s a good thing,” said Terry. “He will bring new thoughts and innovative ideas to take the Association to another level. People will need to be patient with Charles as he makes that transition because he has been so focussed on the military and government side of the business.  Now he has to learn the commercial side as well.”  Terry made it clear five years ago that he planned to leave when he was 70.  “It’s been a very smooth transition so far and the day I walk out of the door nothing’s going to fall apart.”

The next chapter
So, what’s next? I suggested to Terry that he wasn’t the sort to retire to a sedentary life, and it seems I was right. It turns out Terry has become interested, for obvious reasons, in the hospitality business – trade shows and conferences – and wants to use his experience to help others.  He has enrolled in a course on executive and life coaching at his local university and plans to spend the next few years consulting and career coaching for all three industries.  “I am a committed life-long learner,” he said.  “I try to do a lot of different things and have not been in an academic mode for a long time.”

I wished him luck as he enters the next chapter of his working life, not that I suspect he’ll need it. Terry Head will be around for a little while yet, albeit wearing a slightly different hat. As he said, IAM will not fall apart when he leaves but, it will be different.  He has made his mark on the Association, and on the industry it serves, as all true leaders do.  He’ll be missed, and his legacy will be felt for many years by the generations that follow him as they try to emulate his considerable achievements.

Terry representing Victory Van International at the 1995 HHGFAA Annual Meeting in Hawaii (left); Terry addressing the 2014 IAM Conference in Orlando (right).

Middle: In 1997 there were only two other members of staff, now there are 11.  
Bottom: Terry representing Victory Van International at the 1995 HHGFAA Annual Meeting in Hawaii (left); Terry addressing the 2014 IAM Conference in Orlando (right).

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