Episode 11 • 12/15/2022

Aaron Hilger, CEO of SMACNA, on Creating Intentional Culture with Remote Staff

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Does a chapter executive make for a good CEO of the national association? How do you foster engagement among longtime members? And what do you do when your industry is just begging for people to join?

In this episode of Associations Thrive host Joanna Pineda interviews Aaron Hilger, CEO, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). Aaron introduces the SMACNA, shares his journey to becoming CEO, and then shares how SMACNA is increasing engagement among members and potential recruits. He talks about:

  • How chapter leaders are often overlooked as potential leaders of the national organization but they are well positioned because of their experience and knowledge
  • His funny first day as SMACNA CEO
  • How associations are increasingly not based from the city where their association is based
  • How to integrate new, remote staff into an increasingly remote organization
  • How the pandemic has forced all of us to think about environments we live in, including and especially the air quality in our buildings
  • How he’s trying to foster engagement among contractors who are dues-paying but not engaged
  • The Heavy Metal summer camps that are teaching high schools students what it’s like to work for a sheet metal contractor


About Aaron Hilger

Aaron Hilger is SMACNA’s Chief Executive Officer. He assumed the role in January, 2022 after a long career leading the Builders Exchange of Rochester as their President & CEO.  At Builders Exchange he managed 13 local and state wide trade associations, including the Construction Industry Association of Rochester, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) Rochester, the Roofers Industry Fund and New York State SMACNA.  Hilger has served as a trustee on building trades in upstate New York and left the role of Chair of the BAC Local 3 New York Funds to join SMACNA. He also served on the North Atlantic Carpenters Funds, Laborers Local 435 Funds, and Painters DC 4 Health Fund.

He is an active advocate for contractors and the building trades. With several building trades partners, he helped found Building A Better Rochester and Rochester Careers in Construction. Hilger holds a BA in Political Science and Psychology from the University of Rochester, an MA in Political Management from The George Washington University, and an MBA from the University at Buffalo. Hilger was honored in 2007 with a Rochester 40 under 40 and in 2021 he received The Presidents Hammer award from Flower City Habitat for Humanity in recognition of leadership as chair of the Construction Committee and commitment to building a better Rochester.

About Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) is an international trade association representing 3,500 signatory contracting firms with more than 100 chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil. A leader in promoting quality and excellence in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry, SMACNA has offices in Chantilly, Virginia, and in Washington, D.C.

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About Associations Thrive

Associations Thrive podcast is hosted by Joanna Pineda, CEO & Chief Troublemaker at Matrix Group International. Joanna’s personal mission and the mission of Matrix Group is to help associations and nonprofits increase membership, generate revenue and thrive in the digital space. 

We believe that every association has a unique mission and unique story that demonstrates how they’re serving their members, impacting their industry, and ultimately changing the world. Every guest is an association Chief Executive, Executive Director or President. We’re here to help amplify their stories so all associations can learn and thrive, together.

If you and your organization have a great story,  apply to be on Associations Thrive!