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A conversation with Quincalee.

Since the Water Pollution Control Federation became the Water Environment Federation, Executive Director Quincalee Brown, CAE, has enjoyed being referred to as "the water, people" instead of "the pollution people." Changing the name of the Alexandria, Virginia-based federation of 38,000 individuals in about 65 member associations was a response changed times. Brown, who chairs the ASAE Board of Directors through next August's annual meeting, clearly foresees more change. She speaks eloquently about environmental issues, globalism, and politics, plainly Iinking one with next as well as with simpler, back-at-the-office management concerns.

Coalition of extremes

"Water Quality 2000" offers a microcosmic view of the larger field on which Brown and the Water Environment Federation operate. "WEF started Water Quality 2000 in 1989 as a coalition of groups that would normally be very adversarial, so that we could work together to impact future legislation and regulation," Brown notes.

Over the first nine months, they laid ground rules. "We had industry at one end--chemical manufacturers, food processing, manufacturing, automobiles, and so on; all of them use enormous amounts of water in their businesses. And we had committed environmentalists on the other end. In between those were local, state, and federal agencies, academics, and technical and professional societies--the moderates.

"Our vision is |a society living in harmony with healthy natural systems.' If you're going to achieve that, you've got to have industry living in harmony with the environment, and environmentalists understanding that you need business and industry to have sustainable development, or society at all. It's that balance issue."

In three years, Brown confirms, "We've seen a lot happen. A dialogue among industry, government, academia, technical societies, and environmentalists that has never occurred before. We've seen them all sit down at a table, strike agreements, compromise, network, and build relationships. People who were formerly adversarial have become friends. That has been extraordinarily rewarding," Brown enthuses.

"Underneath all of the verbiage, evervbody really wants a clean environment. The fights are about how to get there, how fast to go, or issues like how clean is clean."

Environmental politics

Do those fights matter to Americans? Despite the power that could be wielded with the dollar and the vote, people are not talking about the environment vet in this presidential campaign, Brown points out. "The overriding concerns are the economy and the throw-the-incumbents-out attitude about congressional disregard for ethical values.

"We may be sacrificing the long term on the altar of the immediate," she suggests. "I cannot blame people for being more concerned about how they're going to find a job and feed their families than whether they're buying biodegradable, recyclable packaging. But we're doing devastating things to the environment, and it gets very scary to think what it's liable to be like if we don't make some dramatic changes."

Thanks in some part to groups like WEF, "the technical solutions are there. The critical issue for much of the world is money. It's interesting: The |green' issues--land use, rain forests, agriculture--are high U.S. priorities in what we call developing countries, while the harder but technologically solvable issues are not as visible. It's easier to try to keep people from cutting down certain parts of a rain forest than to actually spend money to build the treatment plants or water systems."

Root causes

Money means infrastructure. "A lot of people doing good environmental policy work will provide no money for any kind of infrastructure like water treatment plants," Brown observes. "But until the infrastructure is built, almost anything else you do is window dressing. However, the cost of that infrastructure is so many billions of dollars it's mind-boggling.

"If anybody has the money to do it, it's this country," she affirms. "But even here, for example, communities have their sewer and storm drainage systems run together. We are going to have to spend hundreds of millions to begin to meet the regulations on combined sewer overflows. And we have one of the most sophisticated waste treatment systems in the world outside of Japan."

A more fundamental problem Brown identifies is unrestrained population growth. "No one wants to tackle that, it's such a monumentally political issue. We're looking at doubling the earth's population by 2025, and then again 10-15 years after that. It's going to become a terrible burden on the earth," she points out.

"Where do you even start building enough facilities to take care of that? When you look at the population issue for the earth, it's scary."

And overwhelming. Brown notes that earlier this century we dealt successfully with social problems such as child labor. "Some problems now--abuse of women and children or drug addiction--are so difficult that people don't know where to start. When you talk about the environment and population, you have to challenge political and religious systems. So we tend to soften the tough issues. But population is the crux of the environmental issue," she asserts.

More than international

Water pays no attention to political boundaries, and with 20 of 65 member associations outside of North America, WEF is "on the brink of becoming truly international," Brown observes. The tumult of world change in the last few years indicates globalization is an emotionally charged prospect. WEF member feelings on expanding the international program are "really mixed," Brown admits. "The message we're hearing is that you can't ignore your folks at home--that's your membership base, and you can't do less for them. We've been able to get grants to fund many international projects, and that's fine with them."

Of America's apparent ambivalence, Brown comments, "It's difficult to accept global change. It would be nice to isolate ourselves and tell the rest of the world to go its own way. But the fact is this is going to be a one-world society."

With grant assistance from the Commerce Department and in partnership with ASAE, WEF made a leap this year into Poland and in the next two years goes into Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The Warsaw office will work like a matching service, Brown explains, introducing to Polish firms smaller American environmental businesses that otherwise couldn't afford to go abroad. WEF will help them "work through the morass of Polish laws and regulations, find lawyers, and find office space with people who speak English and telephones that work."

WEF has enlisted some high-powered help for the board and advisory committee, including "the newly appointed minister of the Polish environment, the equivalent of [Environmental Protection Agency Administrator] Bill Reilly," Brown remarks.

Impact on management

Working internationally means working on the road. Brown describes three lessons learned about now-you're-here, now-you're-gone management.

"You have to work very efficiently while you're home and get an enormous amount done. And then you work a lot on the road: Make a lot of phone calls; dictate as you go; send materials back in preaddressed Federal Express packages.

"The second critical thing is to have people who run the office while you're gone. I depend on my deputies to spell me. I share travel too--it's exhausting.

"And third is to have a whole lot of faith in the people you've hired to head your major areas. I believe in trying to hire the best possible people, give them some direction and goals, tell them where we're headed and what we need to do. Then get out of their way. Be available, but let them do their jobs."

Brown describes her management style as "very collaborative and communicative. In her book on male-female communication [You just Don't Understand], Deborah Tannen says women talk to build alliances and develop collegiality. It's absolutely true, and I'm as stereotypic as you can get in that regard.

"When Tannen talked about men communicating to establish hierarchy, and position, I must say something clicked in my head. Association management is still a male-dominated culture; when I walk into a virtually all-male meeting, I become more directive and less collegial in my communication.

"On the other hand, on a one-to-one basis, I can communicate in a very similar way, with the men on my staff as with the women. We aren't jockeying to establish hierarchy, because our positions are clear.

"It's pretty gender-neutral," Brown adds, "although I think men tend to reveal themselves more personally to women than they feel comfortable doing with other men. For example, one of my department heads will talk with me, since he knows I'm a stepmother, about issues he and his wife are facing with his daughter. I remember saying to my husband that I'd had this conversation, and he said, |Wow, he talked to you about that?' So, I think in some respects the fact that I'm a woman makes it easier to communicate with my employees about personal issues that may affect their work," she concludes.

The year ahead

There are three women on ASAE's Executive Committee this year. Brown says they kid their male colleagues when they return from the ladies room, "Well, we already settled that issue, guys." Kathryn Johnson, CAE, who chaired ASAE's board in 1990-1991, "does talk about the days when she was the only woman," Brown mentions. "I think that had to be kind of lonely.

"This profession is changing: There are more women coming into important positions and taking leadership roles, and that's not going to stop."

Brown is enthusiastic about the board's task of integrating ASAE's articulated vision with a strategic plan, and optimistic about the organization's future. She anticipates "dealing with some new realities" on the board this year. "There's a feisty new group coming along, and they're bright, articulate, and ambitious. There was always a perceived unwritten rule that if you're a new board member, you're not supposed to say anything for a year. A few people violated that this year, and some of the new people on the board aren't going to stand for that any longer. Truly our times have changed."

Kristina Staroba is senior editor of Association Management.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:executive director Quincalee Brown of the Water Pollution Control Federation
Author:Staroba, Kristin
Publication:Association Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Don't leave the room.
Next Article:The international difference.

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