Montwieler retires after 28 years as head of ITA
Not long after Bill Montwieler was named executive director of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) in 1983, he faced a major challenge that sent him on a 10-year journey to reform international lift truck sales practices.
Leaders in the industry became aware that some Japanese lift truck manufacturers—nearly all of them members of ITA—were allegedly dumping product into the North American market. Members began negotiating a voluntary restraint program, but despite frank discussions, the measure initially failed at ITA, and it took years for a resolution to create better market conditions for all members.
“What started out to be a real threat to the existence of ITA turned out to be a real growth opportunity for everyone,” said Montwieler in an interview with Modern. “I think at that time, the value of the association was proven.”
That was the first of many milestones that ITA achieved during the last three decades under Montwieler’s leadership. Others include the enactment of safety training regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was followed by compliance officer training seminars taught by industry experts; the establishment of a worldwide statistics program; and the recent development of International Standard Organization forklift standards designed to be readily adopted by nearly every country.
Now, after 28 years at the helm, Montwieler is preparing to retire at the end of the year. He will be succeeded by Brian Feehan, vice president of the Propane Education and Research Council.
Montwieler credits his dedicated staff for some of his successes. One of Montwieler’s first staff moves as head of ITA was hiring Chris Buddenhagen to manage the association’s statistical database. She has been “the heart and soul of the statistics program” and because of her work, ITA now provides comprehensive and very specific data on every lift truck sold in the United States, Canada or Mexico, Montwieler said.
While statistics were always important to the association, “over the last 15 years, Chris Merther’s expertise in standards development has made ITA’s engineering program just as important” to members, Montwieler said. And, long-term member of the ITA Washington, D.C., staff is Debbie Stergar, financial manager and meeting planner. “Debbie is our backbone,” said Montwieler, “and handles all the association’s administrative, financial and meeting duties.”
When he was hired in 1983—establishing ITA as an independently run trade association for the first time—Montwieler said he thought he’d be on the job for five or seven years. “After 28 years, the intellectual challenge is still there, and the job is as exciting as ever,” he told Modern. “But it’s time to move on to other life challenges and to bring new leadership to ITA. With his experience as head of a propane association in Paris for five years, Brian will prove to be excellent in the role of industry spokesman.”
Retirement plans? Montwieler says he has many delayed repair and improvement projects to work on at the 100-year-old house he shares with his wife, Nancy. “I’ll be taking on all the tasks my father taught me—wallpapering, plastering, painting,” he said with a smile. An enthusiastic amateur chef and historian, he also plans to volunteer at an area soup kitchen, to pursue his study of World War I, and to spend more time as Grandpa Bill with his four grandchildren.