National Technical Manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products, Flooring Division
In the One-to-One column, NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga interviews industry leaders about pertinent topics.
Heather Ruhl is on a fast track to success in the tile industry. Last May, at the young age of 30, Heather was promoted to National Technical Manager of the Flooring Division of H.B. Fuller Construction Products. She has been with H.B. Fuller since 2016, serving as training manager for the division while focusing on contractor training and social media content development.
With a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Business Administration, Heather is poised for a successful career in our industry. When you combine a dynamic personality with intelligence and work ethic, you have a recipe for success! That is what you get with Heather Ruhl. She will be recognized as a Coverings Rock Star in April at the show in Orlando.
As we celebrate Women in Tile this month, I had the pleasure of spending some time with her to discuss her new role and the challenges and opportunities she sees both now and in the future.
What are some highlights of what you do as National Technical Manager at H.B. Fuller (TEC)?
For the past six plus years with TEC, I have spent a large part of my time becoming familiar with tile and stone installation and learning all our product lines. I was heavily involved in offering training of our products for contractors and installers in many parts of the U.S. After serving as Technical Manager for the Midwest for the past two years, I was offered the position of National Technical Manager.
Our technical team is split up in two areas: with our field technical representatives in one section and our internal technical support hotline being the other. I manage these two teams.
What do you find most valuable about the training and education you offer to your customers?
I love being involved in training people. Watching people learn and discover different ways of doing things and then sharing with each other these experiences is one of my favorite aspects of this position. When you get tile contractors together in training situations, you are rewarded with the experience of learning together.
For our readers who may not be familiar with the breadth and scope of your company, tell us a little about H.B. Fuller.
We like to say we are the largest adhesive company you’ve never heard of. If you have windows in your home, headlights on your car, or have ever opened a box of Cheerios, or had a Coors Light, you have used our product. We are in everything from packaging and converting to label making, etc. Our division is in construction, and we focus on flooring products. TEC, Chapco and Parabond are brands in our division that we manufacture.
What products are hot right now in your flooring division program?
In our tile and stone division, the TEC Ultimate Six Plus Mortar has been very well received. It was originally developed for gauged porcelain tile panels, and we did a lot of training in this category with the product. We have also seen significant growth in the use of our self-leveling products for substrate preparation. Originally, we saw the resilient industry welcome these products, but with larger format tiles becoming more popular, the tile installers are now a big part of the self-leveling market for us as well.
You are only 30 years old. What do you think qualified you for this national position?
I realized when I was pursuing my degree that I don’t really enjoy production engineering. I enjoy working with people in all aspects of what I do, from managing a dedicated team of professionals to working with our distributor and installer customers. In my role as a technical manager, we were the bridge between research and development and the field. I have been able to combine my chemistry background to know how our products are developed, with my experience in the field working with our clients. I realize I am young, so I continue to try to develop my skills, and this is one of the reasons why I pursued a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.
What steps have you taken to learn installation methods and best practices to prepare you for this position?
One of the first things I did was attend the week-long class at the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (Understanding and Installing Ceramic Tile). I have taken all the courses I can on tile and stone installation. I think you must understand the challenges that people are faced with in the field, and the only way to do this is to spend time with them, solicit their input, share your knowledge of the chemistry behind your products, and help them to understand how to use this to meet industry standards.
I have been blessed to travel extensively with Chris Kain (long time H.B. Fuller employee) for the past several years. Chris has a lot of field experience and spending time with him these past several years has helped me to understand installation, and to recognize the differences in regional construction and the installation methods installers and contractors use in different geographic areas.
How does H.B. Fuller (TEC) approach the importance of training with your product lines?
We support groups like NTCA and CTEF for sure. We like to work with our distributor clients who have the flexibility of location and the customer base along with carrying our products. I am sure you realize that to train the most people as possible, you must make it easier for them to attend your programs and this means traveling to them instead of making them come to you. Hands-on training is so important in our industry. I can tell you that a floor needs to be flat but until you attend substrate preparation training and work with the products and practice with them, it is not very meaningful.
With the training we offer with gauged porcelain tile panels, one thing I noticed is that not everyone who goes through these programs is going to embrace installing these panels. I think that is one thing that people miss when you discuss the value of training. Sometimes understanding what your limitations are or what risks you may or may not want to take is a real value of the training experience.
One final benefit of our training programs is that they establish a relationship with our customers so that they feel comfortable calling your technical department for support and reaching out to our technical representatives when the need arises.
What advice would you give to young leaders and especially to women interested in following your career path in our industry?
I often hear from people that they think I am in marketing or sales. When they find out my technical background, I get a lot of different responses. I think that I have found that within the first 10 minutes of meeting anyone, if you can demonstrate competence, they really don’t worry about anything else. If you know your products and you know what you are doing, they will realize this and accept you. If you are competent, it shows in everything you do. Once you establish credibility, I think tile installers are one of the most fun groups to be around. So, my advice is to become credible and be honest about your qualifications but also your limitations.
Bart Bettiga is the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association and Publisher of TileLetter. Bettiga is a member of the Board of Governors of Coverings, one the largest tradeshows in North America. He has over 30 years of experience in the tile and stone industry and has served as the NTCA Executive Director since 2002. He is a well known speaker and author on ceramic tile and natural stone distribution and installation. He oversees the financial operations of the NTCA, TileLetter and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.