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BICSI through Jay Warmke’s eyes

Jay Warmke is only hours away from hopping a plane to an event in Puerto Rico when we conduct our phone interview last December. After returning, he will be gearing up to head to Florida for a confere...

January 1, 2001  

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Jay Warmke is only hours away from hopping a plane to an event in Puerto Rico when we conduct our phone interview last December. After returning, he will be gearing up to head to Florida for a conference. Soon after, he will be off to Japan to help open the doors to a new office.

Such is the life when you are executive director of BICSI, the Tampa, Florida-based not-for-profit telecommunications association. “About 40 per cent of my time is spent travelling,” says Warmke, “and more and more of that now is international.” That is because the one-time ‘little association that could’ is today great strides in its efforts to expand internationally — more like going global with a vengeance.

“One of the things we’ve been moving towards is a true internationalization, not only of BICSI, but of this entire industry,” he says. The association’s globalization efforts include offices in Europe, Australia, Brazil, and one to come in Japan. It also includes working towards the harmonization of standards worldwide, and creating a consumer awareness of the organization and the industry at large.

“You could be sitting there in Toronto saying well, what does this all mean for me?” says Warmke. “What it does mean is that everywhere in the globe we are starting to speak the same language when it comes to telecommunications.”

Delving into Telecom

The “telecom language” is now all second nature to Mr. Warmke, 42, but his beginnings were far from the cabling and telecom realm. A Journalism major at Ohio University, he admits: “I learned just enough about journalism to know I had no desire to be a journalist. It was one of those things where I guess I just didn’t want to write obituaries, and running businesses always just seemed more interesting.”

And that is what he set out to do. After leaving school he started working part-time towards his MBA at the University of South Florida, and full-time as a general manager of a comic book distribution company. But it was no child’s play — it was a company that boasted about US$20 million in sales a year.

So how, you might wonder, do you go from comics to telecommunications?

“It was somewhat happenstance,” says Warmke. In 1987 he heard about an assistant executive director’s position at BICSI and thought it sounded interesting. But before taking the plunge, he signed on to work at the association’s annual Winter Conference to see if he liked it (which he did). He then came on board as assistant executive director, and in 1992 took over as executive director.

He now presides over all aspects of BICSI — from personnel to budgets, and everything in between. And the association has come a long way since he joined 14 years ago. He has seen — and been largely responsible for — the growth of the organization from one with 600 members and an annual budget of US$60,000 in 1987 to one with over 20,000 members a US$15 million budget today.

In addition, BICSI’s course roster has grown from four back in 1987 to the current 450 courses per year around the globe. Conferences have increased from an annual event to one per month. And registration programs (such as the RCDD program), which were just gearing up in 1987, are now globally recognized.

Industry changes

But its not only changes at BICSI that Mr. Warmke has watched over the years. “The format and composition of the industry has changed dramatically,” he notes, having witnessed a variety of industry shifts, including deregulation, the emergence of voice and data technologies and the introduction of standards.

“I think that right now we are starting to live through one of those interesting times where we are seeing the next big wave of integration within the marketplace,” he adds. “Where just as the voice and data people once came together, now we are starting to see sound systems, security systems, building control systems and even the electricians — everyone mashing heads together as technology and business forces sort of force everybody together.”

And BICSI will be there to usher in those changes and provide the necessary “tools” to deal with the changes. The association will also work hard to spark awareness and get its message out there.

“We have sort of been an industry that has not really got much attention from the mainstream media or from mainstream consumers,” Mr. Warmke says, “and it’s been somewhat of an afterthought even within the building industry and it has caused some problems. So we see that and we are working that on several fronts.”

Efforts to grow awareness include bringing the concept of BICSI to the mainstream through distribution channels like bookstores. Other efforts include working with the architectural community on Division 17 and adding more educational programs.

It is a full slate, and one that keeps Mr. Warmke hopping. But in the time he actually does get to spend on home soil (in Dade City, north of Tampa, Florida), he devotes much of it to his family, to carpentry, and, recently, to a more unusual project: building a home in Ohio out of recycled materials.

“We always call it the trash house,” he jokes, noting that the “getaway” house will be built primarily built out of automobile tires. Maybe so, but this will be no ordinary summer cottage. The new structure will be wired to the hilt with Category 5e cable, state-of the art Internet access in every room and a hub in the utility area.

Well, what did you expect?


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