2023 Hall of Fame Inductee: Stephen Getz

Words: Isa Stein

MASONRY Magazine: Tell me how you got started in the industry.

Stephen Getz: This is an interesting story for me. Mainly because I'm not a typical Mason Contractor Association member. My emphasis in this industry is preservation – masonry. You know the three R's: Repair, Renovate, Restore. I got involved back in the 70s. I was really young, and I worked for ITT Phillips Drill Division 3 construction anchors. We had a great distribution base of customers, and they started calling us saying, "Hey, things are happening; we need some help with some repair anchors for masonry," and I was like, "What are you talking about?" I couldn't even spell masonry. To say that we had a problem was kind of interesting. It wasn't denial; it was just unknown. Through my awareness with other engineers and other people, I got involved. In New York City, they had a local law – local law 10. That made emphasis in 1980, and it required a lot of buildings to be inspected. It was all because of a death from a crumbling veneer. So, they said let's take this a step further, and we are going to have buildings inspected. Well, they inspected them, but they had no repair solutions.

I was involved with Phillips Drill, which was Division 3 work, and like I said, we didn't even know what masonry was, let alone sell an anchor for it or sell a repair system. But we went at it, and that's how I got involved. It was going out in the field, seeing what the situation was, then coming back and trying to figure out how we could fix it. That was a challenge. As time went on, we developed some systems. I wrote some articles, and then one of our Hall of Fame members, Mario Catani, reached out to me and said, "Hey," in Mario style, "Did you write this article? Is that your product?" I said yes, and he said, "Well, I'm gonna sue you," and I said, "Well, I work for ITT. I have already pursued a patent for this thing, so come and get me." He said, "Okay, you know what? Maybe you'll want to sell product for me." So, we coordinated activities, and five years later, I'm working for him. Quite frankly, he was my mentor forever, a genius in masonry and so well-known. He tasked me with opportunities to get myself better at this type of work.

My passion is masonry. I couldn't build a wall if you asked me to, but man, when I see it, I love it. My wife and I would go to restaurants that are reused buildings where they're converting them into beautiful restaurants with exposed masonry on the inside. What it used to be was I'd get kicked in the shins for looking at whoever was coming in. Now I get kicked in the shins for looking at the masonry. I just love it. You just look at it, and you say, "How did they do that? How did they keep the core so straight?" and we're talking early 1900s. To me, I fall into this. I get captured by the subtleties of masonry, but it's so beautiful – it's timeless – and that's what makes masonry so cool. From that point on, my passion button kicked, and I knew I wanted to make that work. It wasn't just masonry; it was stonework and the other things associated with it. Back in the day, we didn't even have a building code for masonry. In the 70s, early 80s, we had BOCA, ICBO, SBC, NY Standard of Appeals, and so on and so on. It was difficult to understand the whole nature of masonry. They didn't teach it in college where I went. I learned all about concrete and concrete design – that was my major. So, falling into masonry was something that triggered my emotions that said, "Hey, let's move on; I think we can do something here."

M.M.: How did you get to where you are today?

S.G.: Well, that catapulted me into new creative solutions for anchoring ideas. I had patents I applied for, and I was into it. As a company, we realized there's a business sector here that we can build upon. Prior to this, I was in the nuclear anchoring industry. You know, 7902 Harrisburg, the 3-mile island. I was all over the country on nuclear power plants with Division 3 anchor bolts, so we saw that market in trouble, and here's this other one that just appears and it's like maybe we got something here. Let's see what happens. It was challenging because we didn't know anything about brick, block, masonry. We knew nothing in our business sector as a division three company, so that part of it, the romance of masonry, began then. You start hoarding people in the industry, and you start reading, and I couldn't read enough about what was going on. There are so many profound individuals, including Mario, who wrote many articles, and you just absorb it, and you say, "Okay, I get it." Acme Brick wrote some great stuff. I mean, there are some real leaders in our industry that created enough information to make masonry good, and that's really where I wanted to go. It was following that trail and developing products and services to help that industry.

M.M.: Not coming from the masonry industry sounds like a challenge, but you certainly made it work. What are some other challenges that you have faced in the industry?

S.G.: That was difficult. Here’s a company, division three, known for concrete anchoring bolts – wedge anchor, sleeve anchor. We actually created a product for masonry restoration quote a million-dollar piece of equipment to make a part for it. It was really unique, and we were really high on it. We said, “Okay, this is going to be a real solution to stabilizing existing veneers.” We did all of our technical backup, we did testing… forever, and we missed one important element. The part that goes into the backup wall was made of aluminum – that doesn’t work. Aluminum and masonry is a no-go. Quite frankly, we invested all this money and development with a zero. I mean, there wasn’t an engineer that was specified. So, we said, “Oh, I guess we should’ve done our homework.” And now, that kind of catapults you into the next phase, which is what you need to know about masonry before you go out there and just start throwing things at the wall.

In repair and restoration, back in the day, we did it with epoxies and threaded rod because that was the only solution that we had; there were no mechanical solutions. The company I worked for had an offshore unit in England, and Ian Adams – he was a crazy guy, he said, “You oughtta try this anchor.” They’ve been battling unstable veneers for a long time in England. “This may work in the U.S.”.

My response to him via Tel-X was, “We build them right in America; no need for your help.” That was my reply. Well, I was totally wrong. We took some of that idea and adapted it to be more US-oriented and moved forward. That was with Phillips Drill. It wasn’t until 1985 that I started with Durawall when Mario and I got together.

He said, “Hey, let’s make this work. You’ve got great ideas. You know what you’re talking about. We’re into masonry, so let’s go.” And so, it began. We started drumming it up, and we have had some great achievements, you know. We’ll talk further about those proudest moments, but working for Mario was a real pleasure. The man was super smart, very sociable, and he never made you feel like an idiot. And there are certain mentors that can either beat you up, and there are others that just encourage you, and that’s what he did. To me, that’s what got my passion and my blood going to make things happen.

M.M.: What are you proud of?

S.G.: I have to separate it into two categories – one of personal satisfaction and one of career satisfaction. I know they mix, and there's a gray area, but let's talk about personal. I started a family business in 2005, and I was 52 – who does that? You want to start a business; you gotta start when you're young and have all the energy. But you know what? I had an idea; I saw the industry's need for this type of service and product line, and I said, "My gosh, I'm gonna do it," and made it happen. Ultimately, my wife worked for me – not worked for me, told me what to do. She was the nuts and bolts behind the organization of the company as far as the financial parts were concerned, and I handled all the technical stuff. That's really where we grew. I already established a rapport with many architects, engineers, contractors, and people in the industry that had faith in me. Back in the day, I had to start all that; they didn't know me from Adam. I was just a young kid from New Jersey with a lot of whip and a lot of talk. You had to make believers out of all of them. And I did it through knowledge and doing things the right way. When we started the business, we said, "Let's just give it a whirl," and we had to pivot because Corporate America was changing. We saw that large organizations like Phillips Drill and other large fastening companies weren't into these specialty areas, but the market needed it. What else are you going to do? Tear it down? I don't want to tear it down. There's a solution, but we took that step of saying, "Let us hold your hand; give me your objectives and let us work, let me design, and let me be creative enough to come up with solutions that will solve your problem," and that's what carried us.

Every year that went by, we had one of those blasts of somebody saying, "Hey, I got a unique problem. Can you help me?" And boy, we loved it. Day-to-day business, we were there. I mean, we sold masonry accessories – ties and anchors – but it's those specialty items that are feel-goods. It's jumping out and doing something different than the regular people can't do, and that's what makes it different.

From the personal side, we developed this business, and my daughter came to work for us; that was a special request by me. She knew marketing; I couldn't even figure out how to turn on a computer. She knew website management, and the website people I had were outdated already by 2009, so I said you know what? Her degree was not complimentary to construction, but she was a great salesperson great at marketing, and I said, "I can use some help if you're interested. Give me six months. I know it's not what you went to college for, but six months, and see if you can get me started. Then you can tell me to kiss off or whatever." She stayed, and I'm really grateful for it. She helped turn this thing around for us with not only marketing and sales experience, but she got out in the field, and she learned. She's not an engineer, but she doesn't have to be; she just knows her stuff, and that's important. In our industry, that's who survives; it's knowing what you're talking about. It's like masons, you know. You can't teach someone to lay brick by a book; you gotta get out there and do it. She embraced the whole technology. She's learned it and is moving forward.

So, at the end of that chapter was, PROSOCO came to us and said, "We'd like you to be part of our family." And I thought, wow, really? How did this happen? I didn't have a succession plan. I figured, ultimately, Kelly would probably run the business, but it's gonna take time. My other daughter, who is very successful, is not really in the construction trade. It was just me and Julie, my wife, thinking, what are we going to do? So, we sat and chatted with PROSOCO and said, "Let's make a deal." And, I'll tell you what, it worked great for both of us. From the CTP perspective, it provided this avenue of continued market appreciation for products servicing masonry repair, and for PROSOCO, it gave them a whole new element to what they've already done. I mean, they're so successful with masonry cleaners, concrete floorings, and flashings, so this is a natural fit. I was really excited; I thought this couldn't happen. To have this come out of the blue and have this happen, my hat goes off to them, and we really appreciated that. So that culminates our personal proudest moment.

From a career point of view, I worked on projects that were just amazing. Empire State Building – who works on the Empire State Building? I did. I worked on it for over two years and created new anchoring systems to keep the limestone from falling off. I learned more about that style of construction and repair than I could ever understand before. From there, I went to a company. There was an engineer out of New York who did a building in Nashville, the American General Building. WASCO was the mason contractor. This was a 32-story travertine building, and we had to come up with repair scenarios to make that work, and it saved the owners millions of dollars. It goes on. I mean the Water Tower Place in Chicago, Thornton Tomasetti. They challenged us at CPT. They invited three players, and they presented the dilemma, their solution or what they wanted, and said now you three come back and tell us what you want to do. Two of the three didn't get it. We were successful; we had great representation with distributors in Chicago, and we had a great Chicago contractor that handled it. And it's working. It's perfect. You look at things like that, and that was just masonry repair on stone facades. We pivoted. I really enjoyed stone anchoring and did engineered stone jobs where owners or architects would come to us with their ideas, and we would have to create an engineering solution. So, I collaborated with an outside firm to make this a total package, and we produced and supplied product to construct engineered stone anchors for various buildings – in Texas, Milwaukee… You name the area, we did it. Those things just excite me; it's like everyone is unique, so you gotta understand what the problems are, then you go at it and try to fulfill the architect's requirements and the functional demands the engineers look for. And we were able to do that, and that was fun. So, from a career point of view, it was those product successes that I'll never forget – I mean, they were just tremendous. And from the personal point of view, it was starting a business and selling it. You know all my other career paths; I had a pivot at times, but they were great.

M.M.: What would you tell your younger self?

S.G.: I had a boss back in my Phillips Drill days who said, “Knowledge is power.” I took that to heart. The more you know, the better you’re going to be at it. So, how do you get to that level? You’re not born with it; you learn it. There are sportspeople who have natural abilities; I never had that. But I feel your brain is really where it’s at in this particular industry. I wanted to learn as much as I can and do as much as I can to help the industry, so where does it begin? You know, you start writing articles, you research things. The road to success is paved with failure. You take failure as a device to make you smarter as to how to avoid it. I had a lot of failures. I mean, there were some ideas that were just completely miserable, like aluminum. As I matured, I realized that fundamentally, we can solve these problems if we think it through. I’ve got experience; I understand the practical nature of what we’re trying to do, getting hands-on and making certain that the solutions are formidable enough that it solves the engineer’s problem and a contractor can do it. Otherwise, you’re trying to build a watch on the side of a building, and that’s not going to work. You gotta be practical in all of this.

M.M.: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry now?

S.G.: I think masonry is always a passion of anybody's, whether it's an architect or a homeowner. They love masonry, but they can't afford it. So, I think that portion of it will always be an issue no matter who it is. I think there are competitive products out there that recognize, like curtain wall designers that are trying to come up with different clever ideas, but it's glass… C'mon, it's not brick. It doesn't have the warmth, and there's no reflection off that building in my office with brick and stone. It's just there, and it's there forever. Finding capable employees, I hear it everywhere I go. It's the lack of talent or lack of kids and youth that want to learn how to do this. They're all caught up with joysticks and pushing buttons. Unfortunately, it's a trade that you look at the age of these guys, and I feel for them. It's not something you just learn by watching a YouTube commercial or a YouTube show. You gotta get out there and do it, and if they're interested, then we ought to embrace it. I know the industry is trying, but trying to convince them? You know you can lead a horse to water, but you can't convince him he's thirsty. It's a challenge for the industry.

M.M.: What advice would you give to younger people entering the industry who aren’t necessarily starting on the wall?

S.G.: Learn. When I went through college, we didn’t have any courses on masonry. We had no idea, but there were no standards then. As I mentioned, it was all regional with those codes. Now, we have a national code, which is tremendous. I think they are offering classes now in masonry design and engineering, which is great. It’ll help promote that side of the business. It still doesn’t get masons out on the wall, but it satisfies the fundamental demand of masonry being used. So, I would encourage them to learn all they can and take construction technology courses. There was a part of me at one time that I was going to teach at Purdue, an extension, Construction Technology for Masonry. That ship passed, and I ran out of time. When you start your own business, you just can’t do that. But it’s courses like that that would help a lot of kids to understand what it’s all about. It’s not all a back-breaking, knuckle-bleeding type of environment. If they can understand the artisan nature of masonry, I think there’s a group of people out there that can embrace that, like myself, and you develop a passion for it… I mean, I still don’t know how they get such a straight line when they build a wall; I couldn’t do it myself, but man, I love it. I see it go up, it’s done, and it’s there. It’ll be there next week, next year, the next decade… And that’s what it’s all about – preserving the future of building. You don’t have to have glaziers come out and recaulk your glass every couple of years. It’s a great occupation, don’t get me wrong, but c’mon… it’s brick, it’s beautiful, and it’s going to last the duration.

My advice to the youth now, or anybody in the industry, is to get involved. Don’t sit back and wait for somebody else to do it. You gotta get involved with these committees – ACI, The Masonry Society. There is so much talent, mentally and fundamentally, that goes to these meetings. I still learn, and I’ve been going to them for years. I’m learning from the same guys that are my age. I would love to see that room filled with Gen Xers or new millennia-type kids that can take notes and say, “Hey, maybe I can figure out what’s going on here,” because that’s our future. We’re all gonna die; it’s gonna happen, so how do we pass this knowledge on. There are so many powerful people in this industry that know so much about masonry and stone. You can’t let that go by. You’ve gotta just jump in it and make yourself a part of it.

I joined ACI, ASI, ASTM, CSI, TMS… it’s just an alphabet of associations I wanted to be part of because every one of them brought something to the party that I didn’t know before, and it taught me. Once I got back to my office, I would be like I got to figure out what this guy was talking about. And I hear about test standards where I’m like, where did that come from? But they’re involved. So, you take that information, you learn by it, and you develop and create new ideas and solutions that will not only functionally work but fulfill these new and upcoming criteria. Look at masonry now – we’re talking 6-inch cavity walls. Did you ever think that would happen? I mean, back in the 80s, it was 2-inch cavities, and thinking, how do we handle it? Now we’re talking six with insulation and flashing. There are so many elements if done correctly, it’s going to be such a boom to our industry; it’ll be great. That’s exciting, and I get excited thinking about it. But the code is allowing a lot of this. You gotta get the right blend of academia – you gotta bounce them down every once in a while, because they think they know everything – and then you got architects and engineers, and then you got the practitioners. You got the people who sell products and actually have to do it. When you make a melting pot and accumulate all that knowledge, what spits out is really a great product. That’s where the new codes are going. It’s great, and it’s on a 6-year renewal process, which is perfect for the industry. It used to be three.

In 1986, the first code came out. I started with Durawall in 1985, so I finally had a code that collaborated everything about the three building codes in one. Hallelujah. Let’s move on. And it’s changed; every three years, we updated it, and we did things to it. Now, there’s an existing masonry committee that just started, and it’s in its infancy of getting started within the code, which is going to be great. Hopefully, I’ll get to see more of its results as we mature, but who knows? Committee work takes a long time, especially with consensus voting, but the good news is that we’re recognizing how to make this work and what it takes to make masonry work, and that’s the bottom line. What do we have to do as a society and as our trade to make it better for everybody? I’d love to see every building built out of brick or built out of stone. Hopefully, that’ll be the case.

M.M.: What is your legacy?

S.G.: I’d like to believe that the efforts and contributions that I have made will carry on. There’s a solution for everything; you just have to get into it. And if you have a passion for it, those results will come.

M.M.: What does it mean to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

S.G.: My family surprised me with this back in June, and to be honest with you, it was a tearful moment; it still is. Being recognized by my peers for this type of achievement: A) I didn’t even think it was possible, and B) To have it done is pretty remarkable.

M.M.: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

S.G: Starting my own business was a pivotal moment. My wife and I’s development – we’ve been married fifty years, and has it been easy? No. I traveled all the time, but I felt I had to; I mean, things aren’t the same in California as they are in New York, in Texas, in Chicago… So, the reliance on family togetherness was really difficult because the burden of that relationship now is placed on a spouse. While I’m gone, she’s running them to band practice, she’s running them to other sporting events while I’m out having dinner with a customer in LA, you know? Those are tough situations, but she’s the most understanding person in the world, and I love her to death. When I’d go out to New York – I was raised in New York, raised in New Jersey – so that was probably part of my ego, being raised out East, and I’ve got this attitude so whenever I travel out East, she’d have to lock me up in a closet for three days just to come down to earth, but in the meantime, I enjoyed it. I liked going out and traveling with customers. She never complained about it, and my kids helped her with her business; they were great in school, and they both went to Purdue, who I’m very proud of. The time we had together, I felt I wanted monopolize their time – I mean, as little of it as I could give them – and we did a lot of things together, I mean, we still do. We enjoy being together. Maybe they’ll start picking up the tab every once in a while; that’d be great! In the meantime, we’re enjoying retired life, knowing that I have a younger daughter who is taking on the role of being the champion in masonry repair, working for a great company, PROSOCO, and her knowledge of the industry is great. There isn’t anybody that can graduate college with that type of knowledge, and she’s great with her own personality – she fits well with the industry. My other daughter is super smart in a whole other field, is successful, and is doing very well. So, I couldn’t be more proud of my two girls. It’s just the way it worked out. My wife had another business besides the one we started, and it was a pet boarding and grooming facility. She had it for 30 years, so she was very successful in her own way, and then when I came to her and said, “I want to start my own business,” she didn’t say, “What for?” or “Really?” She said, “Okay, when do you want to go?” And how do you stop that? It’s pretty amazing. So, from the family perspective, I can’t ask for anything better; it is great. 

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