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Episode 32: How the UAA is Advancing the UVM Industry w/ Brandon Hughson

Episode 32: How the Utility Arborist Association is Advancing the Veg Management Industry w/ Brandon Hughson

Welcome to the 32nd Episode of Trees & Lines: Fresh Perspectives on Utility Vegetation Management​

Trees and Lines Podcast – Episode 32

Join Iapetus Infrastructure Services (IIS) COO Tejpal Singh and Principal Advisor Dr. Phil Charlton for a conversation with Brandon Hughson, President of the Utility Arborist Association.

This episode is part of a special series of episodes recorded from the floor of the 2023 Trees & Utilities conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

Episode 32 Transcript

Philip Charlton: Tuesday afternoon, still at the Trees and Utilities conference on the exhibit hall floor. We have the new UAA president, Brandon Hughson.

Brandon Hughson: Thank you, Phil.

Philip Charlton: Yeah, welcome.

Tej Singh: Congratulations.

Brandon Hughson: Yeah, thank you.

Philip Charlton: Brandon, we’re going to ask you to first introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about you and what you’re doing these days.

Brandon Hughson: Yes, Brandon Hughson, as Phil mentioned, current president of the Utility Arborist Association. I also work for a company called Protec Terra. We are a vegetation management company that specializes in low-volume herbicide applications, still based out of Minnesota, although our company is based out of Lexington, Kentucky. I’m really looking forward to moving forward with that.

Philip Charlton: Yeah. Good. President of UAA, really, it’s a four-year commitment, right? This is year three, if I recall.

Brandon Hughson: It is, yeah. It’s actually going into year six as I was on the board prior to that for three years. Then for the term of the president, yes, it is four years starting with vice president, president-elect, president, and then past president.

Philip Charlton: As former executive director, I know how important the president is.

Brandon Hughson: Yes, sir.

Philip Charlton: What motivated you to throw your hat in the ring? I mean, it takes time.

Brandon Hughson: It does. A lot of it has to do with some of my past mentors that have come before me. A couple of them are no longer here with us, that being Nelsen Money and Will Nutter. Both of them took me under their wing and showed me what the UVM industry is. Nelsen really got me engaged inside of UAA, and that’s why I’m here today.

Philip Charlton: But you’re not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, so they didn’t teach you everything.

Brandon Hughson: I am not wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Yeah, I know. I know.

Tej Singh: Being newer to the industry, I find that the UAA and this forum is an extremely welcoming environment, and it’s growing its footprint, its impact. You guys did a great job. I got a chance to hear you speak earlier today, and you did fantastic. I’m just so impressed with just how this group and how your organization functions and how it communicates with its constituents. It’s fantastic.

Brandon Hughson: At UAA, we’re really looking to bring all of that education to all of our members and all of our, hopefully, new members that are joining us as they may be first time at this conference. We’re over a thousand people this year at Trees and Utilities. It’s just unreal. Phil, how many did we have in Kansas City?

Philip Charlton: I remember it hoping we could get to 300. I think we had 350.

Brandon Hughson: Here we are at a thousand people. We have over 100 exhibitors here at the conference this year. I think everyone just continues to raise their game as the years go on. There are new emerging technologies that are coming out. There’s a lot of new faces as I look around the trade show floor here that I personally haven’t seen throughout the years, and I’m sure Phil has seen a lot of new faces.

Philip Charlton: The number of companies that weren’t here three years ago is amazing to me.

Brandon Hughson: It is.

Tej Singh: Brandon, what’s on the docket for you in your reign in time? I know you’re in good company because obviously, Phil, and I’ve gotten a chance to meet a lot of the former presidents. It’s a cool little fraternity.

Brandon Hughson: Tej, my main focus is really around the engagement of the UAA. How do we start to engage a lot of the newer incoming folks into it? If you have an opportunity to go to the UAA website, there’s series of videos that we just produced last year. All of those videos are really trying to encourage folks and entice folks and engage folks inside of our space here in the Utility Arborists Association. When Dennis and I were looking at those, we looked at how do we start to engage the younger generation into our industry? Social media is big. Videos, capturing those little soundbites all the time are really those attention grabbers for the younger folks, I think.

That’s really where I’m focusing on is how do we continue to bring the UAA out to the masses? But on the flip side of that, what do the masses want from the UAA as well? Because I think that’s a two-way street where we can provide the stuff, but we also need to know what folks are wanting as well.

Philip Charlton: As we’ve interviewed people here in the last two days, people have fascinating backgrounds, all kinds of jobs that they’re doing. The one thing we all have in common is we never heard of this industry. If we can get them past that barrier, they’ll love veg management.

Brandon Hughson: That’s absolutely correct, Phil. I know you’ll remember this, if you go back some years again to Kansas City, Scott Packard from Wright Tree Service did a presentation that was like the Jaywalking on The Tonight Show where he went out and interviewed people that says, do you know what utility vegetation management is? I don’t think there was one person that knew what utility vegetation management was in all those interviews. You’re absolutely right.

Tej Singh: You work for a low-volume herbicide company. You’re based out of Minnesota. The company is obviously based in Lexington, Kentucky. Maybe let’s just take a step back and learn a little bit about your journey through this industry that put you in this position where you are now. What were some of the stops along the way?

Brandon Hughson: My first and only other stop was with a company called Rainbow Tree Company based out of the Minneapolis area. From the utility space, what we primarily targeted was tree growth regulators or TGRs. That’s really where I got introduced into the utility space, the utility veg management space, and that’s really where I’ve been able to help promote that inside of our industry and bring it up as another tool in the toolbox so that utility companies can see the value in it, can see what the return on the investment is, and then they’re able to utilize that inside of their UVM programs, IVM programs.

I was there for about 14 years and made the decision in January to take a little break. I have known Brent who I work with now for a good ten-plus years. After the dust settled, it was just the right opportunity at the right time, so stars aligned there, Tej.

Tej Singh: Okay, that’s awesome.

Brandon Hughson: The other aspect of it is Phil has been a person that’s always saying, hey, we’re looking for this or we’re looking for that and trying to get new people on board inside of the UAA. I happen to be one of those individuals that Phil brought along.

Tej Singh: Oh, that’s great.

Philip Charlton: It’s great. It’s amazing, the people that give back to the industry. We had a meeting the other day where some of the past leadership was there, and it had to go back 25 years. These are just people that give back. They’re busy just like everyone else, but they are willing to give back to make the industry better.

Tej Singh: Why do you think that is? Because again, being new, but I’ve also observed the same thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an industry where even competitors can put their guard down, and they work together. Everyone’s very collaborative. It’s a really nice community. Why do you think that is? I love it, I just don’t know why.

Brandon Hughson: I think one of the main reasons is that we all have a common goal, and that’s to help our customers or the utility company provide safe, reliable power. We have storms that happen. We have all of these natural disasters that happen, and everybody has to come together to work together in those times in order to restore the power and get everything back or moving in the right direction. We’re moving in the direction of living again versus saying, well, I don’t have any power for the last week. What am I going to do? I think that’s one of the big aspects of it.

I also think that a lot of the folks that have come through the UAA are represented at a lot of these organizations. The UAA is able to, I think, bring a cohesive group of people together. That really brings that kind of family type of atmosphere together.

Tej Singh: That makes sense. That actually makes a lot of sense.

Philip Charlton: It was interesting even on stage today when they gave out the various awards, be it somebody from Townsend giving the award, a competitor’s employee or whatever.

Tej Singh: I thought that was really cool.

Brandon Hughson: At the end of the day, we take our logos off of our shirts. We’re all people.

Tej Singh: I like that. That’s great. Well, you’re achieving it because I can see it. It’s very clear. I’ve had a great experience. I’ve been very welcomed into many conversations and dialog. I’m very impressed. It’s fantastic. You guys are doing a great job.

Brandon Hughson: Thank you.

Philip Charlton: $40 a year to be a member of a professional association. It’s absolutely amazing.

Brandon Hughson: It is. One of the things that we are looking at is what does the member get? What is the member getting? What is the end game, or the $40, what’s that going to? It’s going to a lot of things. It’s going to pay for the staff. It’s going to put things like this on. It’s going to continue with our webinar series. I mean, it’s all for everything there is.

Tej Singh: You have another year commitment in your role. When you finish your commitment, are there still other ways that you can participate in the leadership, or from that perspective, is there like a former president’s mentorship club? What are some of the things that will allow you to stay connected to the UAA in leadership-type roles?

Brandon Hughson: One of the ways is it’s just continuing through the committees. I mean, we have so many committees inside of the UAA. That’s a great opportunity to continue that volunteerism or that support of the organization. The other aspect is that there is a group of us that met on Tuesday morning to have coffee, and it was all a bunch of past presidents and some past officers. One of the things that I’m looking at doing is how do we continue to engage all of those folks?

I threw out a quarterly teams meeting where it’s not a mandatory thing whatsoever. It’s voluntary that people can get together and just share updates of what’s going on in the industry, what’s happening in other parts of vegetation management, and just to get that collective group back together. At the end of the day, people have gone down the road before, and I don’t necessarily want to make the same mistake that they made. I’m going to look to my mentors and folks that have come before me.

Tej Singh: Great way of thinking about.

Philip Charlton: There were 14 people in that room, and I’ll bet 600 years of experience, in that neighborhood. I don’t know the number but–

Brandon Hughson: Yeah, a lot of experience there, Phil.

Philip Charlton: It was just amazing. We would want to take advantage of them as long as they’re willing to keep offering.

Brandon Hughson: Yeah, most definitely.

Tej Singh: With the exhibitors and some of the things that you’ve seen this year, is there anything that stood out to you on the floor that caught your eye or anybody did anything that really blew you away?

Brandon Hughson: Wright Tree Service’s booth is an impressive thing. What I heard was is that on Monday, they took about 11 hours and weren’t finished with putting it together. That’s probably the most elaborate tradeshow booth I’ve seen. But it draws people in.

Tej Singh: It definitely does.

Philip Charlton: It’s a big year for them.

Brandon Hughson: It is, yes. It’s their 90th, I believe. We got a couple of big things. We got 95th from Asplundh. We got 90 at Wright. I believe Davey is up there in the 90s as well, 90 or 95. We’ve got a lot of history in this room.

Tej Singh: There is a lot of history. That’s amazing. I mean, anybody that can be around for 90-plus years has done something right. That’s fantastic.

Philip Charlton: We’re looking across the aisle at a booth, Saluting Branches, and I know you used to be on the Board.

Brandon Hughson: I was.

Philip Charlton: Can you tell us about Saluting Branches and why you support it?

Brandon Hughson: I definitely can. Saluting Branches was born out of the idea actually from Rainbow Tree Company. We wanted to give back and do a civic project that was giving back to folks in our communities. When we when we started looking at a bunch of ideas, we had about 25 different ways that we saw that we could give back. Someone came forth with the idea of working in these veterans cemeteries.

In Minnesota, through the ISA, we had the Day of Service at the Fort Snelling Cemetery. We decided to bring this across where all of our employees are, and we’re going to start doing some work. We realized quickly that we can’t do this on our own.

We took it from the birth of Rainbow of Saluting Branches and brought it to the masses of the industry. Now, that Board is a Board that is ran by many folks across the country that are associated in residential tree care, commercial tree care, utility tree care. It’s just a great way that we’re able to give back to all of those that served and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Tej Singh: That is absolutely brilliant.

Brandon Hughson: This year, I believe, is the ninth year of Saluting Branches, and I think they’re up over 3500 people or something from a registration standpoint. That’s one day of service. If you put that all together, Phil and Tej, it’s over $2 million worth of service that’s done in one day and given back to our veterans. It’s just amazing.

Philip Charlton: That is amazing. We appreciate your bringing us up to speed on that.

Brandon Hughson: Go check it out. If you’ve never heard of it, go to salutingbranches.org, and you can find out more about the Day of Service.

Tej Singh: Congratulations to you and the entire UAA team for putting on a world-class event, and congratulations on your president role and all the great things that you’re doing. Thank you for making time, my friend.

Brandon Hughson: Yeah, appreciate both of you.

Philip Charlton: Yeah, Brandon, we appreciate it.

Brandon Hughson: Thank you. It was a lot of fun.

Tej Singh: Thanks, Brandon

Brandon Hughson: Yeah, thank you.

Tej Singh: That’s it for this episode of Trees and Lines brought to you by Iapetus Holdings. If you like the show, please give us a five-star rating on Apple or Spotify. If you have any questions or comments on any of our episodes or ideas for topics or guests, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us at treesandlines@iapetusllc.com. We’ll chat with you soon.

 

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