Jim Walker, a 50-year flooring veteran whose name has become synonymous with installation, has left the International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI), where he served as CEO since its founding more than 22 years ago.
The CFI board has named Robert Varden its new CEO. Varden was promoted to executive director of CFI in 2012 and has more than 30 years of installation experience.
Walker, who was elected to the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) Hall of Fame in 2005 as the first installer to be recognized, said he is not retiring. “I am just not with CFI,” he told FCNews. “The board wanted to go in another direction. I am not giving up my membership to CFI. I will help them in any way I can. I am about helping installers. It is a hard fight but I am going to continue to do it.”
Scott Humphrey, CEO of WFCA, whose group has worked closely with CFI on installation training and workshops, called Walker “a living example of what is possible with great effort and noble intentions.”
Humphrey told FCNews, “Jim has worked tirelessly to address an issue that is, according to most data, the most pressing issue in the flooring industry today. Jim was told when he began that it could never work, but he didn’t embrace the effort because it was easy. He embraced it because it was the right thing to do. Just imagine what would be possible in this industry if we all approached our jobs with that mentality. I am thankful for the years of dedication that Jim has offered the industry and the legacy he has created.”
Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), which has partnered with CFI, said, “To me, Jim Walker represents the finest in trade education and equally important is his willingness to share experiences with others in our industry. Jim’s expertise is totally unwavering in support of professional installation for every style of floor covering. His contributions to me personally and NALFA are significant.”
Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), added, “Jim’s passion for installation training is well-known throughout the industry. We’re honored that he views CFI’s training for wood flooring as an entry level into NWFA’s training and look forward to continuing to grow that partnership under Robert’s leadership.”
During Walker’s tenure with the CFI, more than 50,000 installers have completed CFI’s educational training programs worldwide. CFI has chapters and schools in Australia, Japan, Chile, Brazil and South Africa.
In a statement released by the CFI, Walker said, “As CFI enters a new era, it is important to not only thank the members for their support, but also the numerous manufacturers who have always willingly donated products and tools for training, the dealers who proudly display a CFI installer’s credentials in their showr
ooms to promote pride and customer satisfaction, and the numerous friends who were there at the beginning for encouragement and support, many who are members still today.”
Varden said the organization is grateful for the “numerous heartfelt contributions” from Walker and his wife Jane, who served as CFI’s public relations specialist. “Their profound commitment to the advancement of the professional flooring installer and desire to improve the industry has been remarkable. We wish them well going forward.”
According to Varden, CFI is working with industry organizations and manufacturers to build a training school outside of Dallas. It is also actively recruiting new candidates to the industry. “We are looking at various ways to recruit people even if they have never worked with installation tools.” Potential recruiting pools include veterans groups and community colleges as CFI looks to unearth the next generation of talent to an aging trade.
“We did a survey and found that [more than] 60% of installers have been on the floor for over 15 years and some have 20 years or more,” he added. “It didn’t take long to do the math and say, ‘Wow, we have to do something.’ I believe in the last year and a half there is a sense of urgency unlike anything we have seen. I think the industry is at a point to support this installation initiative.”