Comment – Sun about to set on a glittering career

There is a very select group of individuals that transcend their chosen field of endeavour. Elvis Presley in the world of music. Muhammad Ali in the sport of boxing. Usain Bolt in athletics.

I would contend that there is a another name that could justifiably be added to that list: Howard Button in the field of demolition.

So when news broke that the National Federation of Demolition Contractors had begun the search to find his successor as Chief Executive Officer, it sent shockwaves through the entire demolition world.

The NFDC without Howard Button at the top table? It’s like a British coin without the Queen’s head upon it. Inevitable yet unthinkable.

No-one needs me to list Howard Button’s accomplishments and contributions to the demolition industry. Much of what we consider to be the norm within the sector today carries the Button hallmark. And besides, any such list would probably extend to Christmas and beyond.

Of course, when you stick around in a job for long enough, you are likely to draw detractors. And while Button is almost universally respected, recent years have seen a rise in the levels of criticism aimed in his general direction.

There are those that believe he is old-fashioned and set in his ways. But you could argue that he is merely a stickler for tradition.

It has been suggested that he deliberately avoids conflict. One might argue that this makes him the consummate diplomat, applying oil to troubled waters to placate the warring factions.

And there are those that believe he is driven by a desire to bask in the spotlight. But maybe he attends meetings, pursues initiatives and just generally puts himself about with greater energy and consistency than the various presidents and officers that came and went during his time as CEO.

There have been times when I personally believe he could have acted differently. But the deafening silence over the Didcot Disaster, the spate of scaffold collapses involving NFDC member companies, and the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into bid-rigging within the sector came not from cowardice but from an inability to comprehend the very notion of the wrongdoing of a member company. In a weird way, that is admirable and to his credit.

In another more media-friendly and public-facing industry, Howard Button would surely have seen his tireless work on behalf of the demolition sector rewarded with a national honour by now. Instead, he will probably have to make do with the respect and admiration of all those around the world that make up the Demolition Brotherhood.

There was a time when I considered Howard Button a friend. We worked closely together; we shared weekend and late-night phone calls as – together – we formulated initiatives like the original NFDC Demo Days and various sets of guidance notes.

But there is an unwritten credo that lies at the heart of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors: You are either with them or you are against them. When I parted company with the Federation, it became very clear that I was no longer with them.

The phone calls and pleasantries ceased immediately. At the time, I was angry, hurt and frustrated. From a business perspective, leaving the NFDC was among the best career moves of my life. The loss of a friendship, however, was a rather more difficult and bitter pill to swallow.

With the benefit of hindsight and a wisdom granted by the passage of time, I can now see that Howard was right. His commitment was – and still is – to the NFDC. That commitment was and remains single-minded and laser focussed. Not even friendships can be allowed to stand in the way.

And so at some point in the next year or so, Howard Button will pass the NFDC reins to his successor, I sincerely hope he takes the opportunity to ease back and to take it easy at long last. He has more than earned the rest.

The challenge now facing the Federation is finding someone capable of filling Howard Button’s shoes. It will not be easy. He has set the bar incredibly high.

And even if his replacement is as driven, tireless, committed and dedicated to his duties, they will find themselves working in the shadow of a giant of the industry. That shadow is long and it is dark; and very little can grow under those conditions.

That is why those that followed after Elvis Presley into the field of rock n roll are just pale imitations. That is why, decades after he belatedly hung up his gloves, Muhammad Ali is still known as The Greatest.

And that is why the National Federation of Demolition Contractors won’t be quite the same without Howard Button at the tiller.