Get to Know Alexander Brand, VSI’s New Workforce Development Operations Manager. He's Working to Forge New Paths for the Vinyl Siding Industry.
Under the leadership of Coach Rob Balfanz, the Vinyl Siding Institute’s (VSI) Workforce Development program has made tremendous strides in adding over 5,000 new VSI-certified installers since he became Director of Workforce Development in 2019. Knowing that there is so much more traction to gain on this front, VSI regrets that they can’t clone Rob, but they can do the next best thing - hire one of his talented protégés — global citizen Alexander Brand.
Alex was born in London and experienced an international childhood, being educated in Europe and Asia before moving with his family to Chicago at 15. It was at a Chinese village in the New Territories of Hong Kong where the young Alex became fascinated with the local wildlife that often infiltrated the family’s jungle home. So much so he is now active in the Chicago Herpetological Society (an organization dedicated to the conservation of reptiles and amphibians). As well as benefiting from gaining a global perspective on all aspects of life, Alex was fortunate to learn major life lessons from the elders in the village and his grandparents residing on two different continents.
Alex attributes his perspicuous judgement and quick ability to troubleshoot to familial narratives. His paternal grandparents shared many stories, from his grandad enlisting in the Royal Navy and eventually becoming a firefighter to his Nana being evacuated to the countryside on her 12th birthday when London became a “blitzkrieg” target.
Alex’s maternal grandparents also influenced him during multiple family visits to the U.S. “Gramps was raised on a farm in Arkansas and brought his ‘do-it-yourself’ skills to Chicago. He used to say, ‘If it’s broke, fix it. Don’t buy a new one!’ We once built a go-kart out of a lawnmower and two pieces of plywood. We also built a small forge for metalworking. All of this ignited my passion for fixing things and blacksmithing. I’m currently a member of the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America (ABANA).”
Alex continued to develop his critical thinking and action-oriented skills by earning an Associate’s Degree in Automotive Technology while qualifying as a full-service ASE-certified technician. He then attended Ferris State University in Michigan, where he completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management with a focus on automotive.
He was about to accept a lucrative position in Michigan when he learned of his grandfather’s failing health. Instead, he pursued an internship at a Chicago-based regional window company. “That’s when I first met Rob, who has been a pivotal mentor to me ever since, both personally and professionally,” Alex noted. After experiencing every aspect of the industry, including vinyl siding, Alex was offered a full-time position and worked up to Operations Manager.
“Vinyl siding was an innovative facet that led me in an exciting new direction. I learned how to hang vinyl siding and install windows by working with highly specialized crews and became VSI-certified. It was a very valuable, unique experience for me,” Alex explained.
With Rob’s guidance, Alex was introduced to a regional-based commercial contracting business owner, where they partnered, and he was charged with developing a residential division.
Two and a half years later, Alex was approached by Rob about an opportunity to play an integral role in VSI’s Workforce Development program. “When Rob presented me with this opportunity to work with him at VSI, I was overjoyed,” Alex said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity being under Rob’s wing again. And I know how to hang siding because of him.”
In his new role, Alex is involved in the certification process, restructuring VSI’s certification program, continuously improving industry standards to the workforce and bringing the program in-house. This will allow Rob to focus on his role and fieldwork to develop more relationships.
Alex’s “hands-on problem-solving” skills are helping streamline processes, identify challenges and fix them. He sees this new role as a true calling; one with a sense of urgency given the demand for quality people in trades.
“I look forward to working with Rob and the rest of the VSI team to develop a sense of community for our Workforce Development program,” he said. “I feel I can bring my unique experience in the field to help improve standards that will optimize installation quality. And if we can inspire and educate other young professionals, it will have a positive ripple effect for the industry.”
Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.