Q&A With The 2023 President of the American Society of Concrete Contractors

This year’s election results of the American Society of Concrete Contractors board and committees, plus our interview with newly elected ASCC president Chris Klemaske.

Chris-Klemaske, Director of Commercial Development at SUNDEK and the 2023 President at the American Society of Concrete Contractors
Chris-Klemaske, Director of Commercial Development at SUNDEK and the 2023 President at the American Society of Concrete Contractors
American Society of Concrete Contractors

The American Society of Concrete Contractors is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the capabilities of those who build with concrete and providing them with a unified voice in the construction industry. Members include concrete contracting firms, manufacturers, suppliers, and others interested in the concrete industry such as architects, specifiers, and distributors.

The organization’s board of directors—industry leaders committed to the ASCC mission—serves to enhance the capabilities of those who build with concrete. Each year, they elect new members to continue to grow and invite more perspectives into the industry.

This year, Chris Klemaske, the director of commercial development at SUNDEK, was elected president of the ASCC for the 2023-2024 term. Last year, Klemaske served as first vice president, and she’s been with the Society for 16 years—but working in the concrete industry for longer.

Click here to view additional elections to the ASCC 2023 Board.

The beginning of her long career in the decorative concrete industry began in the late 80s while working as an office manager for a construction company. Klemaske noticed the company had been subcontracting for someone to do the initial sealing, detailing, or restoration of concrete work. Recognizing the opportunity, she asked the one thing that led her into decades in the concrete industry: “Is there any reason a woman couldn’t do this work?”

She got her answer and never looked back.

In the early 90s, Klemaske and a business partner started Classic Concrete Care, specializing in concrete sealing and restoration. She continued her work there until the mid-90s when she was asked to run the restoration division for Progressive Concrete, a decorative concrete company. Recognizing her abilities, they eventually moved her into residential concrete sales and further into their commercial division.

After three years at Progressive Concrete, Klemaske joined the San Diego-based design-build firm T.B. Penick & Sons where she consulted, was a project developer, and ran trainings and lunch-and-learns for owners, general contractors, and architects until 2019.

It was then that she joined SUNDEK as director of commercial development—the role she still has today. In this position, Klemaske stays up to date on the latest trends in decorative concrete, making sure SUNDEK is always at the forefront as one of the leaders in the industry.

Working directly with SUNDEK contractors across the U.S., Klemaske helps them gain a better understanding of how to work in the commercial market. “Commercial contracting is different,” she explains. “How to prequalify for jobs, how to prequalify with a general contractor, how to properly bid on a project, constructability—all of these concepts are new to many contractors because they haven’t done that level of work.”

She also educates architects, owners, and contractors about who SUNDEK is and what they do. Among all this, Klemaske assists on projects, putting her long-honed skills to work when a design assist is needed.

In early February 2023, Concrete Contractor caught up with Klemaske.

What would you say is your favorite thing about working with decorative concrete?

I love that the versatility of decorative concrete allows us to transform spaces. You can walk up to a building, a home—or any location—and if the concrete is beautifully done, it changes your experience and makes you feel a certain way.

One memorable project I worked on during my time at T.B. Penick & Sons was Sellers-Keever Park, a memorial park in San Diego. I had the opportunity to work with the mothers of the two boys this park memorializes, San Diego Parks and Recreation, and the artists that created the mosaics. We created a beautiful pathway and seating area, incorporating materials and a design that honor the two boys.

I also had the pleasure to work on interior and exterior surfaces at the San Diego International Airport. Developing plans, finishes, and figuring out how to evoke that San Diego feeling was a fun challenge.

I love watching the way others use concrete as their medium for art. There’s Rick Lobdel of Concrete Mystique Engraving, for example, who creates these stunning 3-D images on concrete. And John Belarde of The Belarde Company who makes artists’ and architects’ visions a reality with concrete. That's one of the things I love about what I do with SUNDEK—I get to look at a set of drawings, talk to an architect, figure out what their vision is, and then figure out how to build it the correct way.

I'm kind of a concrete fanatic. I absolutely love it. For people who aren’t part of the concrete business, that’s a strange thing to hear, but I've watched decorative concrete evolve so much over the last 30 years. There's always something new. I'm inspired by new and upcoming contractors and artists. My daughter is a landscape architect and mosaic artist and I get to work with her. I never know what the next phone call is going to be. I never know what the next opportunity is going to be, and I love that.

To the recent news, what are the responsibilities of the ASCC President?

Everything? The ASCC is going through a transition right now with Bev Garnett retiring. We've hired a new executive director, Ray Hefner, CAE. Bruce Suprenant is also retiring and we brought in a new technical adviser. Those transitions are kind of my responsibility to oversee. But the thing about the board of directors and the brain trust there—the experience and the dedication of our members is overwhelming. You're never on an island. We have an executive committee that drives everything that is brought to the board of directors. In addition to that, we have each of our committees. It's very much a team effort.

For me, anything and everything that's going on, I'm part of it. Right now is a challenging time with the changes. But what's great is that ASCC is not about who’s running the group. It’s about its members. We're a strong organization because of servant leadership.

If you're about safety, for example, go to one of those safety committee meetings. You’ll be blown away by the work being done. The same goes for every other committee. We have our committee week coming up in May when everybody gathers. They also talk to each other once a month. We have meetings at our annual meeting in September and then again at World of Concrete. The commitment is something I'm really proud of.

Editor's Note: The ASCC Committee Week is scheduled for May 1-3, in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Why did you agree to the nomination?

I guess it’s my opportunity to give back. It's also my opportunity to show new members of ASCC that you can be a decorative concrete contractor and be president someday—if that's your goal.

We’ve done a good job at ASCC, of integrating the decorative concrete folks with the structural, slabs, flatwork, and polishing concrete people in the big box. Everybody interacts with each other.

What is your vision for the year? What are your initial plans for the role?

There are a few things. One is to get us through this transition in a way that causes people the least amount of stress. Change is hard but we're a solid organization. It really is to get us through this change of Beverly leaving and feeling secure with her legacy. And Bruce passing the torch to Mike Hernandez. First and foremost, that's one of my first goals.

I'd also like to understand and investigate the inclusivity and diversity within our group. I would like to know where we are with it. I feel when I'm in a meeting or when I'm looking around me that we are doing well but I want to make sure that we're taking advantage of all our opportunities.

One of the things our safety risk management council is doing is guiding the transition from hard hats to helmets for safety.

Mental health is one of the newer initiatives. We're talking about it honestly and openly and getting good speakers to present to members at our meetings and webinars. We're talking about mental health in general but also how to have a sense of how people are doing—those working on your jobs, fellow employees, or people you’re in charge of. And how to provide help. That's important to me.

We also want to focus on making sure that we're bringing in as many young contractors as we can because they're the future of our organization. I'm proud to say that our board of directors is a good mix of young and older. We recognize that institutional knowledge is important, but we also recognize that we need to embrace, welcome, and include our younger contractors.

Do you have any ideas in mind on how to get the younger generation involved?

Our Emerging Leaders committee has created a good base. Several of our members have been contractors for a long time, and now they’re retiring and handing off their businesses to their family members. We're engaging those younger people in the industry to keep them involved. I will continue to reach out to the young, upcoming folks in our industry that want to make a difference.

I believe if you want to make a difference in our industry, the ASCC is where you should be. We’re working hard to stay relevant and updating our technology and website regularly. We're listening instead of saying, “it's always been done this way.”

If you go to an ASCC meeting as a first-time attendee, you wear a red lanyard. Everyone's aware that the people with red lanyards are new, and we make sure they feel welcome and engaged. It’s all about personal relationships and finding out their interests and what committee might be a good fit.

The other thing is, right now, Bev makes onboarding calls. Every person that joins ASCC, gets a phone call from the director welcoming them and asking, “what are your interests,” “how can we help you,” and “what keeps you up at night." The people in this group are colleagues but they're also friends. 

Are you optimistic about the concrete industry for this year?

I am. I'm always optimistic. I can tell you about the things that I'm working on—between SUNDEK and The Belarde Company—both of them are very busy, but they are exemplary companies and members of ASCC. That's where it's going. When you do good work and you do what you say you're going to do, you follow through, and you maintain those relationships, you get repeat clientele.

For me, don't over-promise and under-deliver. Ever. The smartest people in the room are the people that are going to get the jobs. Be prepared. We have to work on being better and better at what we do.

Any final thoughts for the concrete contractors out there?

Join the ASCC. What's interesting is the benefits. What you get from this organization outweighs any costs involved in being part of it. You've got your own hotline. You've got your own safety director. You've got people you can call if you have a question.

Some of us are competitors but all of us want even our competitors to be better because that levels the playing field for all of us. Look at the ASCC and what it has to offer. If you're passionate about concrete the way I am, it's the perfect place to be.

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