Incoming president will bring a youthful view to the helm.
By William Wagner
When you think of an association president, an image of a graybeard likely pops into your head. It’s the type of position that’s typically bestowed upon someone who’s accrued years of wisdom.
Then there’s Merritt Partridge, CVCLD, the incoming president of the National Ground Water Association. He looks more like a batboy for a big-league baseball team than a sage for a large national organization.
“I think I’m the youngest president ever (of the National Ground Water Association),” the 33-year-old Partridge says with a laugh. “I can’t say that definitively, but someone told me that. I guess I’m bringing the average presidential age down quite a bit.”
In Partridge’s case, those boyish features are deceiving. Though he’s a relative youngster, he has more than enough experience and know-how to steer the association ship. His one-year term begins at Groundwater Week 2019 in December in Las Vegas, and there isn’t a trace of apprehension in his voice as he discusses his upcoming gig—just excitement.
“I really enjoy the industry I’m in,” says Partridge, whose day job is vice president of Partridge Well Drilling Co. Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s a great group of people. I enjoy the camaraderie and being able to give back.”
Partridge has good reason to be thrilled about his new assignment: He’s a natural. As the sixth generation of his family to work at Partridge Well Drilling, established in 1892, he has the business in his veins. It’s all he knows—all he wants to know.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he says. “At an early age, my dad would take me along to Florida Ground Water Association meetings with him; I would tag along. My grandfather was also part of that. I have a lot of experience from just listening and not saying much. I learned a lot that prepped me for this. Our family has been doing this since 1892. There are traditions that go along with that. I’m not doing this for
that reason, but it certainly accelerated my grasp of the association process.”
Furthermore, it’s not as if this is Partridge’s first association rodeo. He was president of the Florida Ground Water Association for three years until 2018 and began serving on the National Ground Water Association Board of Directors in 2013.
“When I got on the (national) board, I had a lot to learn,” he says. “It’s really been a learning process for me. I made a lot of connections and met a lot of great people; I really enjoyed that part of it. Not only the people on the board, but also people I met through traveling, whether it be at the shows or state associations. Making those connections has been really valuable. When I committed to being on the board, it was never my goal to be president. But if I was elected, I knew I’d be happy to do it.”
Partridge acknowledges his learning curve will continue as president of the National Ground Water Association, despite his executive experience with the Florida Ground Water Association.
“It’s similar (to being president of the FGWA), but there are also a lot of things that are different,” says Partridge, who graduated from the University of North Florida in 2009 with a degree in business, management, marketing, and related support services.
“The order of magnitude of going to the national level makes it quite a bit different. The financials are also different. And the various aspects of regions, as opposed to issues in your own state, make the challenges quite a bit different.”
Nevertheless, Partridge is a (young) man with a plan. He has ideas—a lot of them.
“I want to focus on the membership on a more personal level rather than have this national blanket,” he says. “What’s happening in Florida might not be so important to someone from California. I’d like our association to be more personal and more connected with the contractor. That’s hard to do when you have 10,000-plus members. There are things we can do better to reach out to those folks and make them feel like we’re involved. That’s an important thing for us to do—membership engagement and participation.
“We’ve been doing a lot of international things, which is great. But does it serve our membership well? I’m not so sure. Not that we would eliminate that, but we want to look at things that best serve our membership.”
In other words, Partridge’s goal is to take a more surgical approach.
“We do a lot of things—and a lot of things well—but I also think some of that could be more focused,” he says. “We’d do much better if we focused on just a few items rather than the many things we do—more efficiency rather than a blanket approach that we’ll do everything. Certainly, it’s great (that the association does so many things), but sometimes we suffer because of that. We’re trying to make sure we’re instead of trying to make sure we’re good at a certain thing.”
There also is a deeply personal aspect of Partridge’s new endeavor. As he steps into the president’s role, he can’t help but feel like he’ll be furthering his family’s impressive legacy in well drilling.
“It’s a privilege to serve in these [association] positions,” Partridge says. “My legacy—leaving the business for my family—is also something I think about. My dad didn’t push me into the business. He told me I could do whatever I wanted. But choosing this path is something I’m very proud of. I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who’s had the same company for six generations. It’s something my brother Lance (who also works
for Partridge Well Drilling) and I are very proud of. We both share that mantle. It weighs heavy on me, for sure. You want to make sure you take care of the reputation that has been built over the 125-plus years we’ve been doing business.”
The trickiest part of his new position might be juggling all the balls he’ll have in the air. In addition to his operational responsibilities at Partridge Well Drilling, he is the father of three children who are under the age of 5.
Says Partridge, “The timing can be difficult. I have three little kids right now. I just want to make sure I can give the time and dedication to perform all my duties (as an association president, an executive at Partridge Well Drilling, and a father).”
Sleep probably won’t be a frequent option for Partridge over the next year. But one imagines he’ll be up to the challenge. There is, after all, no substitute for the energy that comes with youth.
William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.