Paff, a constructionist of the NAHAD Standards Committee that now is known as the Hose Safety Institute, is the 14th person to receive the Carver Award, first issued in 2007.
"Tom is an exemplary steward to customers, end users and industry colleagues," said Sam Petillo, president of NAHAD and a partner with Singer Equities of Houston. "He maintains an outstanding commitment to technology and safety remains No. 1 with him. Tom is one of those rare individuals who has left an indelible mark, both on our industry and on those who are lucky enough to know him personally."
History of making connections
Campbell Fittings, which began in 1905 making pipe nipples, has morphed into a manufacturer that serves the food and beverage, mining and construction, oil and gas, and chemical industries, among others, with its flanges, ferrules, sleeves and unique unions.
The company, purchased in 2018 by the Smyrna, Tenn.-based Ideal-Tridon Group, makes couplings for steam, nitrogen air and water hoses, tank trucks, tank farms, mixing rooms, water removal systems, sewage bypass transfers and air compressors. The company also boasts a technical center for testing.
Over the years, the company has introduced innovative hose accessory designs, including the Campbell-patented "Crimpnology," which "refers to the methodology of crimping sleeves or ferrules designed specifically to fit onto specific Campbell fittings and couplings to a precisely calculated crimp specification," according to Campbell.
But early on, one particular fitting designed for the water well industry put Campbell on the map.
"They were a water well supply manufacturer, supplying a variety of domestic water well systems—including a particular fitting for plastic pipes," Paff said.
Soon thereafter, Campbell was approached by other fitting manufacturers who found the piece, a combination nipple, intriguing.
At the time, Paff had moved south from Pennsylvania to Chattanooga, Tenn., and gotten into the textile business just after graduation. As demand began to skyrocket for Campbell thanks to the aforementioned fitting, especially as it related to the oil drilling space, Paff's father called him.
As with many family-owned franchises, the Paffs continue to be a generational fixture with Campbell—Paff's grandfather began with the company in the 1940s, while Thomas D. Paff, Paff's father, began with Campbell in the 1960s.
Tom Paff Jr. now works for Ideal-Tridon, continuing the family legacy in the industry.
" 'We are growing,' my father told me," Paff said. "Was I interested in joining him? The answer was an emphatic 'yes.' The timing was good and business was booming."
For the moment, that was. Less than six months later, the oil boom busted, just as Paff was working his way up the ladder at Campbell. Paff ultimately became president of the company in 1990.
"This put us in a tough situation, but I believe this was my seminal moment," Paff said. "You can't just pick up your ball and go home when you owe money to a bank. This pushed me into rethinking things and it taught me how to run a business through difficult times. We dug ourselves out by answering with new products."
Paff noted that his versatile economics degree from Lehigh University just outside of Philadelphia—which included classes in English literature, art, history and linguistics—benefited him during these difficult times.
"It truly taught me how to navigate through a difficult period," he said. "Our mantra and reputation was built on innovating new products and products that already existed—taking an old design and asking, how can we do better?"
All told, Paff logged three decades with Campbell Fittings before his retirement.
With 40 total years in the hose and hose accessory industry, Paff, like Campbell, continues to push the virtues of making connections and the benefits of communication. He has worked in the three main areas of the company—sales, marketing and product design.
But early on, it was George Carver himself who helped Paff make his initial introductions.
The Carver Way
Both Paff's father and George Carver were Blue Devils (though not at the same time)—an instant connection for Paff as a rookie in the hose accessory and fittings industry.
Carver was a 1953 graduate of Duke University, a starting pitcher who led the Blue Devil baseball team to the Southern Conference Championships in 1952 and 1953.
A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Carver pitched and coached the Fighting Falcons to a World Championship. In 1963, he founded Catawba Industrial Rubber, which he owned until his retirement in 1995. He also established Dixie Rubber Corp. in Greenville, S.C., Coastal Hose and Rubber in Wilmington, N.C., and Danflex in England.
"When I first met George, he asked me all kinds of questions about who I was, about what Campbell was and what we intended to do," Paff said. "He called around everywhere for me—Florida, Texas, even business connections in Chicago. He set up business meetings when I had no one and nothing to go on.
"George Carver was a strong businessman without being ruthless, a tough businessman without being tough on people."
While Paff said he learned honesty and the sometimes necessary tough talk from his father, his selflessness in offering others a hand up came from Carver.
"My father was always straightforward with people," Paff said. "He never over-promised something and he always treated people fairly. I have always tried to do that as well—even if what I had to tell a customer was uncomfortable, I have always tried to be up front with people.
"I learned a willingness to help others from George—he had that way about him."
As Tom Paff Jr. accepted the Carver Award June 14 on his father's behalf, he offered his own experience that illustrated his father's "tough talk."
In seventh grade, as the younger Paff was preparing a history presentation that he thought was well-curated, he gave a trial talk to his father—who promptly and bluntly told him, "Well, that's a good start."
In the end, the idea that preparation equals performance was not lost on Tom Jr.
"Ultimately and with his help, I nailed the presentation," Tom Jr. said. "He brings a drive and a professional mentality to everything he does. I am very proud of him."
Making his mark at NAHAD
Appropriately, Paff accepted the Carver Award from the training room at Campbell Fittings, where communication is crucial in learning the esoterics of the industry.
He spoke to Rubber & Plastics News from the same room July 12.
"In this room we do not necessarily discuss quality," he said. "We talk about proven performance. How does it fit and stay on the hose? Can it endure high temperatures or rigorous chemical applications?"
Paff brought this same "proven performance" mentality to NAHAD, helping to establish the Standards Committee in the early 1990s when he served on NAHAD's Board of Directors. The Hose Safety Institute, as it is now known, educates members on top-tier hose assembly specification, design, fabrication, handling and management.
"They appointed me to start a much broader standards group for both manufacturers and distributors," he said. "My first goal was to get rid of the name 'standards'—just too boring."
The group's first meeting was at a Baltimore hotel, and Paff and the board invited anyone who wanted to come.
They ultimately got about half of NAHAD's membership to show up.
"We started the first meeting by trying to come up with a definition for 'ambient'—like ambient temperature," he said. "Everyone immediately got into a defensive posture just trying to come up with the definition.
"Ultimately, we agreed on the definition, and I told them 'See?! There's a success already and we just started.' "
But the point was clear.
"We needed to get people to start talking, to start establishing relationships with Goodyear and ContiTech and different people, all of whom make their own claims on hoses. But how does the end user use the equipment?
"Now it is 30 years on with this committee, and to this day hose and hose fitting manufacturers need to continue talking to each other," he said.
Such is the legacy of George W. Carver with his foundation of communication and mentorship.
"I think this award means a bit more now in retirement," Paff said. "Not just as a way to promote Campbell, but the idea that there are only 13 people before me to have received it.
"It certainly is a great honor."