More than 140 of the industry’s most influential leaders, movers and shakers gathered in New Orleans on Sunday for the PPAI North American Leadership Conference at the Omni Royal Orleans hotel. The conference, featuring two days of targeted education and networking, dovetails with the PPAI Product Safety Summit, which starts Tuesday. A total of 120 people are expected to attend PSS.
The conference kicked off with an opening reception and dinner Sunday night featuring a presentation honoring the PPB 2012 Rising Stars. Among the Rising Stars on hand for the honor were Greg Armstrong; Tim Brown, MAS; Marc Held; Jamon Heller; Michael Legel; Allison McLain; Jeff Schmitt, MAS; and Zachary Tyler.
Generational expert Seth Mattison of BridgeWorks (who will also speak at The PPAI Expo 2013 in January) got the education rolling Monday morning in his keynote session focused on tips to understanding and working with different generations. Using research data laced with plenty of audience interaction, Mattison punctuated his informational delivery with humorous video clips to teach the differences and similarities of each of the four generations present in today’s workplace.
David Lewenberg, Genumark Stratetic Merchandising, Inc., was one listener who found the generational topic fascinating. “[His talk] helped put it in perspective. It helped me think differently about the different generations. We do have four generations in our building, and now I do see the different approaches.”
Before lunch, attendees also had the opportunity to hear about supplier economics from a panel including Jim Hagen, Sweda; David Nicholson, Polyconcept; CJ Schmidt, Hit Promotional Products and Chuck Fandos, CAS, Gateway CDI. Distributor Tonia Ho, MAS, MadeToOrder.com, spoke on distributor economics, and Gemline president Jonathan Isaacson shared his insights on problem solving by comparing models from Toyota and TPS and explaining how problem solving is part of the employee training program at Gemline. “Look to solve small problems every day,” he said, “and find the root of the problem.” He also recommended that at least 10 percent of every job in a company should be focused on looking for ways to improve.
After a networking lunch, economist Dr. Loren Scott provided an entertaining and insightful lesson on the economy, followed by a panel discussion featuring Randy Chen, Impex International, Inc.; Michael Emoff, Shumsky; Nicholas Rubin, Logomark; and Tom Grinstead of Zazzle Business. The panel was moderated by PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE.
The day wrapped up with two more sessions giving attendees a choice for the day’s final time slot: a panel discussion on the future of the industry with four of the PPB Rising Stars or an interactive session on industry challenges with Paul Lage, MAS, Gill Studios, and Jeff Lederer, Prime Resources.
“We’ve gotten great feedback on the first day of the conference,” says Chuck Fandos of Facilis and NALC Work Group leader. “There’s a lot of energy here and a lot of conversation which was our goal. We wanted to try different things and be provocative with the topics. So far, so good.”
Another goal of the work group, which consists of about 15 members, was to secure 140 attendees. “We beat it!” says Fandos, explaining that the work group sent people personal invitations which attracted a number of attendees. “They are enjoying it and thinking a little differently for a few days.”
The opportunity to network with top leaders in the industry was a key reason to attend NALC, according to some attendees. Adam Thornton of Match-Up Promotions says: “The chance for us to get together with the top leaders, distributors and suppliers and to share knowledge, stories and challenges is a value to us. It’s a time when we can sit down in a casual setting and talk to people for a great learning experience.”
PPB Rising Star and first-time conference attendee Allison McLain, Brand Fuel, also found the networking valuable. “It was nice to put faces to names and hear from different points of view as to where the industry is going. We always talk about what a supplier can do for us, and another perspective that I hadn’t thought about before is what we can do for them and how we can make their lives easier.”
Randy Chen, who attended NALC three years ago, came back this year with high expectations. “I came to the conference for networking and to get to know a lot of people. I hope to learn more of the dos and don’ts [on product safety]. I sell to a lot of suppliers and want to learn how I can make my business better for my customers. Plus New Orleans is a nice location, too.”
This year’s conference attracted a large percentage of first-time attendees, too. Kevin Lyons-Tarr, 4imprint, a first-time attendee, says: “It was highly recommended by other people in the industry who had been here before. They suggested we give it a try, and we thought we would. So far, it’s been great.”
Another first-timer, Lori Kates, Vitronic, enjoyed Monday’s education sessions. “I’ve taken a lot away just in the first morning. I’ve enjoyed it. Technology seems to be a recurring theme—especially how you need to stay on top of it.”
Watch for more updates from the NALC as well as a recap from the PPAI Product Safety Summit in next Tuesday’s PPB Newslink. And follow NALC on Twitter at #PPAINALC.