NALC 2016 Raises Its Own Bar On Educational Excellence
The more than 130 business leaders at PPAI’s North American Leadership Conference in San Francisco this week spent two full days learning, listening, discussing and debating the issues critical in today’s business climate including innovation, disruption, profit erosion, technology, artificial intelligence, apps, business models, the changing industry landscape and the economy. These discussions were led by experts from an elite group of entrepreneurs, advisors, economists, strategists, business thought leaders and technology experts. Combined with the countless opportunities to network with fellow industry colleagues, the business value for attendees was priceless.
“NALC provided an opportunity to get away for a short time from the day-to-day business and focus on really impactful and strategic longer-term solutions for your organization,” says Bill Mahre, president of supplier ADG Promotional Products. “To be a successful leader you need to make that time for the benefit of your people and customers.”
The education portion of the conference wrapped up late Tuesday afternoon and attendees enjoyed a private tour of Alcatraz Island and a sunset dinner cruise Tuesday night with time to continue informal discussions.
“I felt Dan Barnett’s session on Flawless Execution provided terrific insight and an immediate game plan we could all start using within our companies,” says Ann Marie Baker, vice president of sales at supplier Aakron, adding that Eric McDermott’s session on Innovation and Enterprise Marketing gave her several ideas on how to best help her distributor clients. “I loved his comment: ‘Innovate from inside your industry before someone else does it for you.’ We should be willing and able to change and adapt to the ever-changing business landscape. I really enjoyed the event and getting to learn not only from the speakers but also my peers as we discussed ideas and concepts the speakers generated. Well done.”
Among the conference’s captivating business speakers was Duncan Logan, founder and CEO of RocketSpace, a company serving a curated community of startups and global corporations to help bring them to market. PPAI Chair Tom Goos, MAS, conducted an on-stage Q&A with Logan on Tuesday, where he crystalized some key concepts for listeners. “Billion-dollar startups are like unicorns [he cited Airbnb] because they look really stupid when they start. It has to be that way so the unicorn can get far ahead before the rest of the industry catches up.”
Logan explained that innovation happens in steps: ideation, (space to think up new ideas), incubation (turning the best ideas into a business) and acceleration (take ideas rapidly into a marketplace). “Incumbents in a market can’t hang on to scaling or can’t drive it fast enough. It’s best when a corporation partners with a start up.” His best advice? “Don’t build anything until you know there is a demand.”
The state of the art in artificial intelligence is advancing at such a rapid pace, it’s even catching artificial intelligence expert Adam Cheyer by surprise. In NALC’s final session, Cheyer highlighted AI’s recent accomplishments—chatbots capable of fooling human judges, autonomous cars logging hundreds of thousands of miles and diagnosing diseases that have stumped human doctors—and how businesses will benefit from them going forward.
Cheyer forecasts that in the next few years, consumers will most likely see AI affecting their lives in how they interact with technology. “Every 10 years, the way people use technology changes,” he said. “In the ’80s, it was Windows; in the ’90s, it was the web; in the ’00s it was smartphones. Will there be a new interface paradigm that will fundamentally change how people and businesses use their devices? We think the AI assistant is the next paradigm. Each paradigm was defined by a single company—Microsoft, Google, Apple. It’s a race to be what’s next.”
Jeff Batson, CAS, president of supplier Next Products, Inc., a member of the NALC Work Group, was pleased with the conference's outcome. “My biggest takeaway is that the industry is really a market. The market is nimble and changing fast, and multiple paradigm shifts are imminent. My favorite part was listening to economics legend Arthur Laffer. I was like a teenaged girl listening to Elvis.”
Attendee Steve Hettrich, Hit Promotional Products, was also drawn to the top-level speakers and topics. “It is great to have a chance for some big-picture discussions and learn thought-provoking ways to apply those ideas back into our daily business. I left the trip motivated and energized.”
Robert Fiveash, president of distributor Brand Fuel, sums up his attendee experience: “As great as the content is, and this year it actually set a new bar, my favorite thing about NALC is that it gives us a chance us to peel off the uniform, get away from the distractions and fires of the office, and allow our true selves to emerge among industry friends and colleagues. We get to know each other in ways that the traditional business setting doesn’t allow, creating much stronger connections and friendships. Who knew the “quiet” ops guy could set the room on fire with his impersonations? Who knew the “brash” owner was such a thoughtful philanthropist? This industry is full of so many talented people, and to only know the roles we think they play at their respective companies or organizations would be a shame. NALC gives us the opportunity to explore deeper, opening up far more opportunities for collaboration and friendship than the world we all head back to when it’s over.”