Seen And Heard At ISA 2015

Promoting themes of leadership, youth, and identity, the annual ISA Convention April 25-27 in Cleveland brought together representatives from more than 150 industrial distributors. Here were some of its top takeaways.

More than 150 industrial distributors were represented at the annual Industrial Supply Association Convention, held April 25-27 at the downtown Cleveland Convention Center. They were joined by an even greater number of manufacturers, along with industrial buying groups and service providers, all congregating to promote their latest offerings, see what the latest industry trends are, make connections, and learn what they could about what is happening in the market landscape.

With the 2015 tagline of "Progressive Leadership Rocks," ISA provided a wealth of opportunity for those in the industrial supply market to educate themselves and get the word out about what they have to offer. Between a balance of forum sessions and presentations by industry experts, and two days of expos, there was something for everyone.

Day 1 - Saturday, April 25

Day 1 was comprised of forum sessions featuring different guest presenters and ended with a keynote session. Days 2 and 3 were expo-based, with Day 2 devoted to 'Distributor Booth Day' and Day 3 as 'Supplier/Manufacturer Booth Day.'

Highlighting day 1 of the convention was the opening session keynote, which featured keynote speaker General Michael Hayden, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA). With this year's theme of leadership, it was a great honor for ISA to have General Hayden, who delivered an inspiring message of what it means to be a leader. He stressed that it goes far beyond being delegating.

"Sometimes being a leader is more about being present than it is about directing, deciding, or turning the gears yourself."

To illustrate this, General Hayden gave a harrowing account of his day on Sept. 11, 2001 as NSA Director. While the majority of buildings at the NSA's headquarters in Meade, MD were evacuated immediately after the Pentagon was attacked in Washington D.C., the NSA's Arabic communications interceptors working high up in the headquarters building had to remain at their post amid the chaos. They couldn't be interrupted. "I went up and gave them a hand on the shoulder and nod, and to be present," he said. "(9/11's) impact on their day arguably was bigger than it was on you."

Hayden's message also included the need for organization executives to "let people do," by picking the right people and putting them in the right job, as well as "not changing who you are as you move up the ranks."

I spoke with ISA Vice President Craig Vogel on the show floor Sunday about General Hayden's message and what it means for ISA members.

"What amazed me about the general is that he was so humble and articulate," ISA Vice President Craig Vogel told me on the show floor Sunday. "I don’t want to say his message was simple, but his message was very clear. When you listen to his message and the rank that he had and what he was dealing with, it’s really hard to believe that someone that high can boil it down like that. I think it sends a great message to our ISA members that, ‘hey, we’re not doing that kind of stuff, but if you have clarity and you’re listening to your people and empowering them, you can do quite well.’ That’s what I took away from it."

Prior to General Hayden's speech, ISA recognized several individuals and member companies with awards and scholarships.

  • The American Eagle Excellence in Industry Award went to SGS Tool Supply, which partnered with BlackHawk Industrial for a solution that enabled a lift equipment manufacturer to reduce cycle time, increase tool life and decrease overall tooling costs for a total cost savings of more than $252,000.
  • ISA named Kathleen Durbin, CEO of General Industrial Tool & Supply (Los Angeles), recipient of the John J. Buckley Lifetime Achievement Award. Durbin was elected the first female president of ISA in 2010. She has served on several ISA committees and task forces, including the ISA board of directors, an ISA officer, and the convention planning committee. She has actively supported the ISA Education Foundation, and founded the Women Industrial Supply Executives (W.I.S.E.) special interest group, which works to build and promote a progressive network of women executives who wish to develop their professional management and leadership skills and advocate for women’s influence within the industry supply industry.

  • The $10,000 Gary Buffington Scholarship was presented University of Alabama at Birmingham student Gary Khodanian, who is majoring in Industrial Distribution at the UAB Collat School of Business, and scheduled to graduate in April 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Distribution and an Entrepreneurship Certificate.

  • ISA also awarded $1,000 Allan Chartier Scholarships to four ISA member employees for continued education or career development.

ISA Chairman Tommy Thompson concluded the keynote session giving an overview of the state of ISA and its membership, in which he pointed out the overall aging of the membership workforce. He noted that 10,000 Baby Boomer generation workforce employees are retiring every day across the U.S., while recruiting young talent to enter a career in industrial supply continues to be a challenge. "Look around. It's not a pretty sight," Thompson humored. "If you're sitting in this room, unless you're retiring tomorrow, it should concern you. As the generation shift continues, business as usual is not enough. We need to recruit differently."

Vogel echoes Thompson's message to me on Sunday. "It’s definitely an issue, and not just an ISA issue," he said. "ISA, being distributors, manufacturers and service providers, it’s not a flashy industry. If you went into Ohio State, which is so big, and asked how many people will get into manufacturing, I don’t know if 10 people would stand up. I think our job as an association is to build awareness and say this is a really good industry with opportunity for growth. You can go down different paths with it. It would be a great career path. Our job is to get that message out."

Earlier on Day 1, a handful of forum sessions and panel discussions gave insight on the state of the industrial supply market. I sat in on two of these sessions:

  • ISA's 'Small MROP Business Session' was presented by Bill McCleave, president of W. R. McCleave & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in relationship management for industrial distributors, manufacturers and their customers. McCleave presented ISA's 2015 industry study that revealed distributor and supplier input on revenue size, distributor/supplier relationships, value-added services, and the future for all. Especially for the small and independent distributor, it was a great look at the landscape.
  • "Customers: An Asset or a Cost Center" was presented by Jeanne Bliss, President of CustomerBliss. Bliss stressed the importance of seeing things from the customers' point-of-view and treating them as a person rather than a potential revenue source. Her presentation included numerous examples of how successful companies have valued the customer, or owned up to mistakes instead of pointing blame.

Check in the coming weeks for content out of those two sessions.

Day 2 - Sunday, April 26

Day 2's morning included several 'Professional Development Tracks' that focused on landing big sales, leadership, and branding. Things got going in the exhibit hall with ISA booth presentations about its new Distributor Performance Dashboard, and then its Consultative Sales Certification. 

'Distributor/Wholesaler/IMR Booth Day' officially got underway at noon as the second straight year ISA designated separate days for distributors and manufacturers/suppliers. My Distributor Day included interviews with BlackHawk Industrial CEO Bill Scheller, DGI Supply COO Bill Henricks, and Stellar Industrial CEO/President John Wiborg, who is also ISA Treasurer. â€‹Check out my blog from my interview with Scheller here, and watch for more content out of the other two interviews.

"We saw a lot of activity," Vogel said at the end of Sunday. "It’s the second year that we’ve put the distributors back in the booth to see what kind of activity we’d get. This year we actually ran out of distributor booths, so if that’s your barometer, it’s been very successful. The show floor was very busy. I think the Distributor Day has proven to be a real good winner for ISA."

Day 3 - Monday, April 27

Day 3 featured 'Supplier/Manufacturer Booth Day,' with expo hours from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., a full day's worth of time for distributor, manufacturer, and service provider CEOs and representatives to make new contacts, and reconnect with friends in the industry.

The ISA 2015 Convention wrapped up with its closing reception, held at the nearby Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum, which all ISA register ants were free to attend as long as they brought their credential badge. Attendees were treated to a plethora of food options and a 2-hour open bar, along with being able to wander the museum exhibits of music legends from decades past and today.

Next Year

ISA's 2016 Convention will be held April 16-19, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center/Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont, IL, 17 miles northwest of downtown Chicago.


Be sure to check throughout next week for more content from the ISA 2015!

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