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Education for Visionaries
The ability to provide senior-level volunteer leaders with meaningful and rewarding professional development opportunities is an important objective for many associations, and it takes a compelling approach to cut through the clutter of events and programs aimed at top executives in virtually any field or profession. With the support and direction of their boards, two leading associations designed standout educational experiences that resonated with their industry leaders.

Opportunity and Growth

Founded in 1936, the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) represents the $25 billion U.S. convenience services industry. This includes service operators, suppliers, machine manufacturers, distributors, brokers and all others involved in providing vending, coffee service, or foodservice management to business, industry, educational, health care and public locations. NAMA has about 1,100 member companies — including many of the world’s most recognized consumer brands — as well as a variety of multi-generational, family-owned operators and other long-established companies in the convenience services supply chain.

Carla Balakgie, who took the helm as NAMA president and CEO in 2011, saw the association’s 80th anniversary year as a symbolic and opportune moment to bring together industry leaders to think and plan for a future environment she saw rich with opportunity. It was a tipping point in a multi-year effort to raise awareness and innovation among industry participants. She said that along the way, she also expected to “shake things up a bit,” by challenging long-held views regarding business growth in the channel.

“With changing consumer demands and the evolution in technology-enabled vending, so much growth potential exists in the convenience and unattended retail marketplace,” said Balakgie. “There was huge potential for significant transformation, and we knew that if we could just get the right people in the room — and offer the right content — we could shift the mindset and move the needle,” she said.

Reaching the CEOs of its core operators and member leaders across the convenience services supply chain was critical. So NAMA formed a task force of industry thought leaders charged with the conceptual development and execution of an inaugural Executive Forum event and, importantly, to also actively recruit their like-minded peers to attend.

Several years in the making, the result was NAMA’s Executive Forum, a two-and-a-half day event in San Jose this past February. The first-ever gathering of its kind was attended by 100 CEOs and senior executives of NAMA member companies. On the first day those leaders were privy to on-site, insiders’ looks at corporate powerhouses such as Google, Intel, and VISA, which were chosen based on their growth stories, change philosophies and reputations as agile competitors.

On day two, speakers included top executives from Starbucks, Forbes and Geek Squad who shared leadership insights and their respective companies’ stories of transformation. In addition, a session led by business growth guru Cameron Herold — the author of the book Double, Double: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in 3 Years or Less — was designed to inspire bold thinking and fresh ideas about the CEO’s responsibility in creating a model culture. Themes of consumer markets, innovation and corporate culture underscored discussions intended to prompt participants to think about their companies and growth in a new way.

“We succeeded in putting attendees in a place that enabled them to dream together and be inspired,” Balakgie said. “It takes discipline to change and see things in a new way, and we successfully created a community of industry leaders poised to carry on that inspiration. The building and winning part of the equation is up to them.”

To leverage the event’s success, NAMA later asked attendees, “What was the thing that hit your ‘hard drive,’ so to speak, and what did you do with it?” Through video, these leaders also shared insights and how they are using what they learned. In addition, each event speaker’s presentation was profiled over several months in a series in NAMA’s InTouch magazine, so that the tone and vision could be shared throughout the membership.

Balakgie, who has a long history in the association world, said the most important takeaway for any association is to remember that education doesn’t stop. “Learning is not a start-and-stop experience. Since the conclusion of the first Executive Forum, we have pushed out a variety of mobile education offerings like those offered at the event to keep the conversation going. And we are planning for next year’s Executive Forum in a way that will nurture contiguous learning and explore the next chapter in such an exciting industry, full of potential.”

Challenge and Change

The Bank Insurance & Securities Association (BISA) is the leading financial services industry association dedicated to serving those responsible for the marketing, sales and distribution of securities, insurance, and other financial products and advisory services through the bank channel.

Not surprisingly, senior leaders of bank investment and insurance programs are a prime audience for a whole host of industry conventions, roundtables and industry forums. The demands for their time and attention meant that BISA had to create a very meaningful experience for its CEO members. At the same time, sweeping regulatory reforms to fiduciary rules passed in early 2016 meant that leaders in this arena had to evaluate their business models from top to bottom and make significant changes in the way their businesses are conducted.

“Change has been the pervasive theme for these CEOs,” said Jeff Hartney, BISA executive director. “In order for BISA to help them lead through such change, we knew we had to get them out of their day-to-day worlds and put them in a position to be able to think outside the box in new ways,” he said.

BISA’s board took the lead role in formulating the vision for a new kind of event, and believed that the academic community could provide a stimulating venue. After nearly a year of research and exploring various models, BISA partnered with Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

The invitation-only event this past June was attended by a select group: 31 CEOs of some the leading national and regional financial institutions in the country. Richard Daft, MBA, PhD — who developed Vanderbilt’s Center for Change Leadership and is an accomplished author and expert in organizational behavior and design — presided over a day-long program, “Leading Change.”

Divided into groups of five, attendees experienced a computerized change simulation in which they were given varying scenarios and asked to navigate through a series of management decisions. At each phase of the simulation, the teams’ scores determined how they could move to the next phase. The exercise took place over several hours, and was designed to challenge conventional thinking in many ways and teach skills for leading an organization through intense change. “The teams got very competitive,” said Hartney, “and it was fascinating to see how engaged people were in the entire process.”

Another critical industry issue is attracting new talent — especially financial advisors. “Our generation of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers has not been terribly successful recruiting and retaining young talent,” said Bruce Hagemann, CEO of BBVA Securities and BISA board member. “But it’s critical that we embrace a better approach.”

Therefore, the second day of the Nashville event, “Leading Millennials,” focused on changing workforce dynamics, potential conflict areas and strategies for not only how to recruit, but more broadly how to think about the up-and-coming generation of bankers and advisors. Attendees explored best practices from leading organizations, and interacted with a live panel of young professionals who presented the millennial point of view.

“Associations can serve as leading sources of thought, harbingers of change and even a venue for inspiration,” Hagemann said. “The entire experience was invaluable and has direct applicability to the challenges we all face in our organizations.”
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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