My number-one goal as 2020 ASA president is to drive ASA programs deeper into our member organizations. 

My strategy for accomplishing greater member engagement is to share success stories about how our members are using ASA programs in their businesses. This month, I want to highlight our Emerging Leaders division, which with the generous support of A. O. Smith, was scheduled to host the EMERGE 2020 conference May 4-6 in Nashville, Tennessee.

To get a better sense of all this long-standing ASA program favorite has to offer, I reached out to a handful of EL members.

My first question was to clarify the target attendee from ASA member companies. Who should be going to EMERGE events? As the division has matured, the target audience has become more varied so that the EL members range in age from the 20s to the late 40s, and generally represents our members’ high-potential candidates for the next generation of industry leaders. The most common benefit listed by EL members is the formation of peer groups that will help support and advise them along their high-trajectory career paths:

Stephanie Cook (Northeastern Supply, Baltimore, Maryland): ASA’s Emerging Leaders division joins the industry’s middle and upper management to brainstorm and share ideas to help you better your company’s future. As a member of the EL division, I have the opportunity to network and share ideas with peers throughout the supply chain.

Angelo Balistreri (PRIER Products, Kansas City, Missouri): The Emerging Leaders program is a great way for our up-and-coming professionals to build relationships with counterparts they can trust. It’s a chance to get to know each other beyond the business side and build meaningful friendships. It’s an immediate, personal connection and has proven to be fruitful. 

Chris Reynolds (Plumbers & Factory Supplies, Columbus, Ohio): Emerging Leaders has been very transformative for me and for my career in wholesale distribution. It gave me the opportunity, very early in my career, to network and develop relationships with distributors, vendors and reps. The fact that EL provides a common forum for those stakeholders is a benefit that few other groups in our industry are able to offer.

Michael Laudino, Aaron & Co., Piscataway, New Jersey): The Emerging Leaders group was my first foray into this industry when I initially started working at Aaron & Co.  It’s where I developed my first true professional relationships and some great friendships that have continued throughout my career.  

Dan New (Mid-City Supply, Elkhart, Indiana): The friends I have made are great resources for when I need help coming up with a solution.

Laura Mustee Hendricks (E.L. Mustee & Sons, Cleveland, Ohio): I enjoy the assigned smaller groups/roundtable discussions at EL because it gives us a chance to speak, listen and get to know people we might not normally talk to. As always, there is a lot of socializing which is a great, informal way to get to know people or get to know them better in a relaxed environment, especially those “newish” to the industry or to their position or company.

AJ Benton, Smardan Supply (Fountain Valley, California): EMERGE provides the perfect platform to develop relationships with some of the brightest minds in our industry. Through Emerging Leaders, I have developed a network of peers from all over the country who are always available to offer insight, suggestions and guidance.

When asked what makes the EMERGE conference so worthwhile for attendees, EL members cited the intensive networking combined with thought-provoking content that leads to personal and career development.

Dan New: The speakers at the EL conference always give me a few things that help me improve the performance of my business and myself.  We are a better company and I am a better leader because of ASA and the Emerging Leaders group. 

Michael Laudino: We have a saying at Aaron & Co. that these networks help “get us out of our comfort zone,” and put “pebbles in our shoes” about the business strategies and paths we need to actively pursue to stay viable. Without the guidance of other similarly situated businesses and friends, we would never have been able to navigate and grow our leadership team, our culture or our business through the myriad of challenges faced by the independent distributor today. 

Stephanie Cook: Following each conference, I am able to bring back innovative and actionable ideas to my organization to keep us on the cutting edge. As a result, Northeastern Supply has implemented new ways to recruit, expanded our e-commerce offering and enhanced our training program. 

Angelo Balistreri: Every year a new speaker helps us hone our skills to be not only a better associate for our company, but for the industry. We are pushed beyond our limits to open new doors to what we are capable of. The EMERGE program makes us better overall.

Having recently talked to Women in Industry members, I asked EL members about supporting women members and how it is different than WII.

Laura Mustee Hendricks: I have attended at least four years of each event (EL and WII). There are a lot more men attendees than women at the EL event. I think that has to do with the heavier sales focus at EMERGE, whereas the WII event covers every aspect of business — marketing, sales, HR, etc. But this is also a reflection of our industry. Both programs have their own unique vibes and benefits. We also need to stress the importance of these events — both EL and WII — with the ownership/management of companies to allow and encourage their people to attend and better themselves through shared experiences and useful, varied content. 

Several EL members expressed they couldn’t get these benefits with other industry networking opportunities, such as buying group meetings.

Laura Mustee Hendricks: What I like about the EL’s program is it allows the opportunity for people in operations to get out and meet a lot of the people I see regularly for sales/buying group meetings.

Chris Reynolds: It has both expanded on and has been the perfect complement to my involvement in our company’s buying group. 

The message all the EI members shared was clear — the EMERGE event is a valued highlight of the year, and a not-to-be-missed opportunity to engage and groom those high-potential, next-generation members of your leadership team.

Laura Mustee Hendricks: Leaving the ASA events after seeing my “industry friends,” I am jazzed up again about my job and my contribution to my company. We complain together, trade stories, talk business, and it always reminds me why I love my job. We need to encourage and cultivate the young/new people coming into our industry because our industry has so much potential. 

AJ Benton: I strongly encourage all distributors to have representation at EMERGE events.