I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge.

Back in my middle- and high-school days I was caught more than once substituting the sports page of the Chicago Tribune for a textbook. Three decades later I’ve fully embraced Twitter as a one-stop-shop for learning new things. It’s like throwing gas on a brush fire. I hit the follow button on the journalists, personalities and companies I’m interested in and voilà! I know have instant information with the click of a button on my iPhone.

That thirst for knowledge is one of the reasons I love attending events in our industry. I tend to walk out of these gatherings a lot smarter than when I went in.

Affiliated Distributors’ recent North American Meeting in Kissimmee, Fla., is a prime example. AD President and CEO Bill Weisberg’s keynote centered on preparing for the future (Kristin- link to the AD feature here). Weisberg’s daughter, Ricki Weisberg Ndege, the group’s communications director, told me about a survey conducted with members of AD’s Young Leaders group. Some of the results are eye-opening as it pertains to the future.

Regarding succession plans, 65% of respondents say their company has no succession plan in place. When asked about mentor programs, 46% of those surveyed say their company has no mentor program while 34% say their company has an informal mentor program.  And most respondents plan on being in the industry 10 years from now.

Weisberg’s advice about planning for the future is spot-on. Not only should your company have a definitive succession plan in place, but it also should have programs that will help those young leaders of tomorrow succeed for years to come.

I also recently attended an interesting event in Chicago that was a knowledge-seeker’s paradise. The Unleash WD Innovation Summit presented 18 thought leaders not associated with the wholesale distribution industry, including former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis. Unleash WD’s mission is to bring innovation to the wholesale distribution industry.

 “We believe in the thinking of Steve Jobs who once said, ‘It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best humans have done and  then try to bring those things into what you are doing,’” is how an excerpt reads from the event’s program book.

I was able to conduct video interviews with a good sampling of the 18 storytellers who offered some outstanding pieces of advice that play into that Jobs quote and could help any distribution company. To view all the videos, visit our video section at www.supplyht.com/video.


A few of my favorite advice snippets from the event

Consultant Ron Ashkenas said an easy way to innovate is to put boots on the ground and talk to customers. “Find out what their unmet needs are, kind of like a day in the life of your customer,” he told me. “How can you uniquely meet their needs like nobody else can?”

 Educator and speaker Angela Maiers, who has more than 100,000 Twitter followers, said social media in today’s business world is “unbelievably important.”

“When you find out somebody has a need you know you can fill, you want to be ready for that interaction,” she said. “Social media allows you to both be listening and participating at the same time.”

IBM’s Guy Blissett noted research he did for his upcoming National Association of Wholesale-Distributors-published report shows 94% of distributors will be investing in e-commerce.

“E-commerce has to be part of a broader go-to-market, omni-channel journey,” he said. “You shouldn’t go into e-commerce just to chase this shiny new object.”

Brant Cooper, author of the book “The Lean Entrepreneur,” said change in a business doesn’t have to be overly dramatic.

“Separate the known and the unknown,” he said. “What’s known about your business is what you continue to execute. What’s unknown you optimize by learning and understanding your customers deeply and figuring out new value you can create.”

The AD and Unleash WD events are great examples  of how the industry is focused on helping companies succeed in a constantly changing marketplace.

My two cents: If a learning/educational opportunity presents itself at an industry show or in some online form, take advantage of it. You could be unlocking the key to your company’s future success.