Networking at Industry Events

By Jerry Randecker and Chris Sitter

 

During my career I have had the opportunity to attend numerous industry related events. These range from dealer open house events where local customers stop by for a hot dog and a drink to learn about a new product or just receive a Thank You for doing business – to the other extreme where international attendees number in excess of 100,000 and millions of dollars are spent to market a brand or a service at events like ConExpo or BAUMA.

Since the financial return to attend these events cannot be easily measured, I have often asked myself, and the Team I worked with, if it was all worth the effort. During the past couple of months we have had the opportunity to attend three such events:

  • AED Executive Forum – held in Chicago
  • Product Support Seminar – Sponsored by AEM
  • MINExpo – held every 4 years in Las Vegas, NV

Although the purpose of each of these events is different, they all provide an opportunity to network with others in the industry. I always plan to visit with specific people – some that I know and may have worked with in the past – others that I have heard of but never met – and I always try to meet people randomly during the event. Often it is this encounter where I learn the most “new” information.

After attending the AED Executive Forum, I departed with the following observations:

Economists must never be allowed to present an optimistic future forecast. Although there are numerous statistics showing an improved economy since 2008/2009, the presentations remained focused on the potential negative indicators, like the “fiscal cliff”, still looming in the future.

  • 80% of the attendees indicated they intended to vote for Mitt Romney for President. A second question to the same group indicated that 60% + felt President Obama would be elected to a 2nd term. This poll was taken in early September and it remains to be seen what will happen after all the debates and final vote is tallied.
  • Although attendance has improved considerably at this annual event the ratio of Dealer representatives remains low relative to OEM’s and suppliers. This seems to be economic driven so I guess maybe the point I made about economists earlier was out of line. This is an excellent opportunity to begin your planning process for next year and I hope attendance continues to build in the future.

We had the honor to be part of a panel discussion at the Product Support Seminar. The topic was “recruiting challenges” and here are a few things I learned:

  • As a member of the Baby Boomers (born 1943 – 1960) I no longer represent the group that is in the majority of the workforce. Baby Boomers now make up 37% while Generation X (born 1961-1981) represent 45% of the current workforce.
  • Notable personalities in my era included George W. Bush and Steve Jobs. The most recent group of employees are known as Millennials/Gen Y (born 1982-2003).  Notable personalities mentioned include Snookie and Lady GaGa. Makes me glad I’m a Baby Boomer.
  • Often the most overlooked source for excellent potential employees – particularly Product Support – is from the military. With the planned reduction in the level of Troops – there should be well qualified Technicians and Service Managers available with 10-20 years of experience in the coming years.

Finally – MINExpo

  • Mining Equipment just keeps getting bigger. It is hard not to be impressed by hydraulic shovel, trucks and loaders that look larger than the house we live in.
  • Las Vegas cabbies were glad to see us all show up.
  • The consistent theme of discussion remained consistent with the previous two events – economy, presidential election, slowdown in China and the uncertainty in Europe. Everyone seems to be “holding their breath” for a few months before moving forward with their plan to grow.

Most people we speak with in the heavy equipment industry feel business was better in the first half of 2012 than it has been in the 2nd half. Everyone generally remains optimistic that 2013 will show continued modest economic improvement overall.

Although I commented earlier that I often wonder if attending these events is worthwhile, I should note that feeling is always stronger before I actually go. These past three events reminded me how valuable it is to spend some time visiting with industry colleagues and staying current with industry trends and practices. Of course the next major event on the calendar is AED scheduled for January 15-17 in Las Vegas. See you there!