Community, Connection Strong Themes at ISA Fall Summit 2023 - Modern Distribution Management

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Community, Connection Strong Themes at ISA Fall Summit 2023

MDM's Spencer Gale highlights the significant presence of emerging leaders and the strong sense of community at ISA's Fall Summit.
ISA Fall Summit, via ISA Twitter
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Lead photo courtesy of ISA

I had the opportunity to attend the Industrial Supply Association’s (ISA) 2023 Fall Summit in Orlando, Florida, Oct. 18-20. This is the second year ISA has hosted a Fall Summit, combining previously separate virtual and smaller meet-ups into one event with three simultaneous content track options for attendees: Women in Industry, Emerging Leaders and Channel Pros.  

While my last name may suggest a deep industry knowledge, I feel like a relative newbie just three years into working with MDM and finally able to meet many people in-person for the first time who I have heard about for decades or seen only from the shoulders up in the intimacy of their own homes and offices. To enter the world of wholesale distribution one month before the pandemic began has given me a unique perspective seeing both the most innovative and lagging strategies of distributors’ ability to manage historic external change and challenges.  

In talking with industry leaders, solution providers, manufacturers and manufacturer representatives, the tone as we close 2023 and look towards 2024 and beyond is decidedly more stable and optimistic than the previous few years. While three simultaneous tracks left me overwhelmed with choice, track-hopping allowed me to gleam a bit from each session. Sessions in the Channel Pros track highlighted the critical roles of deep relationships along every channel touchpoint — from new pricing strategies to managing conflict and friction in service lines, sessions teased out the nuances across partnerships. Women in Industry sessions focused on empowering underrepresented leaders in industry, and the value of personal growth within professional contexts. Mentorship and honoring our individuality as leaders were key themes as a way to build a strong workforce and in turn nurture a healthy culture and strong team.  

Photo Credit: MDM/Spencer Gale

As someone who’s had the privilege of attending several industry events in adjacent sectors, ISA’s membership commitment to women and next-gen talent development is notable. In my early 30s, I often feel an outlier in some distribution event spaces; yet here, I felt at home with peers already making their positive impact in distribution. Emerging Leaders sessions were highly-attended, an encouraging investment from more senior leadership. Sessions provoked self-exploration and awareness, asking young leaders to explore how they show up, how they would like to show up and what this looks like in collaborative team environments. Workplace cultures are shifting and younger generations will continue to drive this change. New skills development is at the heart of how we show up in virtual industry spaces, how we address and manage conflict with senior leaders and effectively advocate and communicate our values as people and leaders. As several sessions reinforced, it requires practice and rethinking some traditional workplace models.  

While there was a feeling of stability after the last few years of disruption, rapidly changing market demographics – from gender, age and “the right number” of partners in channel relationships – are redefining the workplace characteristics to remain agile and competitive moving forward. There is no going back to pre-2020 expectations and standards.  

Again at ISA’s Fall Summit, I was reminded of what I believe is the most compelling and powerful characteristic of wholesale distribution at large: the welcoming, familial (literally at times) community. While a service-centric community may be at the core of many successful distributors, like any good relationship it takes intention and commitment to maintain.  

ISA’s intentional community building is evident at their events from start to finish. From poolside conversations to early morning walks and yoga to a spectacular pickleball tournament, the thoughtfulness of bringing together association members is clear; the impact for attendees and their teams by proxy is more than I could wish to capture here. I heard stories from many who have attended ISA’s events in the past and reiterated the impact community and connection has had for them professionally and personally – from their closest industry friendships and business partnerships to meeting a spouse through the Emerging Leaders programming.  

In closing remarks, ISA CEO Brendan Breen echoed what many in industrial channels expressed throughout the event: after the shakeup of the last few years, many are looking to level set and integrate new market dynamics and actors into their work.  

(Lead photo via ISA Twitter)

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