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George Pattee wants his tenure as 2019 Chairman of the Board for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors to be upbeat and positive. “This year we will be talking a lot about how business is good and the economy is good,” he says. “I’m extremely bullish on wholesale distribution.”
The chairman and former CEO of Parksite Inc., a wholesale distributor of building materials based in Batavia, IL, has spent his entire career with Parksite, beginning as a truck loader 47 years ago.
“Ever since I got involved in it, I’ve heard people say, ‘One day you’re going to be disintermediated. You’re going to get taken out because we don’t need a middleman.’ Well, I heard that 30-plus years ago and we’re still here.”
The NAW held its annual Board of Directors election Feb. 4 during its Executive Summit in Washington, D.C. Pattee has been involved with the NAW “since the pre-internet era,” including as a member of several sub-committees, and became a member of its board five years ago.
“Part of my reason for accepting the invitation to join the board was wanting to give back,” he says. “I wanted to thank them and try to make it a better organization for the next generation of companies.”
The NAW’s mission is to work for the betterment of its members, who are composed of direct member companies and a federation of national, regional, state and local associations accounting for more than 30,000 employers in all 50 states.
The 10-member board, says Pattee, takes its responsibility to these companies very seriously.
“It’s extremely hands-on,” he says. “It’s very much a working board. I think one of the ultimate benefits to the association is the years of experience that the people on the board bring.”
Taken together, the board members have more than 240 years of experience in wholesale distribution. Board members, Pattee says, are typically drawn from different industry verticals, which has the benefit of providing a broad range of perspectives and experiences.
Education and Training
One of the board’s main focuses in recent years is to provide education and training for its members. “It’s vitally important that you train and develop your people,” Pattee says. “It’s critical that you make them better, stronger employees. Invest in your people and they’ll stay and make your business stronger.”
The NAW board’s outgoing chairman, Joseph Nettemeyer, president and CEO of San Jose-based technical solutions provider Valin Corporation and who this year will move into the position of Past Chairman, agrees that helping member organizations train and retain employees is a critical issue.
In addition to regularly publishing books, research and white papers, many of which are developed through the NAW’s sister board, the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence, the NAW also partners with colleges, including Texas A&M and Ohio State University, to sponsor programs that train and develop employees in wholesale distribution.
Over the past decade, Valin has sponsored a dozen master’s degrees in industrial distribution at Texas A&M, most of them for millennials who now work for the company. “I never felt like I could stand before the membership and say, ‘You should do this,’” Nettemeyer says. “I wanted to say, ‘I’ve done it, and it works.’ Lead by example, and not by words.”
Education and training are crucial not only to retain qualified employees but also, says Nettemeyer, because the industry is changing at a record pace. “I entered the workforce in 1973, and from 1973 till about 10 years ago things moved along at a very slow and easy pace. Change was minimal,” he says. “Now, it’s estimated that 10,000 boomers retire every day — a huge demographic shift. We had to look at the millennial generation and ask ourselves, ‘What are we going to do to attract, train and retain those people?’”
Another NAW priority for Pattee is to continue its active presence in Washington, D.C. Goals include ensuring that the industry does not become over-regulated and that the benefits of any legislative changes are felt by both major industry players as well as small- and mid-size businesses that are the backbone of the distribution industry. “Through our presence on Capitol Hill and our political action committees, we want to be part of the process and not somebody sitting on the side,” he says. “Businesses, especially small businesses, drive our economy, pay their taxes, and create the economic engine that encourages growth.”
New board member Rick Long, EVP and general counsel for the Tulsa, OK-based Petroleum Equipment Institute, a nonprofit trade association representing 1,600 manufacturers and distributors of fuel-marketing equipment, agrees that political engagement is vital to the health of the industry. “Wholesale distributors play a huge role in the nation’s economy,” says Long. “The number I often see is that $5.7 trillion is connected with wholesale distribution. So the NAW is focused on supporting public policies that encourage a robust free enterprise system, to help people understand that free enterprise is the best possible option for a healthy economy.”
Long is one of three board members who represent the roughly 70 wholesale distribution associations that are part of the NAW. These three are collectively known as the Association Executives Council (AEC) and, as with the regular board members, they join at the most junior level and typically progress year by year through the various offices. Long joins the board this year as Chairman-Elect of the AEC.
“The great thing about the AEC,” he says, “is that we can come together as association executives and share with each other the opportunities and challenges that we are facing in our industry and maybe within our associations. We’re able to say to our peers, ‘Have you experienced anything like this in your industry and in your association?’ It’s a great support system, it’s a great idea-generation system. It’s almost like a networking group.”
A third focus of the NAW board this year will be membership recruitment. Pattee wants to work to raise awareness of the benefits that companies can receive by joining the NAW. For example, the NAW’s employee training programs and political action can benefit not just the smaller companies, says Pattee, but also the $100-million and billion-dollar ones. “We’re working on an interesting program now with a company that helps our members with negotiating credit card fees and setting up e-commerce programs. You just don’t send in a check — you get to be part of something that makes your business stronger.”
Nettemeyer believes that chairmanship of the board is in good hands for 2019. He and Pattee spent eight years together on the NAW Institute board with Pattee joining the board of directors the year after Nettemeyer. Both men are Midwesterners, a background Nettemeyer believes gives them both a pragmatic approach to problem solving.
“George is not enraptured with the moment or the idea of the week,” he says. “He’s willing to wrestle with what will keep the NAW relevant tomorrow and next year and the year after that. He’s very engaged in trying to help the industry wrestle with change that is taking place at a pace we’ve never experienced before. He could just punt the can down the road and let others deal with it, but that’s not in his DNA.”