NAW CEO Gives Executive Summit Preview

Eric Hoplin outlines how the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors intends to mix fun, education, networking and politics as the conference returns to an in-person event.
Rows of empty chairs in large Conference hall for Corporate Convention or Lecture

With just over two weeks to go until the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributor’s first in-person Executive Summit in two years, MDM spoke with the organization’s CEO Eric Hoplin about what’s in store for this year’s conference. Themed The Future of Distribution is Now, the three-day event will take place in Washington, D.C., from January 25-27.

What are you anticipating for this year’s event?

It’s looking really good. I think members are very excited to get back in person. Last year we did an all-digital event. We didn’t just do your average Zoom meeting. We did a full production with some greatest thought leaders across the country. As I’m meeting with our members, they all tell me it was the best virtual experience they had all year. And so now the expectations are high, and they rightly are.

We’re going to have an in-person component. But also for those who can’t join, we’re going to do hybrid as well. But I think the members are excited to get back together. We’re going have a good mix of networking and fun, but also a deep dive on issues that matter to our members the most.

What impact has the past year had on your planning for 2022?

It’s had an impact in a number of ways. If you look at what’s happening with the supply chain, certainly this is impacting all of our members who are standing at the center of the supply chain. And so, one of the main issues that we’re going to be focused on is how are our members and companies in distribution managing through those challenges? What are they forecasting for the months ahead, going into 2022? And, share some ideas and techniques for how we can best manage through that. Supply chain issues, certainly they are going to carry through from ’21 to 2022. It’ll be one area that we’re going to focus on.

There’s that triumvirate of supply chain, talent and inflation going on.

We’ve got an excellent speaker who’s coming in to focus on that talent piece. He’s been doing a lot of survey work within distribution and across the economy. Our members are having those challenges of, how do you find the best and the brightest in the workforce? How do you retain that talent? And so, we’re going to tackle it in a number of ways. First, with a great session from the stage, but also, we always have roundtables where we’ll will break our members out. … Members are going to have a chance to share with each other, ‘Here’s what we’re planning for 2022.’ Or, ‘Here’s what we tried in the last quarter. This is working and this isn’t.’ They can share some insights and ideas with each other.

What can new attendees expect?

Fun, networking and then just excellent content. Let’s start with the fun: We’re going to open with a reception at the National Archives. Who doesn’t want to have a dinner and cocktails while you’re leaning against the Declaration of Independence? We’ll introduce them to D.C. We’re having a walk/run on the National Mall one morning. There’s going to be a lot of fun along the way.

But also, we’ve got an interesting mix of speakers. This will be our first annual gala dinner where we’re bringing all the members together. And I think we have a lot to celebrate. We’re going to do a celebration of distribution.

In the last year, we had a partnership with NFL teams and with the National League of Cities where members donated $1.5 million of PPE to help these mass vaccination sites get up and running. We’re going to celebrate all that members did throughout the pandemic to help save lives and, importantly, get the economy back on track.

In terms of speakers, one I’ll highlight is we have Rob O’Neill coming. Rob O’Neill was one of the leaders on SEAL Team Six, who led the raid against Osama Bin Laden, and also to save Captain Phillips from the Somali pirates. I think his insights and ideas are going to be really interesting along the idea of training, along the idea of planning, along the lines of execution. There’s no better team in the world than SEAL Team Six. Certainly, they do different things than distributors, but I think the lessons are going to apply, and hopefully in a really uplifting and patriotic way.

We’re also going to tackle cybersecurity. It’s a growing challenge for a number of our members.

And then, a lot of our members are looking at, ‘As we move through the pandemic, so many things in my organization have changed. I’m a bit uncertain about what the future is going to be like. How do we navigate what we hope to be the post-pandemic environment?’ And so, we’re bringing in a world-class expert, his name is Leonard Brody. And in he’s gonna help our members think through that.

Also, Brian Beaulieu [of ITR] is coming. If you’ve seen any NAW events in the past, he’s going to give us an economic outlook so our members have a better sense of how to tailor their forecasts.

Anything else attendees should know?

We’re going to talk a little bit about politics. The business industry is facing unprecedented regulation. New ideas are coming out of Washington every day that will have an impact on whether or not our members can continue to invest in technology and innovation, whether they can continue to invest in their workforces. And so, we’re also going to reflect on the year, some of the successes that we had in Washington, and then of course, give them a preview of what they can expect coming from the federal government in the year ahead.

Any final thoughts on distribution passing the $7-trillion revenue mark?

Here’s another reason why we have to talk more about this industry. I think most Americans don’t understand how large a component of the American economy that distribution is. That $7-trillion number is a milestone for the industry. As you reflect upon the last year, and all the things that we did to drive this economy, it’s certainly not a surprise to any of us. Business is up in most categories across the industry. We’re really proud of that number. It really shows a thriving, growing and in some cases, surging industry, and we hope it portends even greater things for the industry in the future.

Visit naw.org/es22/ for more information.

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