GMA Executive Conference: Perhaps the End of a Very Good Thing? A Review

I’ve just returned from Colorado where GMA, the Association of Food, Beverage and Consumer Products Companies, hosted what will reportedly be their last Executive Conference.  This has been a great education and networking opportunity for food and consumer product manufacturers as well as retailers.  This is my review of the conference.

I participated for a second year representing the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA).  FEMA works with GMA and its members throughout the year but the Conference increases the connection between these great associations.  In addition to learning about GMA initiatives, hopefully I increased the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry awareness of flavors and their importance to the supply chain.  I also benefit from participating in this conference by getting ideas for programs that Verto Solutions creates for other associations.

Stanley McChrystal – A/My Hero

The marquee speakers were General Stanley McChrystal, and author and X Prize Foundation creator Peter Diamandis.  McChrystal’s wonderful presentation was a mix of military history (Lord Nelson at Trafalgar and Napoleon’s march to Moscow), the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, and leadership lessons we should learn from these chapters.  General McChrystal, who reportedly runs at least 7 miles every day and only sleeps 4 hours a night, made a joke about his firing last year by President Obama after a Rolling Stone magazine article referred to the General and his lieutenants making fun of their Commander and Chief and his Vice President, Joe “Bite Me.”  It sounds like McChrystal is doing quite well in the private world, but I’m sure he misses the U.S. Army. Now, with some distance from the episode I take the position that President Obama overreacted when he forced McChrystal out and it cost America a great leader.  General McChrystal’s memoir, My Share of the Task, is scheduled for release in November and I’ve pre-ordered a copy from Amazon.

Lord Nelson – One of General McChrystal’s Leadership Examples

The other keynoter Peter Diamandis has a new book called Abundance.  It’s about the exponential increase in capabilities from new technologies and human innovation.  Diamandis told the story of how the X Prize inspired the first commercial space flight and how this program continues to incentivize breakthroughs and reinvent industries.

The Conference also included recognition of innovation and creativity by E&J Gallo Winery and PepsiCo.  Gallo was recognized for in-store wine education programs that are part of the increasing wine consumption in North America.  PepsiCo was honored for the amazing transformation of a 25-year-old Frito Lay facility in the Arizona desert into a “near-net zero” energy use plant for snack manufacturing.  This plant generates almost all of the energy that it uses, mostly from solar, and Pepsi also recycles most of the water they use there.

I used to be cynical about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and what seemed like self serving corporations patting themselves on the back.  But this stuff matters.  It matters for all industries, but I’m particularly interested in ways to make sure that we can produce more food with less resources.  GMA has an impressive environmental and sustainability program with examples published here.  I’m proud to say that both E&J Gallo and PepsiCo are active members of FEMA.  FEMA hosted a convention program on sustainability two years ago but GMA reminded me that the flavor industry needs to take another step in this critical area; all industries must.

Advocacy, Education, and Insight

The special ingredient at this conference is the very senior level speakers on every panel – the CEOs of the Hershey Company and The J.M. Smucker Co. were on two different panel discussions I attended, and other senior leaders, the most senior CPG leaders, participated in just about every session.  These senior executives have great insight about what retailers and consumers want tomorrow and this is what attendees are hungry to hear.

Visual Enhancement

If I could offer one suggestion for making this event even better, it would be connected to the videos that GMA produced.  My readers know that I am passionate about the power of video to enhance association communications.  I lead a presentation on video use by associations at the recent ASAE Annual Convention in Dallas.  To prepare we surveyed associations about their use of video and my co-presenters and I watched lots of association videos.  We live in a visual world and if associations are going to compete they have to produce great videos.

GMA honored Richard Jurgens, Chairman and CEO of Hy-Vee, Inc., and Dean Pappas, CEO of Clement Pappas & Company Inc.  Both men have impressive stories, as businessmen, association leaders, and family men.  But the videos played for their introductions didn’t do justice to their lives.  The production was jumpy, the pace was too fast and did they even have scores?  I’ve produced association videos and I know it’s not easy, but GMA should have the resources to do more.  For an example of what an association can do with video take a look at the restaurant industry’s story called Industry of Opportunity.

But my critique of the videos shouldn’t take away from the fact that overall this was an amazing conference.  Pamela Bailey the CEO of GMA and her entire team should be congratulated for a great event.  Pam Bailey is certainly an association leader that I admire.

Beginning in January of 2013 this meeting will be co-hosted with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the August meeting in Colorado will go away.  The chatter about this change was mixed; some of the CPGs welcome the combination of the meetings because they value any contact with their customers, the retailers.  Others are sure something will be lost and they think GMA is just doing what the retailers want.  I’m not sure, all I know is that I’ve been fortunate to participate in this meeting for two years running and I hope to continue.

What’s next?  The IACM Global Color Conference: Food & Beverage Color in Today’s Global Market, September 11-13, 2012, Chicago, IL.

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One Response to GMA Executive Conference: Perhaps the End of a Very Good Thing? A Review

  1. Tammy Kuiper says:

    I would say you should not see this as an end but the beginning of something with possibilities. The process of consolidation and seeking efficiencies is commonplace in the corporate world and the association world would seem to have no choice in today’s world and economy but to follow suit. In a changing world, change is unavoidable in all things and we must change along with it if we are to survive and prosper. I would also say that you should not write off this conference as gone to the winds of time. If one thing can be counted on it’s that history has a way of repeating itself. In the future, as needs and environments change, you may see a return to this meeting model by someone who repackages it and markets it as a new twist on great idea from the past.

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