Although the format for the 2020 VMA/VRC Annual Meeting was different, the fact the event was virtual allowed considerably more people to participate compared to last year—attendance jumped by 30% over 2019—and the enthusiasm was evident throughout the three-day event.
The theme of the meeting, held Sept. 9 to 11, was “New ways to network, to learn and to visualize the future,” and this was carried through in several ways.
Bryan Burns, president and CEO of DeZURIK and outgoing VMA chairman started the event off with a positive attitude: COVID-19 and the economic recession of the year have presented new challenges to the world, he said, but it has also meant new innovations and solutions.
“While this year was certainly unexpected, it also highlighted what VMA can do for our member companies and the industry,” he said.
For example, the pandemic led to a movement to advocate that the valve industry is essential to the nation. The need for social distancing prompted new ways of meeting and education through virtual events and webinars. This year’s many challenges showed how vital the association is in getting members the resources they need to deal with their current business needs.
Burns said it also reinforced how important one of the key efforts of the board is right now: developing a strategic plan for the association. The board voted to create the plan early in 2020; completing and implementing the plan will be a major part of 2021’s efforts.
“VMA is the only association with the express purpose of helping our industry,” Burns said at the business meeting. “The board believes this strategic plan can strengthen what’s already a strong association.”
Arie Bregman, vice president and general manager of DFT, who led the committee that planned content for the annual meeting and takes over as chairman of VMA, agreed with Burns that the year has brought unprecedented change, but also new thinking.
“Certainly, no business school ever addressed how to handle a pandemic so we’re finding ourselves figuring out things as we go,” he said. However, technology allows us new ways to work, network and meet remotely. As far as the economic recession, “We’ve survived these downturns before. We will survive this one as well,” he said.
During the meeting’s concluding session, Bregman also commented on what is to come.
“My sincere hope is that COVID will be fully in our rearview mirror by this time next year. We can look forward to an in-person meeting for the networking it provides,” he said, while also learning how to use the tools developed to deal with the pandemic to include more people as part of association’s program.
RECOGNIZING TOP VOLUNTEERS
Just as it has in previous years, VMA honored several individuals during this year’s meeting. Receiving the association’s highest honor, Person of the Year, was Mark Nahorski, president, IMI PBM, Inc. This achievement award is presented to someone who has many years of service to the association. Nahorski has accomplished much on behalf of the association, including stepping in many times to lead projects.
Nahorski has been on the Board of Directors for six years, has served on the Nominating and Presidential Search committees and has been a willing source of industry guidance and assistance whenever needed. VMA Chair Bryan Burns pointed out that “Mark has always been willing to dedicate his time and expertise to better the VMA.”
After the event, Nahorski expressed his thoughts on receiving the award.
“It is my humble honor to be selected as this year’s VMA Person of the Year,” he said. “VMA is successful due to hard work and dedication of its staff and members. I never thought that this achievement was within my reach, as I simply participated in doing what I love, while trying to make a difference in this great organization.”
Also honored at this year’s meeting was Steve Szpak, director, Sales & Marketing, Trillium Valves USA, who received a VMA Service Award. Service awards are given to individuals that have gone above and beyond in supporting VMA, contributing to committee efforts and working with committees and staff to deliver value to the membership.
Szpak has been involved in VMA for many years. For the last decade he also has been a vital part of the Market Trends Committee, serving as its chair the last three years.
“Steve has always been a pleasure to work with. He has been absolutely selfless regarding his commitment to VMA,” said Marc Pasternak, VMA vice president.
After learning of this accolade, Szpak commented that, “I am deeply honored to receive the award. It is my pleasure to work with such a professional and supportive team as the people at VMA. The knowledge and friendship that I have received over the years is my true reward,” he said.
LEARNING FROM THE EXPERTS
Annual meeting attendees heard from speakers on a various topics of importance including what’s happening because of COVID-19, what the current political climate holds for manufacturing, how to deal with bias in the workplace, the economic situation is and much more.
Keynote speaker Lt. General Russel L. Honoré, retired U.S. Army kicked off the educational portion of the annual meeting by addressing leadership in the new normal.
Sometimes the simplest things can keep us in balance, he said. Even amid the current uncertainty, we can still do the basic, routine tasks well, which can serve as a foundation for making the best of the situation. The pandemic has required organizations to change in many ways. “People don’t like change,” Honoré said, but “the primary responsibility of the leader is to lead and create change.”
Michael Halloran, CFA, senior research analyst, Robert W. Baird and Company, discussed the economic environment. He said that although the nation was already entering an industrial recession before the pandemic hit, “a lot has changed since last year” when he spoke to VMA 2019 annual meeting attendees. He said that uncertainty is not going away. Companies now more than ever need to be able to manage through this uncertainty and have the nimbleness to adapt and the fortitude to invest to move forward.
Pamela Fuller, global client partner for FranklinCovey on biases. She said that though biases are viewed negatively, they really are just a reflection of who we are, our education and our life experiences. They become a problem, however, when they get in the way of doing a job: for example, when they prevent us from hiring the most competent candidate for a job. This is especially true when we’re under stress because our minds sometimes kick into “automatic thinking.”
Danielle Zaft, organizational transformation and change management expert at JLL Americas, on organizational change explained that our aversion to change is largely a biological factor—it is interpreted by our brains as a threat to our current environment when we desire stability. Though it can be a complex process, organizations can effectively implement change by following several steps that begin with assessing the company’s readiness, and then making plans compatible with the workplace culture.
John Zogby, founder of the Zogby companies, addressed the political climate, noting that the major issues in the presidential campaigns are the economy, COVID-19, health care, racism/law and order, immigration and climate change. Voter turnout will be a major factor in the 2020 presidential election, he said. As has happened in the past, undecided voters may tend not to vote, which can tip the election one way or the other.
SHARING IN DISCUSSION FORUMS
The program also featured a series of group discussions interspersed with the formal presentations.
A Zoom gathering on marketing and selling in a remote environment attracted a lot of attention as members shared their experiences. One point brought up by several attendees was how to support their outside sales teams during this difficult year. Some members spoke about using the time freed up by lack of travel to implement sales training on how to effectively use digital technology to communicate with customers and prospects.
Eric McClafferty, senior partner, international trade at Kelley, Drye & Warren led a discussion on legislative/regulatory developments, telling the group that tariffs will likely remain in place for a time, regardless of who is president. He noted that tariff exclusions for valve-related products have expired or are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
FUTURE ASSOCIATION MEETINGS
Recognizing that virtual components to learning will continue to be a key part of communications and learning for all in future years, VMA is looking at hybrid event models. Heather Rhoderick, VMA president said, “We are hopeful that by this time next year we are participating in a live meeting where we can enjoy interacting face to face and the extensive networking that is accomplished in this kind of environment. But knowing there are those who would like to travel to our meetings but who will be unable to do so, a combination of both live and hybrid may be the best solution.”