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Collaborating for Success

Chairman's Column - April 2012

Mark W. Kramer, Laird Plastics
2012 NAW Chairman of the Board

As we join the country in watching events unfold during this election year, it is hard not to be struck by the negative tone, the failure to engage on truly critical issues, and the resulting lack of progress that seems to dominate our government. Within the business community far too many of the related headlines seem to be grabbed by people who have failed to resolve the urgent issues facing their industries and companies.

The world is moving faster as time and space shrink between continents. The Wholesale Distribution channel is being buffeted as new entrants arrive, the service models within the channel change, the roles of various parties start to overlap, and global supply and demand curves alter previous understandings. The demands of suppliers, customers, shareholders, and neighbors are rising as are the expectations placed on those in leadership roles. The magnitude and complexity of issues being created in this rapid and complex environment cries out for an approach to problem solving that bridges differences and leverages the strengths of all involved parties.

We are aware of all of this, as many of us prove every day in building and growing our businesses. We access and analyze information from more sources than ever before. We seek out the parties most critical to our success and work to align ourselves with them, drawing on new ideas and avoiding the “reinvent the wheel” problem. In short, we intuitively find ways to make better decisions faster by collaborating with others, at times even with our competitors or opponents, in the advancement of our own interests.

I have often observed NAW over the years to be engaged in exactly this type of beneficial, effective collaboration. In fact, in my view, NAW has established itself as a “thought and action leader” in collaborative action for enhanced results. Whether you seek to build your own industry or professional knowledge, train your sales and leadership teams, enhance the effectiveness of your voice in Washington, DC, or access uniquely effective business services that improve your company’s performance, NAW has blazed the trail before you. Your participation in NAW enables engagement with industry leaders, other lines of trade, and industry experts and analysts. Consider the range of advantages available to every NAW member: 

  • Industry Networking and Benchmarking. Widen your perspectives and meet industry executives and professionals at the NAW Executive Summit, various size-appropriate NAW Roundtables, and the weeklong, comprehensive NAW Wholesale Distribution Manger’s Course—each geared to help you leverage the experiences of others to speed your own knowledge, analysis, and decision making.
  • Industry Intelligence. Access the vast library of distribution-specific research studies and best practice books that come from the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence. Enhance your professional capabilities and those of your key staff through the NAW Institute’s collaborative efforts with our industry’s most accomplished observers, analysts, and authors. Participate in world-class analysis of key wholesale distribution challenges by collaborating with the NAW Institute and Texas A&M University through annual consortia provided by the Council for Research on Distributor Best Practices. Access NAW SmartBrief four times a week for its collection of immediately relevant industry information. Test your strategy and business plan against the profoundly relevant “Facing the Forces of Change®” industry analysis series. And, utilize “AskNAW”® to seek real-time input from NAW members on key challenges facing your business.
  • Effective Government Participation. Take advantage of NAW’s extensive monitoring of all pertinent developments in Washington, DC, to stay informed. Use NAW’s easy-to-use website advocacy tool, “E-Alert,” to increase your communications on key issues with your elected officials. Gain advance perspective on government actions and regulations that will have a significant impact on your business. Leverage your influence through the collective efforts of the WDPAC and the various industry and issue-oriented coalitions that NAW joins and, in many cases, leads.
  • Accessible Business Services and Products. NAW’s industry reach and footprint have enabled collaboration with some of the country’s leading providers of essential business services, such as credit reporting, insurance, shipping, personnel evaluation, and IT solutions. These resources have been customized for the unique business environment of Wholesale Distribution and attractively priced to reflect the value that NAW access provides.

The NAW leadership and staff have created a business model that operates at the highest levels of collaboration, synergy, and leveraged activity. You may learn more about NAW’s products and services for our wholesale distribution industry by reading the just-released NAW 2011 Annual Report.  

The lessons that can be drawn and applied from this NAW example to our own businesses are distinct and immediate. What opportunity in front of you or what problem you seek to put behind you would reach successful conclusion faster by collaborating with others both inside and outside your company? How do we plan to gain a wider perspective and greater information in preparing to make decisions? How can we prepare our people to solve problems and seize opportunities in a better, more effective manner? How can we utilize available resources and gain access to what we lack in the most efficient and effective manner?

The success of Wholesale Distribution is vital to the success of our economy and country. You will have seen the data that ascribes more than 5.5% of the country’s total GDP of about $15 trillion directly to the enormous value-added contribution by Wholesale Trade. We are the industry that in so many ways enables the lifestyles we have all come to enjoy. Our ability to find evermore efficient ways to move goods from place of manufacture to place of consumption and to do so with ever-increasing sensitivity to the related impact on surrounding resources is critical to our success. The changes that we as executives in this wonderful industry will have to foster will require more innovation, more collaboration, and an approach to decision making designed to alter the image being created by today’s headlines.

The world is moving faster. Decisions won’t wait and resources will always seem scarcer than we wish. How would each of us do better by reflecting on the examples of collaboration, aggregate participation, and coalition that NAW evidences every day?