GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference (SMC) will take place April 5-7, 2020, at the JW Marriott Austin in Austin, Texas. This year, the association has opted for a new format that we hope will be more inclusive for management at all levels of the company. As this is the first year of the new format, we have received questions from the membership about the new-look SMC. 2020 GAWDA President Abydee Butler Moore addressed these FAQ’s below. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to GAWDA headquarters or visit

What was the reason for the change in format of the SMC this year?

Tom Elliott’s presentation at the 2019 SMC in Minneapolis about their catastrophic fire rocked the audience to its core. It was one of the most content-packed, ‘go home and make a change to save your business’ talks the industry has experienced. I said to our 2020 SMC Austin Planning Committee, “Let’s add a safety workshop to the agenda, to take a deep dive into safety content targeting distributor owners and core level managers. In other words, let’s continue the conversation that Tom started.”  The Planning Committee challenged, “Why just do it for safety?  Why not for sales, HR, even IT?” and the Education Tracks concept was born. Some of the industry veterans on our Planning Committee recalled the days of NWSA Operation Interchange, a similar concept that drove more content into the Zone Meetings. This format change is all about delivering actionable business takeaways at the operational level, back to blocking and tackling, to engage more distributor participation.

What has changed about this year’s format compared to past years?

We are replacing one of the two general business sessions with an Education Track series. The first morning of the SMC features four meeting rooms, each with a focus area: Safety and Operations, Human Resources, Sales and Marketing, and Information Technology. Attendees can spend the morning in a single Track or rotate among the rooms. Three presentations from different distributor businesses will be shared in each Track, twelve unique learning opportunities in total across the four themes. Each presenter will be sharing a best practice or lesson learned, something which we can all learn from and implement.

How will the new format benefit me, as an attendee?

You will learn something that you can implement to pay for your trip. This meeting is designed for take-home content. And it will be plentiful! You will meet new contacts. The new format is drawing new faces to the SMC – managers from safety and compliance, HR, sales, IT and administration. These managers will spend the morning with their counterparts across our member companies, providing an immediate network of like-minded resources for future connection and consultation. Furthermore, these core level managers will network with our suppliers during the Contact Booth program, which follows the Education Tracks, expanding product and service knowledge, and your supply chain network.

Why should I attend if I’m an executive and this conference is targeted toward core level management?

The keynote speaker during the general business session is Patrick Lencioni, business guru and author. Owners, executives, and core level managers alike will learn how to be better leaders and team players for their organizations. Specific to the Education Track format, attendees do not have to stay in one room all morning. A distributor owner, for example, could spend the morning learning how to protect his/her business from cyber threats in the IT Track, discovering a solution for tracking and measuring Driver performance in the Safety and Operations Track, and uncovering how to get employees to give a damn in the HR Track. Yes, “Getting Employees to Give A Damn” is the actual topic, being presented by Ryan Craven, Vice President and General Manager of General Air. “A Dark Web Nightmare” is being presented by Joe Ripslinger, Vice President Information Technology of S.J. Smith. “Keeping Score in Distribution” is being presented by Craig Harris, Vice President of Operations of Red Ball Oxygen.

What actionable takeaways should I expect to take away from this conference?

This conference is being built so our members cannot afford not to attend. The Education Track presenters are all GAWDA members, sharing what has worked and what has not worked for their businesses. Takeaways will include successes to emulate and most importantly, failures to not repeat. Additionally, Patrick Lencioni, our business session’s keynote speaker, is called “one of the most in demand speakers in America” by The Wall Street Journal. He is renowned as the pioneer of the organizational health movement and is the author of 11 books, which have sold more than 6 million copies and have been translated into more than 30 languages.

Anything else I should know about the new SMC before I register?

Four people from your organization have to attend if you want to capture the content from every Education Track. The schedule is 4×3, four tracks with three presentations in each. And just because the focus is content does not mean we forgot about the fun. The opening reception will include dinner to keep all GAWDA distributors and suppliers together, networking and building rapport. This event is being held at Austin City Limits, a state-of-the-art live music venue that hosts approximately 100 concerts a year. One of them will be ours! This three-part GAWDA party features a reception, dinner, and live concert.

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