GAWDA Annual Convention – The CEO Track

After the introductory marks, Abydee welcomed the six participants for the morning’s opening session, “The CEO Track.” She was joined on stage by industry stalwarts: Jason Krieger, Jenny McCall, Richelle Smith-Brecht, Mark Raimy, Wally Brant and Alex Kennedy. The panel followed the SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

“The CEO is not a reward, it’s not a medal and it’s not somewhere you park somebody when they get old. It’s an active job and an active duty. To me, a good day as a CEO is being visible,” said Indiana Oxygen CEO Wally Brant. “Be engaging with your people. And be genuine. There’s no excuse for not being visible within your headquarters and your company.”

One of the things that all of the CEOs agreed on was the importance of culture.

“You have to have a strong culture because if you lose that, your turnover starts to get higher. And that’s something that really sets us apart as a company,” said Red Ball Oxygen CEO Alex Kennedy. “And as CEO, it’s something you have to push yourself toward every day to maintaining that strong culture. Success cannot be maintained without a strong culture.”

After an in-depth discussion of culture, Abydee asked the panel about how to celebrate and leverage the core competencies of the company aside from culture.

“Service after the sale is what is most important,” says WESCO Gas & Welding President/CEO Jenny McCall. “I can lose a customer over price, but if we lose it over service, that’s an issue. It’s taking care of the customer after the sale is what is most important to us.”

After that, Abydee asked the panel about what they are doing to ensure they are recruiting employees who fit their company culture.

American Welding and Gas President and CEO Jason Krieger talked about his company’s commitment to hiring employees from trade schools. Brant pulled out a card he always his with him that discusses the positions within the company and the benefits of working for Indiana Oxygen. He encourages his employees to carry that card with them in the event that they come across an attractive candidate.

“I think just as important as recruiting new employees is looking at the people you already have,” says S.J. Smith President and CEO Richelle Smith-Brecht. “Seeing what their strengths are to see if there is another position within the company that can utilize their talents. There’s no special sauce to recruiting, especially today, so making sure you are getting the most out of what you already have is really important.”

Following the portion of the session on strengths, the discussion shifted to weaknesses that we have an industry.

“The W of SWOT is the most important column, because that’s where the opportunities are,” says Welders Supply CEO Mark Raimy. “Hearing that we’re great or we’re the best is nice, but I tell people it doesn’t help us improve. We need to know where our weaknesses are, so we can investigate those and fix them.”

Following the discussion of weaknesses, Abydee asked the key question of the day, “What does this room and our industry look like in five years.”

“Hopefully this room is more full in five years and we’ve got a great group that is working hard to address those weaknesses,” Kennedy says.

“I was really pleased to see that growth in distributor numbers. I think you’re going to see a more online, younger group. And I think and hope we’ll see more distributors,” said Smith-Brecht.

“I agree about the importance of bringing on more distributors. I think we’ll see more diversity and women. But I think the wave of consolidation will continue,” said Kreiger.

“We talk about consolidation the same way we talked about automation. There are opportunities that arise from that. I think you’ll see this room just as full if not more full than it is today. There will always be those grass root membership opportunities,” Brant added.

In addition to the questions from Abydee, the panel took questions from the audience. Overall, the session was incredibly insightful and left attendees with lots of topics to think about and bring back to their own companies.



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