Former GAWDA Presidents Share Advice on Getting the Most out of Convention and SMC
Networking is one of the greatest benefits of being a GAWDA member. And the two national meetings each year provide the best opportunity to combine networking and education. However, attending these national meetings means time away from your business. It means paying for hotels and flights. 2021 GAWDA President Abydee Butler Moore stressed the importance of bringing real take-home value home from each meeting that would justify the time and money invested in the trip.
We had the opportunity to speak with five former GAWDA Presidents about how they maximize their time spent at a national meeting to ensure that they are getting the most bang for their buck. Thank you to 2015 President Bill Visintainer, 2011 President Bryan Keen, 2010 President Lloyd Robinson, 2003 President Wally Brant, and 1999 President Dave Mahoney for your help and insight in putting this article together.
Welding & Gases Today: How many GAWDA shows have you attended in your career? Is there one, in particular, that stands out to you?
Dave Mahoney: I first started attending SMC’s and the Annual Conventions in 1978. I always find them to be very informative with great content. My year as President stands out most to me. We had three SMC’s that year, one in Baltimore, another in Chicago and the third in Dallas. We also went to Maui in January of 2000 to plan the annual convention there in September of that year. The venue was terrific and a convention that I will never forget. It is hard to believe that was almost 22 years ago!
Wally Brant: Believe it or not, I have attended every Annual Convention, beginning with 1983 in Anaheim, EXCEPT for 1987 (Hawaii) and 2008 (Bahamas). That equals 37! I cannot narrow it down to any particular AC as THE most memorable, but topping the lists would be:
1983 (Anaheim): Didn’t know a soul except for ONE vendor who was nice but kept shaking us to be with other people. But THEN…Jack Butler and his sisters, Debbie and Barbara, introduced themselves and said: “Why don’t you hang out with us?” We’ve been best friends ever since. Now our children are the best of friends!
1984 (Chicago): The Cubs had JUST lost in the National League playoffs to San Diego, and it was like a morgue. That was all the grumpy taxi drivers could talk about!
1986 (Seattle): The airline lost our luggage for two days!
1992 (Vancouver): I was the Chairman of the Fun Run through Stanley Park. However, the professional group that set up the course had only ONE leader, who led the way for the other runners. Soon, only about a half-dozen runners were keeping pace with the lead runner; the rest of us fell far behind. Inside Stanley Park, the paths twisted and crossed, and EVERYONE got lost! One runner had to hail a cab! I learned the feeling of getting “dumped on.” Even 6-year-old Abydee Butler scowled at me and said: “You’re a MEAN MAN!” Why, I asked? “Because my daddy didn’t win a medal.”
Lloyd Robinson: I started in the industry in 1990. My guess is that I have attended at least 50 different events if you include the national, SMC and regionals.
Bryan Keen: I’ve been attending GAWDA SMCs and ACs since the early 2000s. I’ve missed very few so I would say I am close to 40 conventions. There are two that stand out to me. Of course, my inauguration in New York in 2011 and my meeting at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in 2012.
Bill Visintainer: I’ve attended 36 national meetings. Of course, the one that stands out most to me was my year as President. The meeting was held at the Grand Wailea in Maui.
WGT: Why do you feel that attending a GAWDA SMC or Annual Convention is a worthwhile investment for your company?
DM: I always come home with information that I can put to use at Noble. Most of all, I get to make friends for a lifetime. As an owner, it is important to find like people that you can bounce ideas off of or discuss an issue you are having. I have many contacts within the organization that I have done that with over the years. I have also been on the receiving end of those calls many times. What a great resource.
WB: I REFUSE to say “networking,” “meeting new people,” or “learning about my industry.” So, I’ll just say it’s worthwhile for all the SWAG (free stuff) at the Contact Booth Program, along with the chance to “Get away from the business to work on my business.” Plus, time with my wife and traveling to adventurous places near the host city.
LR: The welding supply industry is, first and foremost, a people business. If you do not meet the people that can help you, you will not be successful. Just being able to call the national sales manager, president, or owner of a supplier because you met them at a GAWDA meeting is priceless. Also, being able to do the same for the leaders in the industry is almost as priceless. I have called so many people over the years for advice. If I had not met these people face-to-face I would not have been able to make those calls.
BK: The SMC is a can’t miss event. Networking, business content, only two days away from the office and it is less costly. It is an absolute must attend event for First Timers and veterans. You can learn so much from your peers if you just know where to look and who to ask. We’re all different but we all face similar challenges. Having friends to lean on is invaluable.
BV: When done right, the value received through attendance is far greater than your travel cost and registration. If it isn’t, you need to figure out what you are doing wrong and fix it.
WGT: What do you feel is the most valuable thing about attending a national show?
DM: I can’t stress enough how important the networking is at the meetings. Networking is the number one reason people should attend.
WB: As I said before, the opportunity for time to work on your business is priceless. You get to see great locations and learn valuable information and meet other people that can all benefit your business.
LR: Networking, networking, networking. And then some educational stuff.
BK: Networking, speakers, dinners and good times are all part of the value. It’s also about getting away from your business for a few days. Work on your strategy and long-term goals. Learn from the success of your industry peers. Let your team at the office make some decisions on their own. It will be good for you, for them and for your business.
BV: The consultants and the networking and sharing opportunities.
WGT: Is there anything you do before traveling to the show to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck?
DM: Before you go, you should review the information regarding content and bring the people from your company that can benefit from those topics.
WB: I study the brochure to help me remember the names of people I see only one time a year! I also read up on history of places around the host site (also watching “Aerial American” on the host city).
LR: Get rest before you travel. Also, make a list of who you want to meet and make sure you find them.
BK: For sure. You always need a plan in life. I start a few weeks in advance just taking some notes of people I want to see or products I want to learn more about. I’ll look at the attendee list. That will remind me of someone I want to see. Maybe there is an opportunity I’m reminded of that I want to learn more about. I’ll also read the latest GAWDA Newsletter and Welding & Gases Today. It will remind me of an opportunity to address or a problem to solve.
BV: I like to review the attendee list and schedule time before or after GAWDA scheduled events to meet. If you’re taking multiple attendees from your company, make sure that the attendees split up and cover as much ground as possible.
WGT: Is there anything you have learned after attending several shows that has enhanced the experience for you?
DM: After attending several meetings, I got the opportunity to get involved in the leadership. You can learn so much more when you get involved vs. sitting on the sidelines. I loved every minute that I was involved in the leadership. I made friends that I still hold dear to this day.
WB: Go to the General Sessions and Contract Booth programs. You are cheating yourself if you don’t attend them all! There is still plenty of time for the pool, shopping, golf, or sight-seeing.
LR: Be friendly and if you are naturally shy, get out of your comfort zone and say hi to people. You will be rewarded for your efforts.
BV: It ain’t a vacation! You can vacation before or after the meeting, but during the meeting it needs to be work (with some accents of fun).
WGT: Are there any last pearls of wisdom you can share for first-time attendees?
DM: I would highly recommend that first timers go out of their way to meet people. GAWDA members are very welcoming. You can learn a lot from interacting with peers from the industry.
WB: Yes! DON’T BE SHY! If you’re not included in a conversation, seek out someone to converse with. Chances are, that person is shy too! Be like Jack Butler and you just might be the difference between getting another industry member involved…or responsible for that person never returning to another AC!
LR: Have fun. The more fun you have, the more people you will meet and the more you will get out of your experience.
BK: It’s a great industry and a great group. Stick with it, stay involved and reap the rewards in the long run. Look at the longevity of the members. There’s a reason that distributors last through generations. You can be successful in this industry if you stick to it. You won’t get rich overnight, but you will have a lifetime of success and great memories. Give it two years and you’ll never look back. You will visit the best cities and resorts that this country has to offer.
BV: Don’t be the last one at the bar, get a good night’s sleep and keep a list and/or card for everyone you meet. Lastly, within two weeks of getting home – call up one of your new acquaintances and ask for his/her advice on an issue where you have been struggling.