The long-awaited FMI Future Connect conference was held last week, which under normal circumstances would mean it's over.
But this one is definitely not over, because FMI has promised to keep the event's focus — building the next generation of leaders — alive and well. The association plans followup online and off-line educational opportunities, including a special track at next May's FMI conference, and many attendees will be engaged in subsequent discussions within their companies.
In many ways this conference was a departure for the industry. Some 1,800 retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and others gathered in Dallas not primarily to discuss the economic downturn or how to sell more products, but rather to support the mission of developing leadership, a goal not yet even on the front-burner of all companies. The opening segment was devoted not to an industry keynoter, but to an unconventional music group called Vocal Trash, which provided a bolt of energy with an unusual play list and lots of acrobatics.
The commitment of retailers such as Kroger Co. and Hy-Vee, which sent large numbers of associates, was instrumental to the forum's success. Many of the attendees were a few levels below their company's top executives, and more than a few had probably never been to a major industry conference before.
Future Connect was often tailored to such future leaders in both overt and subtle ways. Even in the Speaks presentation, normally FMI's industry trends report for senior executives, the association's president and CEO, Leslie Sarasin, outlined key issues while putting things into perspective for rising stars.
“For all you managers in the audience, here is your chance to learn why your CEO or owner is not always in the best of moods, and what you may have to address if you aspire to become the chief executive officer,” she said.
Sarasin also told attendees about all the good this industry is doing, including initiatives around sustainability, supporting the needy, health and wellness, and food safety. This may seem like preaching to the choir, but really it's not, because all industry participants, not just future leaders, need to be reminded of this.
Future Connect drew mostly praise from attendees for its content and concept, and its concurrent tracks addressed the needs of a diverse audience. It's amazing that a conference delayed from its original May date — because of travel concerns related to the H1N1 flu — was rescheduled and reprogrammed so quickly and efficiently. Like any first-time effort, it will certainly be analyzed and tweaked in some ways.
Most importantly, its mission is critical for this industry because top leaders need to be prepared well before their moment arrives. That was made clear here, and hopefully the momentum will continue.
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