There were some interesting things said about leadership in Chicago last week, and not all were said at the Food Marketing Institute show.
Bill Grize, the recently retired head of Ahold USA, detailed what makes a great leader during the Independent Food Brokers of America Top-to-Top Executive Conference. (See Page 29.) He said the six qualities great leaders have are: integrity, courage, curiosity, compassion/empathy, optimism and humility.
To that list, I would add one more: Great leaders speak at industry trade shows.
Looking over the schedule of educational sessions at the FMI show, there were plenty of industry consultants, some of whom gave excellent presentations with actionable advice and thought-provoking insights. What was noticeably lacking, however, was the rich roster of top-level executive speakers that trade show attendees in other industries often enjoy.
FMI manages to secure some brave retailer souls to join panel discussions at its peripheral shows that take place throughout the year, but the few retailers who take the stage at the FMI show could all share a single cab ride back to O'Hare International Airport.
Kudos to Jerel Golub of Price Chopper and Tres Lund III of Lunds/Byerly's, who got about five minutes of fame -- literally -- at the show during the opening session. But what if, for example, they had been joined by six or seven of their peers from chains around the country for an hour-long investigation of the industry's challenges? Would that give attendees a more valuable experience? I think it would.
In addition, the few retail speakers who were scattered among the various breakout educational sessions should have been joined by more of their fellows.
Certainly, FMI faces the same challenges that trade publications like SN deal with in coaxing retailers into sharing their insights. Food retailing is highly competitive, and trade secrets can be easily exploited to the detriment of those with loose lips.
But supermarket operators need to think of themselves not only as being pitted one against the other, but also as an industry pitted against rival formats, with similar challenges that can be overcome through collaboration. That's at the heart of any association's reason for being.
It was clear from attending several of the sessions at FMI that attendees need more than just reams of statistics in order to more effectively compete. They want real-world examples from the front lines of retailing that allow them to benchmark their own strategies and mine from a database of best practices.
In his inaugural remarks as the newly elected chairman of FMI, Jeff Noddle spoke about his desire to infuse the association with more collaboration. (See Page 6.) As the chairman and chief executive officer of Supervalu, the nation's largest food wholesaler, Noddle is in a good position to encourage more industry-wide participation in resolving industry issues.
Perhaps, as FMI seeks to find a management partner to help it run the FMI Show in the future (see Page 1), Noddle and the other retailers and wholesalers who steer the association should also consider collaborating to make the show a better industry conference, presented both for and by its membership.