DALLAS — Attendees at Food Marketing Institute's first-ever Future Connect leadership development conference here last week seemed to appreciate the new forum for education and the exchange of ideas, based on interviews conducted by SN at the event.
“I just found it a fabulous opportunity to invest in our people,” David Dillon, chairman and chief executive officer, Kroger Co., told SN.
Cincinnati-based Kroger was the second-largest attendee at the event, with 145 employees, second only to Hy-Vee, which sent 161 of its people. Total attendance at the conference was about 1,800, according to a spokeswoman for FMI.
The event attracted workers of nearly all levels, from store managers to top executives.
“So far I have 18 pages of notes,” Dillon said on the final day of the conference last week. “I have been here all three days, and I have found a wealth of information that was directly helpful to me, so it's not just for the people we are developing, it is for everybody.”
Lund Food Holdings, Minneapolis, also brought a significant percentage of its workers to the event, according to Tres Lund, CEO, who said the company structured meetings and discussions with those employees — from store managers to executives.
“We had a comprehensive dialogue about the educational sessions,” he told SN. “Normally at the FMI Show, people go right from the educational sessions to the show floor, but here we are getting together and talking about what we learned.”
The conference was divided into different tracks for different levels of management, and was also divided into a series of three themes: People Connect, Performance Connect and Profit Connect. There also was a series of Center Store panels.
Although it had been postponed five months from its original scheduling in May because of concerns about the H1N1 flu, nearly all those who had registered for the spring event ended up coming last week, FMI said. In addition, the schedule of speakers and presenters remained largely intact.
“It's an exciting change,” Pat Raybould, president of B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb., told SN, at the end of the first day of the conference. “The events this morning were the best attended of any FMI session I've been to.”
Speaking on a panel during the last day of the conference, Darioush Khaledi, chairman and CEO, KV Mart, Los Angeles, said he came to the event both for the networking opportunities and the educational and development experience.
“Fifty percent of my reason to come is to socialize with my colleagues, which I enjoy very much,” he said. “The other 50% is to listen to all the great speakers we've had the last two days.”
FMI said it plans to continue the Future Connect event as part of the FMI Show in Las Vegas in May, and will also have an ongoing presence on a special website: fmifutureconnect.com.
Lund, speaking as a member of FMI's board of directors, told SN the association would like to achieve a better balance in attendance between CPG companies and retailers, and will look at designing the program to achieve that in future years. The conference is slated to take place as a stand-alone event again in 2011, at an as yet undetermined location.
“[FMI Chairman] Ric Jurgens has been very clear that we need to create an educational platform that is world-class,” Lund told SN.
Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO, FMI, speaking at the opening-day Speaks state-of-the-industry presentation, said leadership development is especially important for the industry not only because of the ongoing retirement of the large swell of Baby Boomers, but also because of the customer-focused nature of the industry.
“Creating a culture of customer service requires hiring the right people, investing in them with the right training, and empowering them with the right tools and technology,” she said. “And that's what Future Connect is all about.
“We are here because now is really the best time to hire — and inspire — our associates and to cultivate future leaders. We are here because as we address leadership development and training today, tomorrow and into the future, we will be better able to retain our promising future executives once the economy begins to turn around — and you see that as a competitive advantage.”