After attending what I believe is my 21st consecutive NAED Annual Meeting, I noticed much has changed over the years. For example, the consolidation of both distributors and manufacturers has made this conference a constantly changing landscape. But one very specific (positive) change stood out in my mind during this conference: our industry has finally recognized that we must put a greater focus on attracting and retaining young talent. This was a topic that came up in many presentations and almost every discussion.

Bob Reynolds, Chairman, President and CEO of Graybar, spoke convincingly about the need to embrace the concept of attracting young people to our industry. He made a very compelling argument that it is critical to our industry’s future that we must all do a better job developing talent to fill the leadership pipeline. Further, Bob pointed out that we must recognize changing workplace trends and harness those opportunities to better ourselves and our companies (Facebook? /Twitter?/Flexible Hours?/etc.). He reminded us that we need to understand that the next generation doesn’t even understand electrical distribution; much less whether they would want to work in this industry (it certainly isn’t as romantic as working at Apple or Google).

Eli Lustgarten, senior vice president of Longbow Securities gave a good long-term guesstimate of where our market opportunities are headed. With a PowerPoint of over 100 slides, there was much more economic data than any one person could consume. He told a very humorous story about someone trying to get a loan from the FHA. Too long a story to tell here, but it showed that regardless of who is in power in Washington, bureaucracy takes on a life of its own.

Charlie Cook, the political analyst who spoke next, gave a wonderful presentation on the upcoming election and politics in general. It was balanced and not partisan. His discussion was entertaining and avoided the easy, cheap shots towards either party or candidate. It was a lively discussion that illustrated and explained in a humorous way our current political landscape, without taking sides.  

SO HERE IS MY POINT:

The three speakers at the General Session listed above all made a point of being inclusive in their presentations. This is a big departure from the Seattle NAED sometime in the mid-90s when NAED invited Oliver North to speak to the group. While many industry attendees were happy to have a “true patriot” speak to the group, many others (including myself) were concerned that inviting speakers that were perceived as partisan/divisive could alienate many of the young people who we are trying to attract to our industry. Taking this type of divisive posture will not help us attract the best and the brightest.  As Charlie Cook pointed out in his presentation, almost half of our population is going to vote Democrat no matter what. And almost half of our population is going to vote Republican no matter what. If we want to continue to be the innovative and successful industry we are today in the future, we need to be recruiting from the largest available pool of candidates. We should put our partisan hats aside and recruit the best available candidates, for the people we hire today will be leading our industry tomorrow.

Frankly, I don’t care what my co-workers or teams political leanings are—I want to know  that they are going to give 110 percent effort in everything they do, they will work smarter AND harder than the competition, and they will have a desire to always win. How they vote is their business!

As an industry, let’s continue to discuss how we can recruit new talent into our companies and start laying the groundwork for strong industry leadership going forward.

Note: After the NAED in Seattle, I wrote a letter to the NAED leadership expressing my concerns about having Oliver North speak, pointing out that, right or wrong, he was a divisive person at that moment in our history. I pointed out then that we needed to do a better job of attracting young talent, and this was not the way to do it. The following year, the annual meeting had as the key note speaker the two hosts from the news show “Point-Counterpoint,” providing a balanced presentation.  I have always hoped that my letter was only one of many that encouraged NAED to look at this issue from a more balanced position.