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Social Media Takes Root At SMC

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Another great Spring Management Conference is in the books for GAWDA. One thing that was different about this year’s meeting was the fact that there were no simultaneously scheduled breakout sessions. If you ask me, I think this is a good thing.

Last year there were three sessions (technology, HR and GAWDA Consultants), and attending one meant missing possible great takeaways from the other two. If your company sent multiple people, it would be possible to divide and conquer, but for many, it meant missing important information. This year, everyone sat in on the technology discussion. I believe this was an important conversation for all to hear.

Following Tuesday’s session, I had an interesting conversation with a young distributor employee, who shared an exchange with his company president during the session. The distributor president told the young employee, “I’m so glad you were here to see this discussion on Social Media. I wish there was a separate session for guys like me.” Although the president recognized the importance of Social Media, he perhaps did not recognize the importance of his involvement in it. The young employee, taken aback, told the president that he needed to be there too, and that the conversation about Social Media was one he needed to be a part of as much as anyone.

As the MI Committee stated in the technology panel discussion, when implementing new technology, whatever that technology is, employee buy in starts at the executive level. For employees to embrace change, the leaders of that company must embrace it as well. Social Media is not just about IT and technology—it’s about building relationships and communicating with customers and industry partners. And it is not merely a young person’s game. The over-55 age group is one of the fastest growing demographics on Social Media.

It was great to see so many people embrace Social Media at the SMC. I was live tweeting throughout the event, and saw quite a few people join the conversation as it went on throughout the conference. If you haven’t joined yet, it’s not too late. The industry conversation is always going online. Drop me a line on Twitter at @GasWeldEdge.

#GAWDA Twitter Transcript

Take a look back at the SMC conversation on Twitter. View the complete #GAWDA chat transcript after the jump.

2012 SMC Day 3: Communicating Through Technology

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Karl Meinhardt stands before the Technology Panel at GAWDA's Spring Management Conference

Karl Meinhardt stands before the Technology Panel at GAWDA's Spring Management Conference

The final day of GAWDA’s 2012 Spring Management Conference had a distinctly technological flavor. The closing business session featured GAWDA’s Management Information Committee and Social Media speaker Karl Meinhardt. Gases and welding technology itself is a broad, but very important topic. As MI Committee Chair Chris Dominiak revealed in last week’s guest blog, more than 70% of GAWDA members feel they could be doing more with technology.

Meinhardt got things started with an overview of Social Media. While much has been said and written about the use of Social Media to communicate with customers, one of the particularly interesting ideas touched on in Meinhardt’s speech was how Social Media can be used internally to facilitate communications within an organization.

Meinhardt pointed to the example Lockheed Martin, which after surveying its workforce, realized it was poised to lose a great deal of experience and knowledge as the Baby Boomer generation begins to retire. How did the company respond? Lockheed Martin used the power of Social Media to capture this experience for future generations. The organization created an internal wiki, their own private version of Wikipedia, where employees could contribute ideas and experiences.

After the session, I spoke with Josh and Erich Haun from Haun Welding Supply (Syracuse, NY), who were likewise struck by the idea of using Social Media to streamline internal communications. Erich pointed to the training advantage, to be able to reach employees across multiple locations to help do away with the response “I didn’t know you could do that.” Both agreed that the potential for technology to improve internal communications is intriguing.

The technology panel also addressed communication, looking at the The Cloud, mobile technology and the basic problem of implementing new technologies. The MI Committee stressed that, when introducing new technologies internally, it’s important to communicate with employees in advance and involve them in the process where possible. Buy in of the technology by company executives is critical if employees are to buy in. This has never been more true than with Social Media. As Meinhardt said, “If your customers spoke Chinese, you’d learn to speak Chinese.” Sounds like it’s time to learn the language of Social Media.

2012 SMC Day 2: Looking At The Business Landscape

Monday, April 30th, 2012
Juan Williams engages a packed GAWDA audience.

Juan Williams engages a packed GAWDA audience.

Day two of the 2012 Spring Management Conference was full of amazing take home value, between the opening business session speakers and the contact booth program, along with the networking breakfast, lunch and wines of the world reception. Needless to say, it was a very full day, and it may be several weeks before I can fully digest all that I took in today.

The opening business session speakers painted a picture of the business landscape in the year ahead. What are the economic and political challenges/opportunities that will arise throughout the remainder of 2012?

Political analyst Juan Williams offered his predictions for the November elections (Republicans take the House and the Senate, while Obama squeaks by in the presidential election, according to Williams.) He feels that the current political divide has kept important legislation from moving forward, and I would be curious to know how he feels his predicted outcome will impact the regulatory landscape. (Although I didn’t have an opportunity to reach out to Williams at the SMC, I’ve posed the question for him on Twitter.)

Economist Andy Bauer walked through a number of very interesting economic snapshots, comparing current recovery numbers to past recessions. I was struck by his explanation of the “skills gap,” the basic idea that when manufacturing workers lost their jobs in the recession, businesses moved forward, the jobs evolved (newer technology, automation, robotics, etc.), but the workers’ skill sets did not progress at the same rate. If nothing else, this explains why, amidst high unemployment, many manufacturers are having a hard time finding qualified workers. Perhaps it’s the expectations, not the workers, who have changed. It seems like there could be real opportunities for distributors to help bring those workers up to where they need to be, and prepare them to work with welding robotics and other technologies.

Distributors and suppliers connect at the contact booth program.

Distributors and suppliers connect at the contact booth program.

The contact booth program was lively, and I’m beginning to see more oil & gas related products making their way into the show. This brings me back to an interesting discussion from this morning’s breakfast, where the idea was raised that LNG and CNG are much like VHS & Betamax (for the younger generation, I submit Blu Ray vs. HD DVD as a substitute)…there are concerns as to whether they can coexist, or whether one will really become the dominant player.

Throughout the day, I met a great number of industry veterans, as well as the industry’s newer faces. It’s great to see the next generations getting involved early, and I was impressed from what I heard from the industry’s future leaders.

Looking forward to another promising day tomorrow. Be sure to take a look at the recent Preview of the Technology Discussion from MI Committee Chair Chris Dominiak. The panel is set to cover some of the industry’s most pressing technology topics. It promises to be a solid conclusion to an overall amazing event.

2012 SMC Day 1: Opening With Optimism

Sunday, April 29th, 2012
John and Ron Walters from American Torch Tip Company

John and Ron Walters from American Torch Tip Company

GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference got off to a great start today with great networking during the First Timers’ and President’s receptions. The turnout this year is incredible, and optimism is in the air. This is a great sign that business is on its way back.

It was great to see new faces at the First Timers’ reception. There were several new member companies in attendance, along with first time attendees from long-time members. GAWDA members regularly cite networking as one of the greatest benefits of GAWDA, and today’s reception stood as a testament to this. Members were optimistic about recovering markets across the country, and eager to talk with others about helium supplies and calcium carbide supplies, among other topics. (These events may look like fun, but I assure you, it’s all about business.)

During the reception, I had the pleasure of meeting Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturing Association (AIIGMA). As a representative of the Indian gas industry, Tiku brought a very different perspective than distributors and suppliers in attendance. I was amazed to learn that more than 90 percent of Indian gas distributors are independents, and that the industry is growing at an astounding rate of 19 percent. The growing industry is in need of new technologies and more advanced products, and Tiku is on a quest to bring higher quality gas cylinders and other allied products to the Indian gas market.

GAWDA SMC President's reception

A packed house for the President's Reception

Live tweeting from SMC got underway with the event, and it was great to see other members joining the conversation on Twitter with the hash tag #gawda. I’m hoping to get even more members involved tomorrow. If you haven’t joined in yet, it’s not too late—and signing up for Twitter couldn’t be easier. Just head over to www.twitter.com/signup and follow the instructions on screen. Be sure to follow www.twitter.com/GasWeldEdge for my updates, and use tag #GAWDA to join the conversation.

If you’re at the SMC, please stop me and say hello (see my picture at left). I’d love to hear your feedback about my blog and what you’d like to see more of in the future. Even if you’re not in Baltimore, I’d love to hear from you, too. Send me a message on Twitter to let me know what you think.

Check back tomorrow for part two of my daily blog from SMC. There’s a full day in store, with the opening business session, contact booth program and more.

Previewing The SMC Technology Discussion

Friday, April 27th, 2012
Technology Panel from the 2011 SMC

Technology panel at the 2011 SMC in Tampa, FL

GAWDA members, get ready for an exciting and interactive technology discussion this coming Tuesday, May 1, at the Spring Management Conference. Social Media Speaker Karl Meinhardt will join GAWDA’s Management Information for an “audience” interactive technology session that will leave you with some great takeaway value.

Back in February, the Management Information Committee sent out a survey to find out what technology challenges are facing GAWDA members. We received a great response, hearing from more than 125 members. You submitted your answers, and the MI Committee is responding to the issues you identified as the greatest concerns.

We asked members “How would you rate your current level or use of technology at your company?” Most felt they could be doing more with technology, with more than 70% of respondents rating their technology use as medium (63%) or low (8%).

What’s keeping members from investing in technology? The results were mixed, with cost (39.4%) and support (32.1%) selected as the greatest concerns.

We asked members “What is your biggest Information Technology problem or concern?” The overwhelming response was “Keeping up with the latest technology and how it can be leveraged to help my business.”

So what technologies do members want to know more about? We received a wide range of responses, and a few technologies emerged as most important to GAWDA members. Is there any value to mobile devices or are they just another IT gizmo?  Is Cloud Computing a passing another passing phase, or is it something I can leverage it within my organization to cut operational costs? These are a few of the questions we will address in our panel discussion.

If you think Social Media is just another passing phase or a cool toy your children play with…think again! Karl Meinhardt will be sure to “wow” you with his unique take on Social Media and how you can leverage it (for “Free”) as a sales and marketing tool and stay more closely connected to your customers.

Join us for a provocative and interactive technology discussion on Tuesday, May 1, to find out what the experts say you should be doing and how your peers are leveraging technology to gain the competitive advantage!

Chris Dominiak Guest Blogger Chris Dominiak is chair of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee. He is manager of information systems and technologies at Norco in Boise, ID.

4 Things To Do Before SMC

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Members network at the 2011 Spring Management Conference

With GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference only days away, there’s still time for some last minute planning to get the most out of your time in Baltimore. Even if you’re unable to attend the show in person, there are opportunities to learn and network remotely.

1. Prepare Questions
The SMC brings together some of the finest minds in the gases and welding business. Use them to your benefit! To get the most out of your investment in attending, think ahead and write down questions you have for your business. When you know what your questions are, you can seek out networking opportunities with a purpose. If you’re not at the SMC in person, ask questions on Twitter and LinkedIn where appropriate.

2. Sign Up for Twitter
Twitter is a great place to connect with fellow industry members during the Spring Management Conference and beyond. For the 2012 SMC, I will be live tweeting updates from my Twitter account @GasWeldEdge, sharing gossip and insightful comments overheard at the event.

To join the conversation, all you have to do is sign up for a free Twitter account. To find your first few followers, I’ve set up an entire list of GAWDA members on Twitter. During the SMC, search for tag #GAWDA, and #GAWDA to your own tweets about the conference. Share what you’re learning and react to what others are saying.

3. Tidy Up your LinkedIn Profile
Odds are, you’ve got your business card ready for the conference—but what’s the state of your LinkedIn profile? After meeting peers and prospective business partners at a conference, one of the best ways I’ve found to capitalize on those introductions is by taking all the business cards you’ve collected and connecting with those people on LinkedIn. Make sure your profile is accurate and as complete as possible. LinkedIn will offer suggestions on how to complete your profile along the way by adding areas of expertise and more.

4. Do Some Research
It doesn’t have to be heavy reading, but it never hurts to read up on the latest industry and member news. What better way to start off a conversation with an industry peer than by showing you know something about them and their company? Think: “I saw that you just opened a new branch in Columbus. How’s the manufacturing market in that area?”

Where can you find this information? You might bring your copy of Welding & Gases Today along on your flight to Baltimore. Or while you’re waiting in the airport, take a look through the daily news headlines on the mobile version of www.gawdawiki.org.

As speaker and legal consultant Matt Hoffman writes in his blog post “Ten Rules for Conference Attendees,” “The amount of preparation you do before the conference is directly proportional to the benefits you’ll receive after it.” He has some other great tips as well, such as “Don’t tell someone you’ll follow up unless you intend to. Breaking the first promise you make to someone makes them believe you’ll break others, too.”

How do you prepare for the Spring Management Conference? Share by leaving a comment, and don’t forget to tweet during the conference using hash tag #GAWDA.

LinkedIn Vs. The Business Card

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Business Cards Vs. LinkedInWith GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference fast approaching, many of you are probably readying your business cards. However, there has been some talk recently that LinkedIn could threaten the existence of business cards. In our “On The Edge” feature at Welding & Gases Today Online, we was asked that very question: Are business cards on the way out? For many, Social Media presents a more convenient and instantaneous result. But until LinkedIn has close to 100% of the market, I have to think that most people will continue to carry business cards.

A recent article on Bloomberg Businessweek called “How Business Cards Survive In The Age of Linkedin” got me thinking about the issue once again. The article explains that business cards were originally created as a means to prove a business’s legitimacy. But as Design Strategist Nathan Shedroff, points out, just about anyone can procure a professional-looking business cards these days. This, according to the article, is where LinkedIn reigns. The professional networking site allows more than contact information, it allows an entire resume and professional references. What better way is there to prove one’s legitimacy than a resume with references?

Business cards, on the other hand, are simple. An online business card printer tells Bloomberg Businessweek, “They don’t require batteries, experience no intercompatibility problems, require no sign-up, and everyone in the world understands them.” Some tout the ability of the business card to allow self-expression and branding. Despite the lack of actual “artwork,” I would argue that your LinkedIn page can say a lot about your brand as well.

Another argument for business cards suggests it’s the act, “the theater,” of exchanging a business card that keeps the business card alive. I have to admit, in my experience, while attending a trade show, business cards do feel a bit like currency.

Amidst all of this debate, is there really a need to choose sides—why not have both? For those who prefer paper, offer them a business card. If you’ve spent some time brushing up your LinkedIn page, asking someone if they are on LinkedIn could be a great conversation starter.

What do you think? Do you prefer LinkedIn or business cards? Which do you think is more effective?

Lessons Learned At SMC

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The Spring Management Conference wrapped up today, but not before we squeezed in a little more networking, two speakers, and three forums. One such speaker, Christopher Guest, had some great stories to tell about climbing Mt. Everest, and it was amazing to hear about all of the challenges he overcame to accomplish his goal. If you didn’t have a chance to see Guest speak (or even if you did) you might be interested reading “Outlasting Everest,” an article about his journey from an issue of GAWDA Edge last year.

For me, the definite highlight of the day was the Consultants’ Forum, where GAWDA’s consultants provided updates on what to look out for. The biggest news to me came from Michael Degan, GAWDA’s joint defense fund coordinating counsel for welding fume litigation. He says the industry is not out of the woods yet in terms of litigation, particularly with the emergence of suite related to asbestos-containing products. Having seen a trend in welding fume litigation moving in favor of the industry, and with several cases overturned last year, it appeared that things were quieting down a little.

Overall, the best part of SMC for me was talking with GAWDA members between events, getting to put a face with the names, and getting to meet new people. I wrote back in January that my New Year’s resolution was to become better connected with members, and SMC was a step in the right direction. There was also a lot of talk among distributors about getting more involved with social media. It’s not only big companies talking about social media. It was a hot topic at Wednesday’s technology forum, the young professionals forum and even on the shuttle to the President’s Reception. In part, I think the SMC really drives home the value of dialogue. Why not keep the dialogue going year-round through these venues?

Social media can also lead to better dialogue at events like SMC. There were a number of people who I recognized—or who recognized me—from interactions on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and this very blog. Although I was in a new environment among people I had never met in person, things were a lot easier with this frame of reference. Now imagine how much easier it would be to cold call a customer you’ve connected with online. For me, these last few days stood as evidence to the power of social media.

For those of you who were at SMC, what were the best takeaways for you? Leave a comment below.

Banding Together In Tampa

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Now that day 2 at SMC has had a little time to sink in, I wanted to follow up with some more thoughts. One program I didn’t get a chance to talk about earlier was the Young Professionals forum, where Britt Lovin of Andy Oxy, Tom Biedermann of Airweld, and Steve Castiglione of WestAir shared their experiences as members of a family business, among other topics. I admit I am not part of a family business, but many GAWDA member companies are, and the issues of family businesses permeate the industry.

The questions raised were many, from estate planning and succession to dealing with difficult situations. I was really impressed with the discourse that GAWDA’s young professionals engaged in—it was a great forum for this dialogue, and I was impressed with the willingness of the panelists to talk openly and candidly to help the young members of the industry.

What I saw was that GAWDA members do not see each other as competitors, but rather as colleagues in this industry. They are eager to help one another grow and become better distributors. This is the spirit of GAWDA that comes out at SMC. Back home, distributors may be competing for the same accounts in the same territories. But here in Tampa, everyone bands together for the purposes of becoming better business people, and it’s a very powerful thing.

Now I see why distributors always cite “networking” as one of the greatest benefits GAWDA has to offer, but today’s events show that it goes well beyond simple networking, and really comes down to mentoring and two-way communication. I was glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it.

SMC Retrospective, Day 2

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Today I found out what SMC is all about. The day got started with a networking breakfast, where I got to meet more members and talk with them about what they do. Soon after, we were treated to a host of speakers. GAWDA President Lloyd Robinson announced the recipients of the 2011 Gives Back Program, an amazing program that really showcases the generosity of GAWDA members. This year, the beneficiaries are the PENCIL Fellowes program and the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation. Young Executive blogger Abydee Butler, from Butler Gas, joined Member Services Committee co-chair Amy Milligan, of Dynaflux, to talk about the efforts of the committee. (Great job, Abydee!)

Michael MarksThe first of the headlining speakers was Michael Marks. He brought a unique, no-holds-barred approach to the supplier-distributor relationship, and really challenged attendees to rethink the dynamic. It really stuck with me when he said, “You can eliminate the distributor, but you cannot eliminate the work the distributor does.”

Next, Bruce Tulgan took to the stage, bringing an energetic style to his presentation about managing a new generation of workers. He suggested that Gen-Y employees are the highest maintenance work force yet, but will also be the most productive, due to the information available to us young folks. Tulgan made reference to some of the management myths outline in his article, “It’s Okay To Be The Boss.” What do you think—are Gen-Y workers as high-maintenance yet highly productive as Tulgan suggests?

After the morning business sessions, I sat in on Michael Marks’ distributor owners’ lunch, where he addressed how to create shareholder value in wholesale distribution. Again, he was really insightful, and brought up some great issues, such as the question of whether a small, independent distributor should have a board of directors. Any of you have a board? What do you think? His presentation also focused on the importance of targeting the right market segments. “Sales is getting rid of what you have,” he says. “Marketing is having what you can get rid of.”

Believe it or not, that was only the first part of the day. I don’t want to be long-winded, but I don’t want to short-change the other great programs, so check back for more on everything going on at SMC.