Leadership Conference delivers on industry connections and motivation

Nov. 28, 2021

After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, the American Rental Association’s (ARA) annual Leadership Conference — one of ARA’s premier invite-only conferences — was back as a live event Nov. 18-20. To the industry volunteers who gathered at the conference, it was a welcome return to a forum where they could gain skills and make connections to enhance their service to their respective ARA chapters.

The conference, held at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Ill., welcomed more than 50 ARA state and local leaders — many of whom serve as presidents, vice presidents and officers of their state chapters. In addition to these, current and incoming members of the ARA Board of Directors were in attendance to lend their insights on association leadership.

The event opened on Thursday, Nov. 18, with a presentation titled “Develop Your Comic Vision,” by Tim Gard. Gard, a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame, kicked the conference off by delivering laughs through his message that focused on harnessing humor as a skill to prevent or cope with stress.

“Tim was really good. A lot of us can utilize what he taught us in the sense that when situations get tough and people are really stressed out, humor can make things less awkward and we can find the fun in every situation,” said Billy Paquette, general manager, B.L.C. Equipment & Supply Co., Salem, N.H., and an ARA of New Hampshire board member.

The conference continued Friday morning with opening comments and association strategic updates from ARA CEO Tony Conant. Attendees then heard from guest speaker Tim Dixon, who launched into the first of four leadership-themed sessions held during the conference.

With a master’s degree in sports psychology and 13 years of coaching experience — including time spent at the U.S. Air Force Academy — Dixon brought with him the credentials to deliver a high-energy and challenging, yet good-humored, message that offered perspective on leadership at a variety of personal and professional levels.

“[Dixon’s] sessions have been very thought-provoking,” said Patti Whittaker, owner, Cardinal Rents, Charlotte, N.C., and an ARA of North Carolina board member. “They have made me reassess and evaluate what I can do better as a leader.”

Commenting on the benefit the Leadership Conference provided in terms of industry connections in general, Whittaker said the networking “has been great. Just hearing ideas from other people and the challenges they’ve had and how they have overcome them has helped me.”

Updates on ARA initiatives — including RentalU, industry economic research and government affairs — also were provided by ARA staff members on Friday between Dixon’s sessions, as was a greeting from conference sponsor ARA Insurance.

Friday afternoon concluded with a presentation from special guest Karen Layng, national president of Girl Scouts of the USA. As a tie-in with ARA’s Women in Rental initiative, Layng discussed the many rental-related professional roles for which Girl Scouts involvement prepares girls and encouraged ARA leaders to partner with local Girl Scout chapters to introduce rental as a viable career path for girls and young women. 

Sarah Wilper, director of communications, Mazzotta Rentals, Middletown, Conn., and ARA of Connecticut vice president, said she was inspired by Layng’s message about the skills today’s Girl Scouts receive.

“Honestly, as a past Girl Scout, that was the coolest thing I learned here at the Leadership Conference,” Wilper said. “I didn’t know any of those statistics that [Layng] shared about Girl Scouts, like the large percentage that went on to a career in NASA, for example. I was talking to a fellow board member who is here that we’ve got to contact some local Girl Scout chapters and see if there is something we can do, especially since we’re working on Women in Rental. I think this is such a good direction, to support the Girl Scouts who we know makes a big difference in the construction industry and in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) industry. I think it’s a phenomenal idea.”

Friday evening, all were invited to participate in a networking session that featured a dueling pianos show starring talent from Chicago’s “Howl at the Moon” venue. “It was entertaining,” said Chad Wagner, president, A1 Rent It, Wayzata, Minn., and ARA of Minnesota treasurer. “People in rental want to socialize at the end of the day and just talk with peers, and this was a good way to do that. The informality of the appetizer stations was great. People could mingle, hang out and dance a little bit. It was fun.”  

The conference concluded Saturday, Nov. 20, with a final leadership session from Dixon and additional ARA national updates, including a look at the consumer-facing, professionally produced media commercials that are part of ARA’s rental marketing campaign and progress made in the workforce development arena through the ARA Job Board.

“Just being here with your peers and the leaders in the industry has been a blast,” said Wagner, summing up his experience at the Leadership Conference. “Like Tony [Conant] said in his opening comments, you are in the room with the top 100 people of the industry. It’s been a privilege to be here.”

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