Half celebrity wedding vibe, half serious business conference, the Executive Connection Summit is hands down one of my favorite industry events. I’ve been to a lot of them and some of the most memorable recaps are the from the 2014 event and the 2017 event. This year was just as fun, but it had a sense of urgency to it that I did not sense before. Bottom line — the industry is at a crossroads, but ECS showed us that it doesn’t mean every road leads to peril.
A veritable who’s who, both inside the channel and out, the room was stacked with millionaire dealers, multi-billion-dollar corporations, NFL superstars and media hacks like me just trying to keep up. The event is always held at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, an ultra-hip hotel with a retro vibe. The organizers have tried to change the venue multiple times because of limited capacity, but it is a fan favorite and we just won’t allow that to happen — probably because the hotel makes us feel young again.
The agenda was packed with sessions that led to one very long first day of the program as we heard from a dizzying array of companies and presenters, starting with a rousing Fan Controlled Football primer, which I will get to a bit later. Mike Marusic, president and CEO of Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America had a really tough act to follow, but did an outstanding job of engaging the attendees with his discussion on driving opportunity in a changing world. Next came Ed McLaughlin, who just so happens to be the former president of Sharp, and currently heads Predictive Insight, a company he co-founded. McLaughlin talked to the room strategically, highlighting how moving forward without fear when everything is changing around us is the winning type of risk taking. Basically, it isn’t what happens that matters, it’s how you react to what happens that matters. He also urged the room to acknowledge that the industry is now all about optimizing the customer experience and not printing or services.
Mike Stramaglio, president of Stramaglio Consulting and host and founder of the Executive Connection Summit, then took some time to talk about The Consortium and its members, along with Rick Taylor, corporate advisor to Konica Minolta and president & CEO of RK Taylor Consulting, who also happens to be a Consortium board member. The Consortium is an assembly of companies in the channel that have joined together to focus on creating new opportunities for the office technology industry by tying industry leaders together to establish an open collaborative platform. The group aims to enable the channel to embrace and lead digital transformation and AI-driven business agility (I know, that’s a mouthful). The Consortium was also the co-host of the ECS event and as a group, they were able to showcase their incredible breadth of technology and representation in the channel.
This was followed by an open discussion led by Jennie Fisher, senior VP and general manager – Office Equipment Group, at GreatAmerica Financial Services Corporation. GreatAmerica was the title sponsor of this event and supported the effort very early on, when planning a live event was deemed very risky. Without their early support, the event probably would not have happened. GreatAmerica didn’t just sponsor the event though, they also supported the effort fully by bringing out a very large contingent of their team, as you can see from the below photograph. It was great to see so many of their people, and maybe the best surprise of all was their founder and executive chairman, Tony Golobic, who attended the entire event and capped it off at the end of the summit with an inspiring presentation that did not leave a single dry eye in the audience.
After lunch were multiple panels focused on the current state and the changing tides of the office equipment dealer channel, how we got here, and where we’re headed. Logistical issues and key component shortages are still problems, but the industry is coming up with clever ways to mitigate those. One of my favorite panels was the “Technology Breakthrough” panel, which brought together Michael Walton from Microsoft, Chris O’Malley from Intel, Mark Schenecker of Nextworld and Bobbi Kenney from Massively Parallel. Hosted by Mike Stramaglio, the panel discussed a new era of innovation leveraging incredibly powerful computing. Some of the panelists had never met each other and they were striking up new collaborations in real time as they brought us all through the world of no-code technology access.
The channel isn’t all about business and making money, and Tim Linsenmeyer, CTO of Clover Imaging, and Michael Walton, VP at Microsoft and an AI expert, both reminded us of what is truly important. Together, along with support from both companies, they have created technology built on the Microsoft tech stack that leverages AI and builds tools for adults with disabilities in order to help them get meaningful employment. Tim calls this “AI for good.” The session was inspiring, astounding and very emotional.
No industry meeting would be complete without a presentation from industry stalwart and counsel to the BTA, Bob Goldberg, who recapped the day, provided practical business advice, discussed the terrific new VETech program, and reiterated the critical support that the BTA offers the entire channel.
The following day, there were some excellent presentations around M&A, IT services financial trends, and a “Roadmap for 2022 Success” dealer panel that included Doug Pitassi, president of Pacific Office Automation, Chris Taylor, president and CEO of Fisher’s Technology, and Doug Albregts, CEO of Marco Technologies. I’ll be recapping this panel in a separate blog, but clearly the lineup indicates a good amount of valuable insight was shared. And of course, as mentioned earlier, closing the conference was an incredible presentation by Tony Golobic of GreatAmerica.
The sessions were not everything, though. Some of the most interesting moments were in between the structured sessions. Pauses between presentations were also used as spontaneous Q&A moments and mini-announcements. Businesses are starting to pivot. There were a few companies that announced their intention to change direction or augment their business to adapt with the rapidly changing times.
ACDI made some big news at ECS, announcing their entrance into the electronic vehicle (EV) space. The company intends to work with the office equipment dealer channel to sell, install, and service EV charging units. “We’ve been working on energy efficiencies inside the office space for how many years? For a long time,” said Josh Lane, President & CEO of ACDI. “Let’s take it outside. Let’s do it efficiently. You guys have a sales and service arm like no other. We can unite and do this across all of the U.S. and beyond.”
Another example was GreatAmerica, who talked about their 1nVOICE single invoice solution that allows office equipment technology providers to “easily match financing new solutions with their sales process.” With this model, office equipment dealers can offer the monthly payment options that many of today’s customers prefer. The program can help dealers maintain their core business while enabling the cash flow required to launch and grow their solutions business.
And of course there was golf. Lots of golf.
The Tale of Fan Controlled Football: A story of agility and reinvention
Of all the industry outsiders who made an appearance at ECS 2022, Ray Austin and Patrick Dees of Fan Controlled Football (FCF), were the most intriguing. FCF is the brainchild of NFL player-turned-entertainer/entrepreneur Ray Austin and co-founders Patrick Dees, Grant Cohen, and Sohrob Farudi. It’s the real sport of football, only the league and games are controlled by sports fans. Fans name the teams, design the jerseys, and they even call the plays. You can read more about FCF here.
As fascinating as a football game controlled by fans sounds, it’s the story of the league that I find most interesting. It’s a story of thinking outside of the box, leveraging new technology against existing products, and persevering through tumultuous times. It’s a story very similar to that of the environment that office equipment dealers face today.
“Sports have changed. We grew up sitting in the stands, eating a hot dog and a coke. That’s not sports now,” said Austin. Today’s fans want a more immersive experience, one they can engage with no matter where the game is taking place. FCF takes a 100-year-old game and augments it with the technology of the day, bringing fans even closer to the experience.
Our industry is in a similar position. The office is a different place, and the people who inhabit them demand a different experience — one that might even completely remove them from the office. Customers want digitized processes to facilitate automation and remote work — a problem you cannot solve with a printer and print services. It’s time to pivot.
Agility is going to be one of a business’s most important attributes for surviving the industry’s most chaotic era to date. It will be a big factor in determining which businesses will live, die, and thrive. After two days of presentations and panels with some of the brightest minds in the industry, that was made abundantly clear.