Speakers shared their thoughts on leadership and success at Macola Evolve 2017 in New Orleans. 

The Macola Evolve 2017 conference in New Orleans had a lot to offer in terms of new technology and enhanced solutions for customers to improve their ERP systems. More on all of that in our upcoming May/June issue, but the event also offered many great ideas for manufacturers that are worth sharing now. The key message I got from the conference’s speakers concerned how manufacturers can gain strength, and then use that strength to build their brands.

Cal McAllister, co-founder, CEO and executive creative director at Seattle-based ad agency Wexley School for Girls, offered a short “guide for success with brands.” This included worrying only about what you can control, solving the problems first before you start something new, and living “in authenticity.”

“It’s easy for brands to make up stories,” he said, but consumers are smart and will quickly find out the truth about your brand. “Be the best part of someone’s day – that will allow you to work your way into the fan base.” 

He noted that manufacturers can do a number of things right now to get attention:

1. Provide jobs, because the market likes to see companies that are here in the United States and providing employment.

2. Demonstrate your speed and the ease of doing business with you.

3. Be on social media and “use that to turn your customers into salespeople.”

McAllister added that a strong internal culture can have a big impact on a company’s success. “I want to make sure our employees feel Wexley is the best job they’ve ever had,” he said. “It is important to keep them happy because the employees are our most important customer.”

‘Always Time for Fun’

Speaker Craig Zablocki injected a lot of energy into the conference, asking attendees to compare their adult approach to problems and worries with how children react to the same issues. “Serious and sincere doesn’t always lead to success – there is always time for fun,” Zablocki said. He explained that adults resist change, but it’s important to accept change and adopt the natural curiosity of kids.

“Not many workplaces are intentionally created around fun, but we need to be curious, we need to have creativity and we need to have fun,” he stressed, adding there is also a great need to be fearless. “Sales happen and safety happens when people are present,” he said. “Fear constricts us, distracts us and keeps us from creativity.

“When you’re playing Lego, play Lego. When you’re brainstorming, brainstorm. Do it instead of being somewhere else in fear or worry.”

Zablocki explained that most of what we worry about is either in the past or will never happen, so it’s important to let it go. Psychological fears can get in the way of creativity and participation, limiting a company’s success. “Resistance to change causes more suffering, pain and procrastination,” he said. “Stop worrying about the little things and allow yourself to really focus on having more fun, customer service and engagement.”

‘No Man is an Island’

Professional football player Rocky Bleier closed the conference by reminding attendees that everyone constantly has opportunities to reinvent themselves and improve. “Hourly we are reborn,” he said. “I’m in my eighth decade of creating memories, and the highlights are forever etched in our brains.”

Known for his time at Notre Dame and with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier has four Super Bowl rings and understands the importance of teamwork, and how individuals using their strengths and talents together as a team can achieve great things.

“For 40 years, the Steelers were a team destined to lose because there was no long-term vision – they were only focused on the short term,” he said. “They were very much a product of western Pennsylvania – a tough, hard-nosed team. They would beat the crap out of you, but they’d never win.”

He noted that changed when Chuck Noll came on as the coach because he “knew how to win.” Noll helped to shape Bleier’s idea of successful leadership, but he also learned key leadership skills after being drafted into the U.S. Army and serving in Vietnam. 

“When you are put in charge, you take charge,” he said. “When you are in charge, you have to have the courage to do what you think is right, but more importantly, what is right for the men.

“Courage is not passing off the responsibility or being a fool,” he added. “It’s that moment when we are faced with an issue – we have to take the information we have and implement it to move forward.”

He stressed that it’s important to appreciate people with talent – they raise the standards throughout an operation and make everyone better. “Don’t make things more complex; simplify things,” he said. “Create a great team and work together to move forward. No man is an island – none of us got here on our own, and we have to remember that." 

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