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Leadership Conference inspires current and future industry leaders

by Brock Huffstutler

ARA Leadership Conference attendees from Region One

ARA Leadership Conference attendees from Region One

The American Rental Association’s (ARA) Leadership Conference, hosted by the ARA Board of Directors, took place Nov. 17-19 at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Ill. The annual invite-only conference delivered educational and networking opportunities tailored to equip attendees as industry leaders.

Nearly 75 attendees representing 38 states and three Canadian provinces traveled to the conference; many currently serve on their ARA state chapter board of directors. Also present were current and incoming members of the ARA Board of Directors who lent their insights on association leadership.

“These opportunities to get together with fellow members from around the nation, as well as our Canadian friends, are so important. We laughed, we learned, we talked growth and most of all we connected,” says Elizabeth Lurvey, office manager, Mainely Events, Biddeford, Maine, who also serves as ARA of Maine president.

The event opened on Thursday, Nov. 17, with the welcoming presentation “It’s Hard to Lead the Change if You Look Funny on a Horse!” by Bruce Christopher. Christopher, a licensed psychologist who has spoken on some of the largest stages in the world, kicked off the conference with a message on the art of leadership and how to get on the horse, lead the charge and bring others along with you.

Jerry Smith (center) receives the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award for Region One

Jerry Smith (center) receives the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award for Region One

Thursday evening also included recognition of the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award recipients. Jerry Smith of NED Diamond Blade and Bit Co., Oxford, Mass., who serves as ARA of New Hampshire associate member director, received the award for his service in ARA Region One.

The Leadership Conference continued Friday with its central theme, “Shift Happens,” a series of sessions presented by guest speaker Lee Ann Piano, a John Maxwell-certified speaker, trainer, coach and empowerment expert.

Throughout the day, Piano shared insight and guidance that can help conference attendees stay ahead of the curve and become nimble and adaptable leaders in today’s rapidly changing world. Her sessions were split into three distinct segments: “Leadershift,” focusing on adaptability; “The Focus Shift,” focusing on helping others shine; and “The Personal Growth Shift,” centered on becoming growth-oriented.

Updates on the latest ARA programs and initiatives also were provided by ARA staff members on Friday following Piano’s sessions.

On Friday evening, all were invited to enjoy the comedic talents of performers from Second City, Chicago’s renowned troupe of improv, stand-up and sketch comedians.

The conference concluded Saturday, Nov. 19, with a final leadership session, “The Mind Shift,” from Ashley Cuttino of Ogletree Deakins — the legal firm with a human resources focus that partners with ARA on the association’s HR Assistance Program. Cuttino discussed how our internalization of past experiences helps to form one’s opinions, attitudes and assumptions on any given topic. Those opinions impact the decisions people make on a daily basis, both personally and professionally. A leader who acknowledges and assesses their assumptions is capable of leading their business into new markets.

Sean Atlas (ARA of Massachusetts), left, and industry colleague Ryan Kucera (ARA of Nebraska)

From the peer interaction to the seminars, Troy Greenleaf, president, General Rental Center, Old Town, Maine, and a member of the ARA of Maine board of directors, found a lot of value in his first time at the Leadership Conference.

“Being in only my second year as a board member of our state association, and a rookie with the Leadership Conference, I can’t say enough about the benefits of the ARA and being involved. It is a game changer,” he says. “And, as always, networking is key. I have been involved in ARA for quite some time, and to go to an event of this size and scope and only know a handful of people is new to me. I met so many people here for the first time; everyone I met is just a great person to know and share information with.”

“What stands out to me the most [about the conference] was how inclusive and welcoming everyone was,” says Lindsay Cavanaugh, president, Mahaiwe Tent, Great Barrington, Mass., who was invited to the conference as a guest. “At the beginning, I knew zero people, and it didn’t matter. Everyone treated me like I’d been here before and were so nice and helpful. The education and sessions were great, but the networking was awesome. It feels like a big college reunion. It’s the vibe you want: welcoming and not a stuffy conference. I didn’t think I’d make as many close connections as I did.”

New connections also are what Lurvey — a second-time conference attendee — values most from her experience at the event. “I always come back inspired and ready to make changes, as well as continue building those connections throughout our industry,” she says.