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Leadership Conference inspires current and future industry leaders

by Brock Huffstutler

ARA Leadership Conference 2022 - Region Three attendees

ARA Leadership Conference 2022 – Region Three attendees

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.

“The Leadership Conference is my favorite event on the ARA calendar,” says Jeff Crotto, CERP, president, All About Events – Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Fla., who will join the ARA national board of directors in 2023 as ARA president-elect. “This year was particularly cool for me because I am getting ready to take on the role of president-elect. You can’t help but get excited about the future of ARA because you have all of these super-engaged people who are so passionate about ARA, the industry as a whole and for their state chapters.”

While Crotto is a Leadership Conference veteran, Jim Decatur, general manager, All Occasions Party Rentals, Knoxville, Tenn., and an ARA of Tennessee board member, attended for the first time and “loved it. It was great to meet different rental operators from around the country. I made sure to sit with different people at each event and learn something new about our members,” he says.

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.

“Bruce was a great start to the conference. It was a light, humorous and informative session that broke the ice and warmed up our minds to the rest of the conference,” says Rebekah Jones, CERP, general manager, Party Makers Event Rentals, Greensboro, N.C., and an ARA of North Carolina board member.

Thursday evening also included recognition of the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award recipients. Steven Eisenstein, CERP, of Classic Tents & Events, Norcross, Ga., who serves as ARA of Georgia immediate past president, received the award for his service in ARA Region Three.

Steven Eisenstein, CERP, center, receives the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award for Region Three

Steven Eisenstein, CERP, center, receives the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award for Region Three

“I was honored to serve as the Region Three pick for the Leadership Impact Award,” Eisenstein says. “Serving as the ARA of Georgia president during my term was a little harder than the other years due to COVID, but being in the rental business is like show business: The show must go on. So, instead of canceling [events] we went hybrid for those that did not want to meet in person. I am super-proud of our accomplishments. I have to thank Jeff Crotto for nominating me and for his helpful guidance during my tenure as president. I also need to thank [past ARA of Georgia president] Jeff Lignuaris for getting me involved on the board and [past ARA of Georgia president and current ARA vice president, equipment segment] Josh Nickell for all his support over the years. The rental industry is a wonderful place to be.”

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.

“LeeAnn is a wonderful speaker; she did a great job making things relevant to the rental industry,” says Chasity Crowe Moore, vice president, Americ Equipment Rental, Hartselle, Ala., who also serves as ARA of Alabama president.

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. Marlee Cain, controller, Taylor Rental Center, Greenville, Miss., and ARA of Mississippi treasurer, spoke for many by saying that “This was a fun night networking with good food and great entertainment. The Second City troupe was hilarious!”

Marlee Cain (ARA of Mississippi), left, and Carol Fontanez (ARA of Florida)

Marlee Cain (ARA of Mississippi), left, and Carol Fontanez (ARA of Florida)

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.

“Ashley did an excellent job on her presentation on diversity, inclusivity and equity. It was not only informative but also entertaining. I’ve sat through enough labor and employment law seminars to know that’s not always the case,” says Warren Clayton, president, Asheville Hwy Rental, Spartanburg, S.C., who also serves as ARA of South Carolina president.

As engaging as the conference content was, attendees were in agreement that perhaps the biggest takeaway was the opportunity to bounce ideas and experiences off other volunteer leaders within the rental community.

“It was a great networking experience to find out what other leaders are dealing with and what pain points they have,” says Stephanie Summerson-Hall, owner, Ruth’s House, Event Rentals & Design, Holly Hill, S.C., and an ARA of South Carolina board member. “I’ve been involved with ARA for 17 years. This is my third time coming [to the conference] and I’ve enjoyed it every time. It is an opportunity, professionally, to be educated on the state of the industry and our industry’s leadership. It’s also a personally enriching experience. There are always takeaways and networking opportunities.”