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Leadership Conference inspires current and future industry leaders

By Brock Huffstutler

January 10, 2023

ARA Leadership Conference 2022 - Region Eight attendees

ARA Leadership Conference 2022 – Region Eight 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 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.

Thursday evening also included recognition of the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award recipients. Heather Gray of RE Investment Co. d/b/a Midway Rental, Kalispell, Mont., who serves as ARA of Montana president, received the award for her service in ARA Region Eight.

“To walk up and accept such an award in front of my peers was perhaps the pinnacle of my involvement in the ARA yet,” Gray says. “The ARA is such an amazing organization! There hasn’t been one person within the organization who I have met that wasn’t involved because they have such a passion for the rental industry, and it truly shows. From the leadership team, the state officers and boards to the members — they all contribute their time and knowledge for the advancement of the organization. It is such a privilege for me to be involved and be able to network with so many of them.”

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.

Heather Gray, right, receives the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award

Heather Gray, right, receives the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award

“Leann got everyone actively participating and evaluating themselves on where their growth areas were both personally and professionally. I ended up with many takeaways from her presentation, but the key one for me was figuring out our legacy — our ‘life sentence’ — meaning why is leadership so important and what is it that we hope to accomplish and leave behind for others? Now, that makes quite a powerful impact on you once you are able to answer that question, for sure,” Gray says.

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.

“Ashley spoke about what people are wanting in a company and what’s going to keep them around. Diversity is one of the big things that people are looking at, and it was interesting to see that from a different perspective,” says Nathan Manning, manager, Portland Rent All, Portland, Ore., who also serves as ARA of Oregon president.

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

“My biggest takeaway was the networking with everybody who was there and talking about what’s going on at their events,” Manning says. “I enjoyed just meeting people, socializing, making connections and hearing about what’s going on in other parts of the country.”

“This was my second year at the Leadership Conference, and it gets better every year,” Gray says. “As always, the networking was wonderful, and I was excited to see so many new faces to the industry. It’s great to know that equipment and event rental businesses are continuing to see so much positive growth.”

Larry Ott, northeast sales representative for the Commercial Tent Division of Rainier Industries, Tukwila, Wash., says the event was helpful in prepping him to step up to the ARA national board of directors when he becomes an ARA associate member director in 2023.

“I met a lot of new people at Leadership Conference. Everyone was friendly and working toward a common goal, which is great. I automatically started thinking that after I’m done with this term [as ARA associate member director] what can I do next, trying to find out where else I can help. Coming to the conference made me really excited for the first two years of my term and focused on how I can help,” Ott says.