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Leadership Conference inspires current and future industry leaders

By Connie Lannan and Brock Huffstutler

January 10, 2023

Leadership Conference attendees from Region Nine

Leadership Conference attendees from Region Nine

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 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.

“A lot of what he was talking about was how we approach situations and how we present ourselves as leaders,” says Alberto Pianelli, general manager, F & B Rentals, Santa Ana, Calif., and ARA Region Nine director. “I liked that aspect that if your mindset is positive, you attract that positivity. You get that back from your employees and customers. The whole attitude aspect is so important. You have to love what you do first of all. If you are part of a leadership position or starting a leadership position, your role is to lead from the front with the right attitude.”

Alberto Pianelli, left, and Matt Crawford

Alberto Pianelli, left, and Matt Crawford

Thursday evening also included recognition of the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award recipients. Matt Crawford of Far West Rents & Ready Mix, Lincoln, Calif., who serves as ARA of California treasurer, received the award for his service in ARA Region Nine.

The award caught Crawford completely off-guard. “I didn’t see this coming. I was very surprised and also very grateful for the recognition. While I appreciate the recognition, we have an awesome ARA of California board/team. Our board is comprised of those from Northern California, Southern California and everywhere in between who make all these events happen. It takes all of us,” says Crawford, who was a first-time Leadership Conference attendee.

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,” highlighting how to help others shine; and “The Personal Growth Shift,” centered on becoming growth-oriented.

““I really enjoyed Lee Ann’s session — that it was more hands-on vs. just slideshows. I also enjoyed that others shared and opened up,” says Meghann Lovlein, co-owner and director of accounts payable and marketing, A Tool Shed, Santa Cruz, Calif., who serves on the ARA of California board.

Crawford agrees. “Communication, especially listening, was one of the big things she talked about. I actually came back and had a nice open conversation with my employees — something I haven’t done in a long time. They were honest and gave me great feedback. I haven’t always been the best communicator. That needs to change. I need to do a better job of that,” he says, noting that this act was the first step.

Pianelli appreciated Piano’s many acronyms for handling different situations and how they prompted self-reflection. “It was about what do I bring to the table? Am I someone who is sucking energy out of the group or am I feeding energy to the group? How can I create the right mindset in order to be a better businessperson and board member. She did an excellent job of helping us do self-evaluation of ourselves, our businesses and our boards to see where we want to take our boards and businesses,” he 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, standup and sketch comedians.

“That was awesome,” Crawford says. “I had no idea what that was on the agenda. After dinner, the stage was there, but I had no clue and then they started the show. I had not seen this improv group before. I was very impressed by their ability. We threw out terms and topics related to the industry — topics they weren’t familiar with — and they did a great job with it.”

The conference concluded Saturday, Nov. 19, with a final leadership session, “The Mind Shift,” from Ashley Cuttino of Ogletree Deakins — a 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.

Meghann Lovlein and her father Robert Pedersen

Meghann Lovlein and her father Robert Pedersen

All were glad they attended.

“This was my first Leadership Conference. It was so fun and there was a lot to learn,” Lovlein says. “It was nice being able to experience it with my dad [Robert Pedersen, president of A Tool Shed and chair of ARA’s Equipment Rental Shared Interest Group], so I was able to put faces to names I’ve heard about for so long. I’ve been back in the industry for two years, so conferences like this really help me make connections that can be helpful in the future. It’s been nice. A lot of things have changed since I was last in rental, so having peers to bounce things off of is great.”

Pianelli agrees. “When you get all these people together, the energy and positivity for our industry is electrifying. It is awesome to be in a room with people who are excited to be in rentals. I met so many new faces and got to hear so many stories. It allows us to get a good picture of what our industry is about. It is so important to network, meet new people, learn what rentals are like in their area and gain tips to strengthen our leadership skills so we can be better leaders in our businesses, our boards and within our community. It is so beneficial from all aspects,” he says.