Management Lessons

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There are many defining moments in life, with some much more dramatic than others. Last month at the 2005 CEDIA Management Conference, it didn't take long for me to experience that event's defining moment. While not dramatic, established a tone that led to what I believe is the first worthwhile CEDIA management event in the last three years.

Last year, I was honest in my review of CEDIA's lackluster conference. After acknowledging the overwhelming early disappointment of that event's attendees, I noted that the quick-thinking CEDIA Management committee and executive staff had salvaged the week by provided valuable "improvised" sessions led by its board members. Call it "spin," if you must, but I gave the event an overall "thumb up" review as a result of these efforts, but still braced myself for a potentially disastrous 2005 event.

There will be no call for a spin doctor this year. From the energized opening keynote to the closing dinner, the high value and energy of the CEDIA Management Conference was never put to question by this year's attendees.

But, let's go back to that defining moment thing again. The moment of truth for me was not Bodine Balasco's energetic opening keynote, for we've had great keynotes that led to disappointing conferences. Nor was it the networking lunches and dinners, because those are always valuable at CEDIA events. This year's defining moment, for me, was on the first full day of the conference, when conference planners wisely repeated something that worked so very well last year. We broke into small "group forums," of our own choosing, to participate in facilitated conversations on the most critical business issues of the day. Credit should go to Utz Baldwin and the rest of his Management Conference team for recognizing what was most successful last year, coming back to it again this year, then building the rest of this year's event around it.

The breakout sessions consisted on 10 topics: cash flow management, organizational structure, labor efficiency, closing out the job, project management tools, customer service, sales compensation, education/training/employee development, sales process, and lead generation/outreach. Each day, these topics were alternately woven in between keynote speeches and the formal conference program, called "cross-industry presentations." The value of these small group forums was that each attendee could attend five of them, choosing the most critical topics. If you were fortunate enough to have two people attending from your organization, then you would cover all 10 topics.

That was the way it worked for RS managing editor, Margot Douaihy, and me. Each session, for us, generated pages of magazine article topics for the future and issues that will continue to serve as conversation points for many months to come. The concept behind the sessions wasn't to create a business manual for, say, employee training and development, but the lively discussions that the session generated, enabled successful business owners to share their war stories and helpful ideas, each building off of the other.

For example, Leslie Shiner, a very bright business consultant and frequent CEDIA instructor facilitated my first session. Her topic du jour was cash flow management, and in that 90-minute period we discussed line of credit vs. term loans, draw schedules, collections policies, matching revenues to expenses, and accounts receivable to accounts payable ratios. It was helpful to learn that one attendee works from deposit money and stops work on a project if that money runs out. And another attendee noted that he has separate draw schedules for equipment and labor. A topic of much interest was the common habit of using OPM (other people's money), but pay for work on current projects. Some attendees agreed that it's acceptable to do this as long as you keep track of it in your books. Others noted that it can take four times as long to pay that money back, and that many dealers are only one bad job away from bankruptcy as a result of the practice.

These are, of course, just a small sampling of the topics discussed. Starting next month, RS will re-visit each of the 10 small group forum subjects and write an in-depth feature based on what was discussed. We will follow up with attendees and help impart their ideas and concepts on those who could not attend, and remind those who did. We hope that as a result, we can help keep the spirit and energy of the 2005 CEDIA Management Conference growing until next year's event.