By Tim O’Connor
As FEDA celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2023, it was not lost on us that many of the distributors the association represents have been around even longer. Foodservice equipment and supplies distributors have endured for so long in part because they’ve been able to successfully transition between each generation of the business, maintaining what sets their company apart while innovating alongside their customers and technological progress.
Part of FEDA’s mission is to help distributors maintain and develop that pipeline of generational talent through the FEDA Young Industry Leaders (YIL) program. For the past several years, that has come largely through our online YIL forums and special programming at the FEDA Annual Conference. However, this upcoming year we are thrilled to bring back the in-person YIL retreat for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. These retreats are among FEDA’s most popular programs and are an effective way for those in the early and middle stages of their careers to learn about the industry, create connections with their peers and think more deeply about leadership topics that will benefit their organizations.
The 2024 YIL retreat will be held at Ice-O-Matic’s headquarters in Denver from April 10-11. Ice-O-Matic President Erica Motes and Director of Sales and National Accounts Brittany Skulski will lead the retreat, which will be open to any FEDA member between the ages of 21 and 46. “We are very excited to host the YIL event because attracting and retaining new talent is critical to the success of our industry,” Motes says, adding that this kind of in-person leadership discussion is invaluable to building effective future leaders. “Unfortunately, there is not a textbook or how-to guide for foodservice,” she says. “Events such as YIL provide opportunities to share insights, collaborate and engage the next generation.”
The retreat’s theme will be leading through economic downturns and business transformations. Motes will provide a detailed overview of the topic before participants are split into two groups, ascending young leaders (those aged 21-33) and accomplished young leaders (those aged 34-46), for breakout learning tailored to where they are at in their careers. The ascending young leaders discussion will focus on understanding the impact economic downturns have on a business and the decisions and shifts an organization must make. Meanwhile, the accomplished young leaders group will cover how leaders can adjust strategies during a downturn and implement those changes.
The topic was inspired by the challenges equipment distributors and manufacturers faced during the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the adjustments businesses had to make in its wake. While the pandemic may be over, the issue remains a priority for companies as they prepare for the next unseen disruption, whether it comes from supply chain uncertainty, the political environment or other external forces.
“The lessons of a global pandemic are still fresh and business leaders can use them to ensure they are ready for the challenges ahead,” says Valentina Tomov, FEDA’s chief program officer. “It is at times of economic recovery that businesses have more maneuverability to think about and invest in the right technology, train their workforce, diversify skills, and implement an agile organization that has resiliency at its core.”
As someone who was in a leadership position at Ali Group North America when the pandemic began and is now the head of an Ali Group company, Motes understands well how leaders can manage through unpredictable periods. She will share many of those lessons during the YIL retreat. “Communication and transparency became even more important,” she recalls. “Being honest and communicating — sometimes overcommunicating — with customers and employees eases minds and increases loyalty.”
One of the most important lessons of COVID-19 was that situations can change suddenly without notice. The retreat will help the next generation of leaders prepare themselves to shift strategies in the moment so that their businesses can quickly find new opportunities. “The world continues to change rapidly,” Motes notes. “As we come out of the pandemic, through the supply chain crisis, booming backlogs and into a slowing economy, the topic is just as relevant today as it was in 2019.”
Although the focus of the retreat is leadership development, participants will also get a behind-the-scenes view of how the equipment they sell is produced. The retreat will include a tour of Ice-O-Matic’s manufacturing facility, during which guests will witness a modern equipment factory in action. The tour will showcase the fusion of technology and expertise, as Ice-O-Matic demonstrates the only domestic manufacturing of evaporator plates, how automation is used to precision cut sheet metal and how skilled operators adeptly braze copper tubing. The immersive tour will guide attendees through the manufacturing journey from raw materials to the birth of a new ice machine, culminating in a live demonstration that confirms the equipment’s ice-making proficiency.
Lastly, the retreat will offer an opportunity for young professionals to form new industry relationships. Ice-O-Matic will host a social event at FlyteCo Tower, a 25,000-square-foot brewery, restaurant and entertainment venue located about three miles from the manufacturer’s headquarters. FlyteCo Tower features a unique look, incorporating the 164-foot aircraft control tower of the former Stapleton International Airport into its design. With three floors of indoor games and a miniature golf course, it promises to be a great way to celebrate some local history while getting to know other future leaders from around the foodservice equipment and supplies industry.
With a full slate of activities, Motes says Ice-O-Matic is eager to welcome FEDA YIL to its headquarters next spring. “Ice-O-Matic is committed to hosting a thought-provoking, comprehensive agenda where our channel partners will have an opportunity to enhance their leadership skills while developing deeper industry connections,” she says. “I was very fortunate to have some great mentors in the industry. The Ice-O-Matic leadership team and I are excited to have the opportunity to pay it forward.”
FEDA YIL members will receive information about signing up for the Ice-O-Matic retreat in January. Those who are interested in participating in the retreat and who would like to join FEDA YIL should contact FEDA Communications Manager Tim O’Connor at [email protected].