AWRF Hosts “Reunion” in Houston!

All photos courtesy AWRF.

By: Bob Glenn

After two full calendar years without an in-person General Meeting, the Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) convened their long-awaited Spring General Meeting and PIE in Houston, Texas on April 24-27 of this year.  As you might expect after such a long hiatus, the opening reception – and for that matter the entire event – was described as a “reunion” by many of the attendees.  Despite the challenges of the last two years and lingering disruptions on labor markets and supply chains that our industry continues to grapple with, the atmosphere was nevertheless one of celebration.

AWRF meetings that include the “PIE” or Product Information Exhibition are generally the most strongly attended, and Houston can reasonably be described as the center of gravity for our industry.  With that in mind, it’s no surprise that attendance was strong, with about 90 companies exhibiting in the PIE and more than 550 registered attendees.

The Opening Reception (top) was held by the rooftop pool.

For those not familiar, the PIE was staged as an eight-hour show floor on the first full day of the event.  This is a feature of every third AWRF General Meeting, meaning that it occurs every 18 months.  In addition to the Exhibition, eight member companies took advantage of the New Product and Technology Spotlight conducted in the adjacent foyer.  These eight members delivered thirty-minute in-depth presentations on their products in a more structured format than might typically occur informally on the show floor.

Attendees were also able to take advantage of a few diversions in the foyer which appeared to be quite popular, including a Shoe Shine stand, a VR Golf Simulator, a Custom Cowboy Hat vendor, and later in the afternoon, a Whiskey Tasting!

The second full day consisted of a number of General Meeting sessions.  General Association business included presentation of Membership Plaque Awards to companies celebrating milestone membership anniversaries, and an update on ASME B30.20 Below-the-Hook lifting devices presented by Tom Eicher from the Caldwell Group.

Three additional speakers addressed the general session.

Mitchem Boles, Senior Security Advisor with Guidepoint Security described some of the challenges of the cybersecurity landscape – a broad range of evolving threats, an increasingly complex cyber-tech landscape, a tremendous shortage of skilled talent – and provided perspective in terms of people, process and technology to help companies assess their state of play in this critical field.

Lisa Ryan addresses the General Session.

Lisa Ryan, Engagement and Retention Expert, spoke on the role that gratitude should play in your strategy to retain your best and highest performing employees.  To help demonstrate the role and effect of gratitude, she challenged the audience to consider writing down three things for which you are grateful every day.  She shared examples of how that simple act can radically transform your mindset, even after, perhaps especially after, what she called “a weird couple years” that we have experienced.

Keynote Speaker Ross Shafer delivered and rollicking presentation entitled “Next Level Excellence”.  He wove together a number of anecdotes, hilariously delivered to make profound and sometimes unorthodox points to make your business relevant through “fresh practices, customer empathy and unconventional thinking”.  He has a long career as a comedian, writer and TV host, and began studying how business and organizations and leverage emotional linkages with their customers to improve results dramatically.

New Initiatives

Ross Moloney, CEO of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), and Past President Brett Woodland also addressed the general session to launch a new AWRF/LEEA joint initiative.  The Member Accreditation Program offers AWRF Members the opportunity to be audited by LEEA, and thereby gain access to select LEEA services, support and assistance to support their performance and development.  The audits will be based on the member developed AWRF Quality Survey and the RP&G for Rigging Shop Operation, and are expected to begin later in 2022.

“Through the Member Accreditation Program, AWRF members gain a valuable endorsement. They will receive support to improve and progress, while also benefiting from the oversight and feedback of a third party.  They get to use a special created logo to distinguish themselves. We would like to thank Past President Brett Woodland and Past President Knut Buschmann for their efforts on getting this program across the finish line,” said AWRF CEO Jeff Gilbert.”

Another Association initiative launched in Houston is the Emerging Leaders program.

The goal or mission for the Emerging Leaders Program is to welcome and introduce the younger members of the AWRF organization to our current leaders and longtime members with the idea of bridging the gap between generations and promoting mentorship and guidance to the program participants.  We look to inspire young AWRF members to pursue leadership roles within AWRF, and across the lifting and rigging industry.  Younger members can also guide older members on new technologies and philosophies that appeal to the Emerging Leader’s generation.

Related events at this meeting included the Emerging Leaders Inaugural Reception for members aged 40 and under on the opening day immediately prior to the First Timer’s and Opening Receptions.  This was a lively gathering with several dozen attendees along with present AWRF leadership.  Luke Staten (Van Beest, USA) and Easton Schlender (Cortland), leading this initiative, also hosted a presentation about their future plans in a breakout following the General Session.

Staten told Wire Rope Exchange: “We never anticipated the support we received from our first true meeting.  We were only expecting 30-40 people and we ended up having over 75 people show up.  The AWRF Board of Directors and the Emerging leaders committee were impressed by the support and considered it a major success.  We have already started planning for the Fall General Meeting in Philadelphia.”

He continued, “We are still in the planning stages, but at some key point there will be a small group breakout session where we will rotate participants through the groups, so that everyone can get to know each other. We also plan to provide some type of continuing education that participants will be able to engage with.  And we are looking at creating a mentorship program and several other ideas that will come as this initiative progresses.   We are considering many other options and would welcome any feedback or suggestions from the Wire Rope Exchange audience!”

Looking toward the future, Staten suggested that, “I believe that this was the beginning of an initiative for the AWRF organization that will be around for years to come. Members and manufacturers will soon line up to send their employees so they do not miss out on this amazing opportunity.”

He continued on a more personal note, adding that, “I am passionate about this program because I remember what it was like going to my first meeting and the people who took me under their wing to show me the ropes. The impact they made on my career most likely kept me in this industry, and I believe Emerging Leaders can have that same type of impact on others.”

Our impression, formed through conversations with a wide range of attendees, is that these two initiatives reflect a renewed vigor on the part of AWRF to support and engage with its members in a productive and meaningful way.  With particular respect to Emerging Leaders, developing the next generation of skilled and talented leadership is a challenge common to many industrial trades, and this is widely recognized as mission-critical to our future.  In our view, everything the Association can accomplish on that front will benefit the industry immensely, and raise AWRF’s profile within it.  We’re excited to see how these develop, and encourage you to get involved!

Checking out customized cowboy hats!

Fun and Games

Of course, there were ample opportunities to network and socialize with other attendees throughout the course of the meeting.  In addition to nightly receptions, the AWRF Monte Carlo Casino Night Gala included a reception, buffet supper, and an interesting twist on the usual “casino night” format.  Players purchased “buy-in tokens” exchangeable at the gaming tables for chips.  The proceeds from the purchase of tokens were entirely donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  At the end of the evening, players were able to use their accumulated winnings to bid on raffle items donated by fourteen Member companies.

The program also included an opportunity to tour Space Center Houston, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center.  It is billed as the area’s number one attraction for international visitors, and offers an astonishing array of exhibits and artifacts, including moon rocks and lunar samples.

The closing day of the program featured a Networking Golf Tournament and closing reception held at Wildcat Golf Club.  Nearly one-hundred attendees took advantage of this opportunity to play on what is described as “the preferred golf club of Houston’s professional sports teams” and offers two 18-hole championship courses.  Surprisingly, both courses feature elevation changes up to 100 feet, providing a unique golf venue for Southeast Texas.

First Time Attendees

While The Crosby Group is no stranger to any AWRF Member, several of their executives were first-time attendees in Houston.  Melissa Ruths, Vice President, Marketing and Product told Wire Rope Exchange: “the entire event, including the PIE, was a fantastic learning experience for me.  I was most impressed by the strength of the AWRF community – every person that I met was so welcoming, knowledgeable, and extremely passionate about our industry.  It truly hit home how this group is so much more than an association of distributors and suppliers – it’s a family with shared history, respect for each other, and a strong commitment to safety and quality.”

To wrap up, we want to thank everyone who very generously took time to speak with us and provide their perspective on the industry and the marketplace.  We appreciate your willingness to share your insights, your challenges and your victories, and we look forward to seeing you all again soon!

This article first appeared in the May/June 2022 Issue of Wire Rope Exchange.

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