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NAW Billion Dollar CEO Roundtable – Event Recap

Recap of the NAW Billion Dollar CEO Roundtable. An event for exclusive community of thought leaders from Billion Dollar distribution enterprises.


NAW is one of the U.S.’s leading trade associations and represents the $7.4 trillion wholesale-distribution industry. It was founded in 1946 and consists of national, regional, and state employers of all sizes, industry trade associations, partners, and stakeholders spanning all distribution sectors. The wholesaler and distribution industry employs more than 5 million workers throughout the United States and accounts for 1/3 of the U.S. GDP. Currently, 35,000 wholesale-distribution companies operate in nearly 150,000 places of business across North America, including all 50 states.

NAW’s mission is to help the most dynamic companies in wholesale distribution succeed with world-class programs and services. The NAW program caters to a whole range of professionals like CEOs, senior executives, and rising leaders at member companies and associations. NAW engages with its members through offerings in thought leadership, networking, executive education, benchmarking/research, shared resourcing, partnerships, and public affair. One such networking event that NAW hosts each year is the NAW Billion Dollar CEO Roundtable. This is an event for an exclusive community of thought leaders from Billion Dollar distribution enterprises who get together to network with industry peers in multiple lines of trade on crucial issues. Distribution firms at or above $1 billion in annual sales are the companies invited into this community.

McFadyen Digital was the proud sponsor of this year’s NAW Billion Dollar CEO Roundtable. The 2-day event occurred on the 12th and 13th of October at the Hilton O’Hare in Chicago. McFadyen Digital Team consisted of Tom McFadyen, Author & CEO, and Adam Thibodeaux, SVP of Sales. Tom gave away autographed copies of his Amazon best seller – Marketplace Best Practices.

Eric Hoplin, President and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW), opened the event where he spoke about how NAW is doing its bit to help the economy. He also said about the 40% growth in membership for the NAW body.

Day 1 – 12th October

Latest Strategies/Trends in Growth And Automating Processes – The opening panel had participation from Mariah Merchant at Tecsys, Kary Zate at Locus Robotics, James Dorn from the Dorn Group, and Mark Delaney at Four Kites. The general discussion was around automation and the overall industry trends. Like how are companies ensuring that they are utilizing the best tools for their operating procedures? What new trends are being witnessed within the distribution industry? Below are some of the key points discussed.

  • Lots of warehouses are going more vertical as space is hard to find.
  • Value-added services are a significant growth opportunity. As a result, some distributors are becoming service-based companies.
  • For a true transformation to take place, a C-level person needs to be in charge of innovation.
  • An easier path to innovation is to partner with innovative solution providers.
  • More and more distributors are now doing strategic planning that they have never done before.
  • While Baby Boomers were going to leave the workforce slowly, but pandemic accelerated their retirement.
  • Distributors can see insights into end customers’ business that manufacturers don’t have access to.

The next big session for the day was ESG Best Practices over dinner and presentation. ESG (environmental, social, and governance) concerns are not just buzzwords. More and more CEOs are being asked about ESG practices on analysts’ calls. Even customers and suppliers are asking for more information on ESG. This is hitting both public companies as well as private ones. This presentation laid an excellent ground on what companies can do to become compliant. The session also discussed if this area would see more funding and whether or not companies would hire additional staff to keep track of collecting and reporting information.

Day 2 – 13th October

Day two began with a breakout session that discussed Hybrid Work Environment-Best Practices. A very topical and insightful session that looked at how we deal with the challenges of culture and innovation and the employee feeling disconnected in this new environment. How can companies leverage this new hybrid environment to survive and thrive? The participants in this session included Dan Schuberth, CRO at NAW; Julian, CEO – of Beacon Roofing Supply; Jay Woolley – CEO of Airgas; Alysa, Chief Commercial Officer at H.D. Supply, amongst others. Some exciting ideas were discussed in this session, like the future of work, and the pros and cons of onsite vs. remote vs. hybrid model. While some jobs can be done remotely, the downside is limited opportunity to build a career. There was a unanimous consensus on the need to automate the mind-numbing, low value-add activities and have people do the more challenging work that adds real value to the organization. Companies need to build a career path, not ladders, for meritocracy. Research data also showed that 60% of people want more structure, while 40% want to work as they wish. Surprisingly, many Gen-Z looks for in-person work, and to get the best out of them, hiring them in batches/cohorts is advisable. Organizations must prioritize & plan time to reconnect with their people – preferably in person. Then there is the proximity bias – studies show people working at the office near the management get promoted more.

Rapid wage inflation has resulted in an under-supply of technicians that can manage / fix/program automation equipment. This brought the panel to the most anticipated question: When will we likely see deflation? While some sectors are already witnessing some form of deflation, like plastics, the wage rates are unlikely to drop. In other words, inflation & deflation are happening concurrently now. It’s best not to plan for deflation and wait for market corrections.

The other big session of the day was Regulation and the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), which looked at the various industry trends in regulations and labor relations. It laid down the path for small businesses to react in the face of a huge push to unionize them. The number of union applications has grown by over 50% over the last year, and unions have gained more power during the pandemic.

The concluding session of the day was Supply Chain – Lasting Impacts and Industry Insights. The industry leaders discussed the risk of single-source, long-distance, international supply chains during this session. The session highlighted the impacts of global events like the war in Ukraine, Chinese supply problems, and the pandemic on the worldwide supply chain. It provided deep insights into how businesses must position themselves to withstand the challenges and ensure organizational success.

Summing it Up

Wholesalers and distributors are a vital segment of McFadyen’s customers. It was a fantastic opportunity for the team to network, connect, and speak to them about the marketplace model. B2B buyers in the wholesale and distribution industry now expect a consumer-like experience. McFadyen Digital has worked with some of the leading wholesalers and distributors to create scalable and profitable shopping experiences. Check out our specific offering for the Wholesale & Distribution industry and learn how the marketplace experts can help your business.


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