One hundred twenty-five leaders representing 78 companies from the United States, Mexico and Canada gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, in August to attend the PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) and PPAI Technology Summit, two senior-level professional development programs designed to discuss and address the business and technology issues facing their businesses and the promotional products industry.

The long-running NALC and second annual Technology Summit co-located for the first time and each delivered on their mission to focus on the leadership, business and technology challenges, and opportunities facing our businesses, the industry and the Association.

I kicked off this year’s events with highlights of a recent PPAI Board strategic discussion around the issues of demographics, globalization and technology—issues with the potential to create massive disruption for our members’ businesses and our channel. The highlights included results of the recent (and somewhat disappointing) 2014 Distributor Sales Volume Survey, which showed a marginal 1.09- percent overall distributor growth and the exponential growth of online sales, which topped 33 percent year over year. We also discussed the recent Forrester research on the projected loss of the traditional salesperson as I wrote about in this column in the June issue. Both topics were also addressed in sessions later in the week.

This year’s NALC volunteer work group, led by Catherine Graham and Mitch Mounger, helped refine and develop the high-level, well-received program which included more than a dozen educational sessions on high-demand topics including emotional intelligence, digital marketing, disruptive innovation, 3D printing, mindfulness and employee engagement—elements critical to the future success of our industry. The speaker lineup featured noted academics, investors, entrepreneurs and many of our own industry professionals.

Many of our industry’s top IT professionals attended PPAI’s Technology Summit, which almost doubled in size since its inaugural event in 2014. Bridging the gap between the NALC and Technology Summit content and attendees was a dynamic session on “Hype Cycle Technology,” which made a compelling case for stronger collaboration between business and technology leaders in planning and implementing technology initiatives.

The Technology Summit included a day-and-a-half of education sessions, panels and small group discussions with tech and business speakers from both inside and outside of the industry. Topics, identified and developed by the Technology Committee headed by Jon Norris, included business best practices, design first and agile development, industry specific integration discussions and updates, and the benefits of moving to the cloud.

The IT leaders recognized their own with two inaugural awards: Internal Innovator and Industry Collaborator. The Internal Innovator winner was the Jetline IT team. Winners of the Industry Collaborator award were BIC Graphic USA and Hit Promotional Products. Winners from each company took time to showcase award-winning programs and answer questions.

The events kicked-off with PPB magazine recognizing its 2015 Rising Stars at a reception and dinner honoring the 10 outstanding young leaders from companies across the industry. We were fortunate to have all 10 recipients on hand to enjoy the celebration in their honor including:

Jill Albers, Shumsky

Kirby Hasseman, Hasseman Marketing & Communications

Jessica Hutwelker, MAS, Sunrise Identity

Andrea Jaeckels, MAS, AIA Corporation

Ray Jimenez, Pacific Western Sales

Michael Marias, Hit Promotional Products

Ashley McCune, Facilisgroup

Sasha Pirrie, Logomark

Adam Taylor, Essent Corporation

Megan Zezzo, Jetline

I couldn’t be more proud to recognize these outstanding professionals along with PPB editor Tina Berres Filipski.

The dates for next year’s co-located North American Leadership Conference and Tech Summit in San Francisco are August 14-16 and August 17-18, respectively. Details and registration will be available soon.