Leadership Conference delivers on industry connections and motivation
By Brock Huffstutler

Leadership Conference delivers on industry connections and motivation

After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, the American Rental Association’s (ARA) annual Leadership Conference — one of ARA’s premier invite-only conferences — was back as a live event Nov. 18-20. To the industry volunteers who gathered at the conference, it was a welcome return to a forum where they could gain skills and make connections to enhance their service to their respective ARA chapters.

The conference, held at the Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Ill., welcomed more than 50 ARA state and local leaders — many of whom serve as presidents, vice presidents and officers of their state chapters. In addition to these, current and incoming members of the ARA Board of Directors were in attendance to lend their insights on association leadership.

The event opened on Thursday, Nov. 18, with a presentation titled “Develop Your Comic Vision,” by Tim Gard. Gard, a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame, kicked the conference off by delivering laughs through his message that focused on harnessing humor as a skill to prevent or cope with stress.

The conference continued Friday morning with opening comments and association strategic updates from ARA CEO Tony Conant. Attendees then heard from guest speaker Tim Dixon, who launched into the first of four leadership-themed sessions held during the conference.

With a master’s degree in sports psychology and 13 years of coaching experience — including time spent at the U.S. Air Force Academy — Dixon brought with him the credentials to deliver a high-energy and challenging, yet good-humored, message that offered perspective on leadership at a variety of personal and professional levels.

“Both speakers did a great job,” said Drew Dancer, manager, JAG Tool & Equipment Rental, Nampa, Idaho, and ARA of Idaho president. “Tim Gard, with his approach in comical leadership, was eye-opening — not everything has to be so serious all the time. But I took the most away from Tim Dixon's points. I really enjoyed his perspective on leadership, to be more open with employees and ‘softer’ in management strategies. I liked how he engaged all attendees on the matter, which allowed us to see everyone's interpretations of what he was saying. That, in itself, really tied his whole point together — it showed everyone that the options in their minds are not the only ones on the table.”

Commenting on the benefit the Leadership Conference provided in terms of industry connections, Heather Gray, human resources manager, RE Investment Co. d/b/a Midway Rental (REIC), Kalispell, Mont., who also serves as ARA of Montana president, said the networking was “absolutely amazing to see it really come to life. You can be in your state and you can lead your own group, but to all come together as industry leaders, provide feedback to one another and learn from one another — it’s amazing and very impactful.”

Updates on ARA initiatives — including RentalU, industry economic research and government affairs — also were provided by ARA staff members on Friday between Dixon’s sessions, as was a greeting from conference sponsor ARA Insurance.

Friday afternoon concluded with a presentation from special guest Karen Layng, national president of Girl Scouts of the USA. As a tie-in with ARA’s Women in Rental initiative, Layng discussed the many rental-related professional roles for which Girl Scouts involvement prepares girls and encouraged ARA leaders to partner with local Girl Scout chapters to introduce rental as a viable career path for girls and young women. 

Friday evening, all were invited to participate in a networking session that featured a dueling pianos show starring talent from Chicago’s “Howl at the Moon” venue. “That was awesome. I really feel that night was the best for meeting everyone. After everyone became a little more relaxed, it made us more social,” Dancer said.

The conference concluded Saturday, Nov. 20, with a final leadership session from Dixon and additional ARA national updates, including a look at the consumer-facing, professionally produced media commercials that are part of ARA’s rental marketing campaign and progress made in the workforce development arena through the ARA Job Board.

Dancer summed up his experience at the Leadership Conference as “an 11 on a scale of one to 10. I had one heck of a time. I believe a lot of us in the rental community, especially the small shops, have no clue of the amount of people who share their exact struggles with business. At the conference, I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of amazing people regarding some of their troubles with the current problems we all are facing.”

Brock Huffstutler

Brock HuffstutlerBrock Huffstutler

Brock Huffstutler is the regional news editor for Rental Management. He writes and edits articles for ARA’s In Your Region quarterly regional newsletters, Rental Management, Rental Pulse and other special projects. Outside of work, he enjoys biking and spending time at the few remaining vintage record stores in the region.

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