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Shaping the future at ISA

Under the leadership of new president/CEO Ed Gerber, ISA is focused on reaching its full potential

ISA logo
Ed Gerber, ISA

This time around, the new president and CEO of the Industrial Supply Association (ISA) requires no introduction. Ed Gerber is well known in the distribution industry, having worked on both the distribution and supplier sides of the business since 1987.

His journey began right out of college, when he was hired as an outside salesman for Petry & Morrow, a small, independent distributor based in York, Pennsylvania. He worked his way through the ranks, eventually becoming president of the company after it was acquired by Industrial Distribution Group, which was then in the early stages of its rollup strategy to acquire independent distribution companies. 

Gerber was later recruited to join the Sandvik group, where he served as vice president of sales and marketing, overseeing the German high-performance round tool brands for the NAFTA region. Recruited back to IDG in 2006, he became president of the Northeast region, followed by executive vice president of sales and marketing for the company as it transitioned from public to private equity, ultimately being sold to Sonepar in late 2014. Today, IDG has merged with Hagemeyer North America and has rebranded as Vallen Distribution Inc.

The one thing that remained constant throughout the years while Gerber built a successful career was his involvement in ISA, the industry’s leading association. He first became involved in the former Young Executives Forum (now known as Emerging Leaders), served on multiple committees, and was invited to join the executive committee as a volunteer leader, ultimately serving as ISA president (now called chairman) in 2012-2013.

Gerber’s broad range of experience has provided him with valuable insight into the unique needs of small and large distributors, and the perspective of a large, multi-national manufacturer.

“Back when I started, this was primarily a product-centric, transactional and relationship-driven business. Today, the industry has evolved into a sophisticated, solutions-oriented supply chain model,” Gerber explains. He says end users are continually faced with increasing levels of productivity standards and, as a result, they have embraced new technology as a means to actively look for ways to leverage their MROP purchases across their organization.

“Today, it’s a race on who can supply a broad range of products in the most effective way that equates to value in the eyes of the end user,” he adds.

Gerber believes that his involvement with ISA helped him navigate the changes taking place in the industry. One of his goals as president and CEO is to ensure that the association continues to be as relevant to members today as it was for him as he progressed in his career.

“From a strategic point of view, we are conducting a full review of our products and services offering to make sure it continually meets the needs of our members on a go-forward basis,” he says. “We’ll also be out in the field engaging with our membership to make sure we have the voice of the customer front and center as we shape ISA for the future.”

Finger on the pulse
Asked what he sees as the challenges facing companies in the industrial supply industry, three came top of mind.

The first challenge is keeping abreast of the fast-changing technology that is transforming the way companies do business today.

“The B2C world has redefined what end users expect when interfacing with the industrial supply chain. This will continue to accelerate as the next generation takes over. Distributors are faced with redefining their core competency and how best to present that electronically so that it meets the expectation of their end user customer. It’s more than having an online store, it’s about the overall strategy,” Gerber says.

He adds that as distributors continue to round out their product offering and fulfillment strategy, having an ERP system that’s both scalable and integrated to their web, point-of-use presence and supplier base is a key success factor in having a streamlined logistics platform that’s cost effective.

The second challenge is attracting new blood into the industry. “Attracting the next generation into our industry is critical for our members. Our workforce needs to reflect the end user customer demographics as it becomes younger and more diversified. It’s also critical to succession planning, to ensure the future health of our members’ organizations,” Gerber says.

The third issue is education. As the selling process becomes more sophisticated, “having a trained and educated sales force that can articulate and deliver value that matters in the eyes of the customer is key for a salesperson to win in today’s solutions-oriented industry,” Gerber says.

ISA staff
From left: The ISA staff includes David Freno, associate director, professional development; Carly Sokoloff, marketing coordinator; Kim Wieland, executive director; Dan Ehinger, associate director, member experience; Ed Gerber, president/CEO; Michael Cornnell, associate director, marketing and communications; Julianne Boyle, administrative coordinator; and Kate Ho, conference manager.

How ISA helps its members
Asked what role the association can play in helping its members adapt to industry changes, Gerber explains, “ISA is an association representing the industry at large, so we have a responsibility to bring awareness of the changes in the market place as they occur and provide education and training that’s relevant in helping our members refine their go-to-market strategy. We do this throughout the year both in person and online, as well as during the professional development series at our annual convention which is in Denver next April.”

He adds that the association also has a strong networking component that continues to build momentum. “In addition to education, our members consistently rank networking as a key value component to ISA. Beyond the networking that takes place between industry executives at our annual convention, we have a lot of energy and passion behind our special interest groups.” They include Women Industrial Supply Executives (W.I.S.E.), Industrial Manufacturer Representatives (IMRs) and Emerging
Leaders, the next generation of industry leaders.

Asked if there are any thoughts on adding more special-interest groups, Gerber says, “we are in the process of starting a new group called Family Owned Business that will provide a forum to deal with the unique challenges facing family-owned companies today.” Matt Cohen, president of Replenex in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, will be the group’s chairman. “Based on the level of interest we’re getting already, we are very excited about the future of this group,” Gerber says.

“If you talk to any of the members within these special-interest groups, they have an absolute passion for the network they’re a part of. It gives them a chance to share ideas and lessons learned with people who are similar to them and talk about specific issues of importance. I like to think of them as active communities within ISA,” Gerber says.

Rounding out education and networking is information, Gerber says. “As members continue to refine their strategy through education and connecting with their networks, information and benchmarking become necessary to understand how they’re progressing from a comparative point of view.” Available information ranges from market share data to performance metrics.

“Simply put, the role of ISA is to help our members navigate changes in the marketplace so they continue to thrive in our industry,” he says.

ISA staff meetingAn exciting future
Gerber’s passion about the future of ISA is readily apparent. Since taking on his new role at ISA in early September, Gerber says he is very pleased with the passion and commitment of the ISA staff and volunteers who serve behind the scenes to keep ISA running smoothly.

“My experience with ISA in the past has given me an appreciation of the dedication and contribution a volunteer gives to our association. Because of that experience, I have a better understanding of how to be a more effective leader as I serve within ISA,” Gerber says.

He adds that he has been humbled by the encouragement and support that he received from industry leaders when word spread that he was named ISA president and CEO. One of the first people he contacted when accepting his new job was Barbara Buckley, the widow of ISA’s first executive vice president, John Buckley. Gerber promised her that “we will do all we can to make John proud and build on his legacy.”

“ISA is in great shape today. We are financially strong, the fundamentals are in place, we have a capable and dedicated ISA staff, and our executive committee and board are fully committed to the success of our association. I’m confident that, with the staff and volunteer leaders by my side, we will shape ISA so it reaches its full potential for our members,” Gerber concludes.

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2016 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2016, Direct Business Media.

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