Chuck Wilson on NSCA’s Business Leadership Conference in Dallas

The NSCA is hosting its Business Leadership Conference (BLC) in Dallas, Feb. 23-25. It’s the 24th annual BLC – building on decades of experience with AV integrator-focused events and resources. And it will be the first in-person event since early 2020, as last year it was all-virtual. NSCA says that this year’s event is the most anticipated BLC ever. You can register to attend in-person, or virtually, here.

This analyst is certainly anticipating a great event – I’ll be there, yes, in-person at the beautiful Four Seasons Las Colinas in Dallas. In February 2020, I and about 400 other AV industry professionals gathered for the 2020 BLC, a great event that was, it turned out, the last significant in-person conference event of that asterisk year. The sessions were great. The networking was superb. (The golf was too.) NSCA has the just-right-size conference – catered to AV integrators – down to a science, but it’s a lot more fun than science. (And as lovely as the venue is, it’s pretty close to DFW airport, making it super-easy to get to and back from. Driving in from any point in Texas is a breeze, as is flying in.)

To find out why this will be the most anticipated BLC ever, I asked Chuck Wilson, the CEO of NSCA, to share both his thinking and the expectations and wish-lists of AV integrators that will be attending.

David Keene: NSCA’s BLC – Business Leadership Conference – has always been a must-go-to event for execs and managers from AV integration companies that need and want a true business conference, to help them grow their businesses and increase profitability. As much as we all love AV gear – this is a tech industry after all – it’s that business and growth strategy focus at BLC that really speaks to the needs of companies, and gives them tools to take back to the office and their team. With so much product-forward emphasis in our industry, how did NSCA settle on that approach – way before the disruptions of the past two years?

Chuck Wilson: I think we just decided that it would be nice to take a break from all the product and tech talk and get to know each other better and talk about business for a couple of days.  This event is a relationship-building platform where you learn from each other, side by side – and then discuss new ways to innovate and adapt to changing business and market landscapes.

David: Can’t avoid the big questions of the two years since we all met in Dallas for the 2020 BLC: From my perspective, it seems NSCA’s business and management focus positioned you better to help companies through rocky waters and uncertainty – more than what a more typical technology and product-focused association is positioned to do. What are some key things you and NSCA learned (and will share at the BLC) from the “pivot” so many of your members had to make, quickly, in 20/21?

Chuck: Well, many things; we learned that having recurring revenue made a huge difference during the pandemic, we learned who are key partners are and who had our backs, we learned that the cashflow management skills developed at BLC paid huge returns.  So many survival skills, leadership skills and business fundamentals really came into play the past two years. And yes this will all be part of the discussion at the BLC in Dallas.

David: One session/presentation really stuck in my head from the BLC in early 2020: who was the presenter, that spoke on “reframing” a problem, in order to solve it? That’s a great theme: that’s what we needed to do past two years: not “solve” the “COVID crisis” but rather reframe it, to expose the opportunities for change and growth, and better position ourselves to be ready for any contingency. Have you seen that “reframing” idea in action?

Chuck: For sure. The NSCA business continuity program kicked into gear right away as the pandemic begun and we stayed side by side with our members helping to reframe the most important questions such as, how do we make sure our people are safe? How do we do our work?  How do we make sure the company survives without project revenue? The big pre-pandemic seemed small compared to the new problems.

David: In recent years, I’ve heard anecdotes about how you, for example, having heard about an exec at an Integrator having issues with a particular employee, seemed out of answers, and you took an interest and coached the folks involved, to great results. I know it’s not part of your official duties, but I know from years of working with you in various capacities, that you really know how employees think and what they need and what motivates them. Makes sense, since you owned an AV integration company in the past. But what key things might business owners/managers look for, in this year’s BLC, that could help them manage and nurture their people not just customers’ needs.

Chuck: What I’ve learned the past few years is that you take care of your people and they will take care of the customers. So much of our unwanted turnover comes from top talent feeling ignored or undervalued. Companies who always ask employees to sacrifice without recognition or reward to focus solely on client experience will suffer. That balance is the type of thing we have emphasized at BLC over the years.

David: One of the sessions at the BLC, that caught my eye, looks super intriguing:

Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance & Productivity, by Joseph Allen

And he’s from Harvard University. I look forward to that.

And one trend I’ve noticed in the past two years – maybe more “advice” to integrators (and product/solution providers also) than a “trend,” is this:

If you want to cut through the tech and product solution confusion, and really connect better with your customers or potential customers, then ease up on trying to sell them technology. Focus instead on how to help them achieve their key goals.

I’m thinking Allen will talk about this. And I’d advise: take a look at the marketing materials, eBooks, from Gensler– maybe the most important and most creative architectural firms in the world. They are selling tech and design construction-heavy services. But they speak to the customer in the language of productivity, health, and business – and even personal – happiness. Not trying to get into the emotional aspects of the office, but to point out that customers’ needs are different now, and that difference is about the results they need, not the tech tools you’re offering them.

Do you see this “trend”?

Chuck: Oh yeah, this is a fascinating topic and what I’ve been researching is the dynamic between a healthy and safe building and employee retention.  This is another angle on getting people back to the office as well. Returning to a healthy building sounds a lot more appealing that coming into a sick building. NSCA members have a unique and interesting role to play here.  I can’t wait to see the reaction of attendees to this concept and emerging opportunity.

David: I so look forward to seeing you, the whole NSCA team, and all the AV industry folks that will be gathering in Dallas Feb. 23-25. And furthering the discussion.

The NSCA is hosting its Business Leadership Conference (BLC) in Dallas, Feb. 23-25. Register to attend in-person, or virtually, here.


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