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LAS VEGAS -- No matter what business they serve, the role of a leader is to find the future, Drayton McLane Jr., chairman of the McLane Group, said during his keynote address this morning at the opening session of the 2012 American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA) Conference & Expo, taking place at the Paris hotel.
"A lot of people can lead for today," he said. "But you have to prepare for tomorrow… You'll never become who you want to be by remaining who you are."
McLane cited specific examples to illustrate his point. He pointed to the 1992 General Motors advertising campaign that promoted the phrase, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." "They spent $1 billion on this ad campaign," said McLane. "Do you know what that got them? General Motors discontinued the brand. They came in too late."
With the future in mind, convenience stores are changing rapidly, McLane noted. "I was speaking to an executive from a convenience store. I was trying to sell him products. He said, 'Drayton, you don't get it. What we sell at our convenience store is consumed within 30 minutes.' Consumption is a huge change happening at convenience stores."
Many other areas of retail are changing, as well. Dollar stores are growing stronger, and non-profit food banks and online retailers are changing the face of retail forever, according to McLane.
"Look at Amazon, for example," he said. "They started out in the book business and put the other book retailers out of business. Then, they expanded to many other areas. The next big area for Amazon looks to be electronics."
To prepare for the future, one must have big ideas, McLane advised. "We can't continue to do [the same] things over and over," he said. "We have to continue to move forward. We have to be risk takers. That is what has gotten us ahead. Who knew Jeff Bezos, a New York stock trader, would be able to form Amazon right under our noses."
In order to continue to move forward, people can't be afraid to make mistakes, he added. McLane recalled when he bought the Houston Astros baseball team in 1993 and attended spring training in Florida. He asked a member of the team's organization why the team, which now spends $23 million on its minor league system, had so few players ever become significant major league contributors.
"He said, 'You'll never make the major leagues unless you are competing against players that are better than you are.' I always took the easy way out in school by taking the easy classes," McLane said. "But you can only get better if you compete with people who are better than you are."
He also shared advice given to him by his college professor at Michigan State University, where he earned a master's degree in 1958. The four "words of wisdom" the professor offered to McLane still hold true today, more than 50 years later, he said.
• Dare to dream. It's free. -- "When I bought the Houston Astros, the team had never won or played in a World Series. I pictured [baseball] Commissioner Bud Selig handing me the World Series trophy. We did play in the World Series after I bought the team."
• Operate out of your imagination. Not your memory. -- "I still remember asking out a woman in 1952 and her telling me flat out 'no,'" said McLane. "I remember today exactly what I wore that day and the feeling of rejection I had."
• Seek adversity. The lines are shorter. -- "In life, watch where everyone is going and do the opposite," he said.
• Walk with elephants. -- "Visualize you're in Africa with two very tall mountain peaks. Between the two peaks is a swinging cable bridge," McLane said. "As an elephant crossed that bridge, it bounced violently up and down. As they got the other side, a flea said to the elephant, 'We really shook things up, didn't we?'"
New Hall of Fame Formed
Prior to McLane's speech, the AWMA inducted Steve Shing, corporate vice president, sales and marketing for GSC Enterprises Inc., and Jim Colucci, the recently retired former executive vice president of sales and marketing at Altadis U.S.A., its inaugural Hall of Fame award recipients.
Shing has worked with GSC -- a full-service distributor serving customers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana -- for the past 37 years. The U.S. Air Force veteran also served on the AWMA board of directors and as its chairman in 2005. In accepting the recognition, he commented about how difficult it's been to maintain a work/life balance, but said it's all worth it in the end.
"They say the true measure of a man is how many friends they have. I must be the richest man in the world," said Shing.
Also a military veteran, Colucci spent 34 of the past 37 years at Altadis and its predecessor Consolidated Cigars. He was a member of AWMA's board of directors, the Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors and the associate board of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.
Like his fellow Hall of Fame inductee, Colucci discussed the difficulty of constantly traveling and not spending as much time with his family as others. But truly loving the tobacco industry -- ironically something he admitted to disliking early in his career -- propelled him forward.
"Despite what people may say, we sell legal products," said Colucci. "Don't ever be afraid to say you work for the candy and tobacco industry."