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Adding Value to Your Career: Successfully "Surfing" the NAPM Conference


Robert A. Kemp, Ph.D, C.P.M.
Robert A. Kemp, Ph.D, C.P.M., President, National Association of Purchasing Management, Kemp Enterprises, Des Moines, IA 50325-6562, 515-221-2503,

83rd Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1998 

Abstract. Our work in supply management is a network of relationships. We are expected to make continuous improvements to our supply operations and to contribute more value to our customers, our firms, and our society. As professional supply managers we conduct our work in a series of networks. This paper concerns using and expanding your networking skills to get the most value from participating in the 1998 NAPM International Conference.

The opportunity. You came to NAPM's 83rd Annual International Purchasing Conference to glean new ideas, build your knowledge and to make personal contacts that will add value to your career in supply management, and improve your business. Getting the most bang for your conference buck means building effective networks. Networking means intentionally getting and giving information. Networks are mutually beneficial arrangements between some set of two or more participants to exchange information. Attending the 1998 NAPM International Conference offers you the opportunity to build your networks.

Background. Interviews with successful purchasers show how networking at past NAPM conferences helped them enhance their global supply management processes. Maureen Donnelly, C.P.M., Chair of the NAPM Public Relations Committee and Director of Purchasing for ManorCare Health Services, says, "I have been to every conference since 1984. NAPM's conferences are great places to network. I have used my conference contacts to find applicants for position openings in my company. Equally important, I have used the network to help others in supply management find job openings to fit their needs." Ms. Donnelly adds, "You must go through the NAPM supplier exhibits to meet the supplier representatives and learn." The NAPM International Conferences have been a great help for her in the ongoing managerial processes.

Immediate Former President John Cologna, C.P.M., A.P.P., formerly with General Electric, says that he "used the conference sessions to find purchasers from other companies interested in benchmarking operations." John adds that "after the conference these people were contacted to share benchmarking data. This sharing of data and processes made a significant contribution to his efforts to create a benchmarking system at General Electric."

Dale Hartgraves, C.P.M., Director of Supply Management at Newton Laundry/Maytag Appliances has attended many NAPM International Conferences over the years. He says that "not only was networking at the conference always beneficial to him for business concerns, but he had real opportunities to talk with others about leading-edge ideas. "Thinking back," he said, "most of the sessions are really great, but he has always made it a point to engage people in conversations before and after the sessions. These contacts are always beneficial because most people at a session are interested in that topic. You can learn great deal from the others in attendance." His advice is to be very proactive and work the crowd!

These successful professionals believe that networking has added value to their careers. You can follow their lead and use the 1998 NAPM International Conference to add value to your career.

The Networking Process. Good networking practices improve general business communication and performance. Here is my personal advice on how to make the 1998 NAPM International Conference a great career building opportunity for you. First, make the most of every opportunity. Second, bring your networking skills to the conference.

When we talk about networks, everyone agrees that 1) networks can help us solve problems, 2) we must be proactive in the communication process, and 3) getting the networking process started is up to us.

As you "surf" the 1998 NAPM Conference, here are five steps to help you build effective networks.

  1. Identify your problems that you seek help to solve.
    1. Categorize your problems (e.g., p-cards, electronic commerce, supplier relations)
    2. Prioritize the categories so that you build networks for the most important situations.
  2. "Surf" the conference program and rosters to identify individuals who might have the information you need and plan to contact those people. The program book helps you by listing the sessions by topics of interest. The Proceedings book lists all the presenters.
    1. Search for people from your industry and from businesses similar to yours - the scheduled NAPM Group breakfasts and lunches are good places to network
    2. At the same time, look for people from different industries and firms quite different from yours.
    3. Make it a point to visit the exhibits to meet people from supplier organizations.
    4. Visit with the NAPM staff at NAPM exhibits.
    5. Keep notes of the casual you make during the programs.
  3. Make arrangements to meet the people that you have determined are potential additions to your network.
  4. Meet and establish the mutual relationship required to network - be ready to exchange business cards and to 'buy' the coffee at the NAPM Exhibit Hall.
  5. Be prepared to meet others who are also looking for new network contacts.

Building Your Conference Network. As you "surf" the NAPM Purchasing Conference your network will be a new and growing organization. This figure identifies seven categories of individuals who are potential contacts for our networking activities. As you review the conference program and the Proceedings, use these categories to plan how to contact the individuals that you want to meet.

Graphic is unavailable in text format, but the seven categories are:

  1. Your friends: (You know them-- so be stingy with your time here)
  2. People that you meet because they sought you out
  3. Exhibitors
  4. Speakers
  5. Individuals that you meet by chance
  6. Individuals that you identify and select to meet
  7. NAPM Staff

Initially, your efforts should be to meet the speakers, exhibitors and NAPM staff that you have selected as priority contacts. Some people may be searching for you as a potential contact, and your interactions with them could be beneficial. Interactions that come about by chance may be very beneficial. Since we can not plan these chance meetings, we have to be ready to respond if the occasion occurs. Because we know our friend's potential, they should be a low priority in our process of allocating time for networking.

Remember that networks consist of people. Others will be at the conference with problems similar to yours; they are also seeking networks. You must seek out people, introduce yourself, and be quick to start the conversation. People want to become familiar with another one before conducting business or sharing information. As you "surf" the conference here are four questions to ask that will build extemporaneous conversations and lead to new networking opportunities:

  1. What do you do as a supply manager, domestically and globally? (We want to find out if we are likely to learn anything here and if so, what will we learn.)
  2. Have you experienced this problem (use your favorite problem) recently? (We need to determine if our new acquaintance has the experience to help us learn.)
  3. What have you tried that worked or did not work? (We want to learn what alternative solutions they have used and if the solutions worked.)
  4. Do you have a network that has helped you address the problem? (We want to determine if this person has a network that will participate with us in solving our problems. Similarly, will he or she invite us to use the network?)

"Surfing" the conference to build your network is an intense opportunity. You have less than two and one-half days to make and evaluate contacts as possible sources. You must come to Dallas ready to network. We must be proactive and alert to opportunities to expand our networks. To make conference networking a meaningful tool, you must diligently work to do four things.

  1. Identify and select the individuals who will be your information sources.
  2. Have a system to track these new sources by name, address, telephone, fax, and e-mail.
  3. Build a feedback system that will get the information or knowledge that you need.
  4. Reward the new members of your network.

A Personal Challenge. The NAPM conference, like life, is about networking--what happens at the conference is up to you! At every meeting, every meal, every general session, indeed at all times, put on a smile, introduce yourself, share lots of business cards, shake hands, and build your network! You and your business made a big investment in time and money to send you to the conference. Successfully "surfing" the 83rd NAPM International Conference will add value to your career and build your business! I challenge you to make the most of the 83rd NAPM International Conference.

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