It’s taken me a while to catch up afterwards, but I am now ready to declare the 2014 NLPA Conference an overwhelming victory!  Procurement professionals from throughout the US and the world gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from September 15th to 17th, 2014 and I’m pretty sure that I saw each one leave with a smile on their faces!

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We had such a special inaugural conference in 2013 that exceeded expectations, those of both attendees and NLPA staff alike.  Could we top that amazing event in 2014?  Let’s review some highlights!

The first two days of the event were held at the beautiful and super-classy Renaissance Hotel along the shore of the Allegheny River.  I knew when I arrived the night before the event and looked out my hotel window to see PNC Park, Heinz Field, and the beautiful bridges of Pittsburgh that attendees’ first impression of the event would be awe inspiring.

NLPA Conference - View of PNC Park from Renaissance Hotel

I kicked off the event with an always-provocative keynote speech in which I encouraged today’s procurement professionals to completely rethink the way they interact with CEO’s in order to advance the procurement professionals to heights never before reached.  I closed the speech by challenging the attendees to use the week to get into a creative mindset to create new models for procurement where they are lacking today.

One of the things I always preach about our conference is the diversity of perspectives that attendees will get exposed to (unlike our competition – who I call “the Dinosaur” – whose old-boy-network gives the same presentations every year and who never invites “outsiders” with certifications other than their own).  After my speech, I dispatched the audience to break out sessions, the first group of which were conducted by top supply chain executives.

That first morning was heavy with real-world education.  So, for our lunch keynote speech, we invited former Pittsburgh Steeler football great, Craig Wolfley, to lighten things up a bit with his belly-laugh-inspiring, but still motivational, speech:  “Teambuilding Through Storytelling.”  His stories of how the late four-time Superbowl-winning coach, Chuck Noll, led his teams to success had as many business takeaways as they had chuckles.  And the crowd appreciated the opportunity to shake hands with a true celebrity.

Pittsburgh Steelers' Legend Craig Wolfley at 2014 NLPA Conference

I invited our top two speakers from last year to return again this year.  And Day 1 closed with a general session conducted by one of them, David Hargraves.  Did he deliver the goods again this year?  I’ll get back to that in a bit…

The education portion of Day 2 got started with another constituency of speakers that we like to have represented:  consultants!  The thing I love about having consultants speak is that they get to see, first-hand, how things work in multiple procurement departments, not just one.  So, they get to share practices that are truly transferable.  Ron Larimer from Procurement Done Right and Julie Brignac and Ashley Hatcher from Vantage Partners delighted the audience with practices that they’ve seen work consistently for their clients.

Ashley Hatcher from Vantage Partners at 2014 NLPA Conference

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that I love to keep abreast of what’s going on in the sales profession and encourage all procurement professionals to do the same.  So, as part of my commitment to provide a diverse array of speakers, I asked master sales trainer Scot Teachout, from Peak Performance Management, to share some seller’s secrets with attendees.  Attendees were pleasantly surprised at how much they could learn from a sales specialist!

Throughout the first day and the first half of the second, attendees made good use of their opportunity to meet in the exhibit hall with our friendly sponsors, ThomasNet and Puridiom, who had the chance to demonstrate why they are among the leading providers of procurement technology tools.

Al Jacobs of Puridiom Software at NLPA ConferenceKristin Carty of ThomasNet.com at NLPA Conference

PNC Financial Services Group Vice President and Economist, Kurt Rankin, gave a compelling and extremely up-to-the-minute lunchtime keynote speech on the state of the economy.  He declared that the economy has fully recovered from the “Great Recession.”  He also expertly fielded some questions about what current economic indicators mean for the pricing and supply concerns of procurement professionals.  A very authoritative and relevant speech!

The education portion of Day 2 closed with perhaps the most provocative speech of the event.  Highmark’s Vice President of Procurement, Michael DeWitt, gave a brutally honest view of what the first six months of a procurement transformation are like.  While some in attendance were a little overwhelmed by a discussion of some of the negative aspects of a procurement transformation, most attendees appreciated that Mr. DeWitt refused to sugarcoat the unavoidable conflict that a procurement leader will face when trying to drive a successful plan from vision to execution.  This was a real-world discussion at its most raw.

If there’s anything that people who’ve attended either of our conferences know about the Next Level Purchasing Association, it’s that we believe in having fun – like loads and loads of fun!  So, after we challenged our brains during the day, we walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to PNC Park to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates demolish the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox, 4-0.  (Yes, the fun is included at no additional charge!)

A picture of the baseball game networking event at the 2014 NLPA Conference
A picture of the PNC Park scoreboard on the night of the 2014 NLPA Conference

For the third and final day of the conference, we moved to Heinz Field for a boatload of additional education and, yes, a little fun, too.  Attendees were split up into two groups:  one would go on a supply chain-themed tour of Heinz Field while the others got to learn from the other of the top two speakers from last year, Dr. Soheila Lunney.  Then, the groups switched and each got to do what the other did.

Soheila Lunney presents to the attendees of the 2014 NLPA Conference

When I asked the Heinz Field team to include supply chain elements to the tour, they said “Huh?  No one’s ever asked us to do that before.”  But with a little coaching, they prepared something that only a procurement crowd would love like they did.  We got to peek into their warehouse and hear from a member of their supply chain team who discussed issues like how they approach supplier quality.  Here’s a pic from that segment of the tour…can you guess what the supplier error being discussed here is?

A buying professional from the Pittsburgh Steelers shows an item that was made incorrectly

And more visuals from the tour…

A tour guide leads a group of conference attendees through the stadium

I mentioned that David Hargraves and Dr. Soheila Lunney were the top two rated speakers from last year.  And they were again, despite the fact that we worked hard to top last year’s amazing speaker quality and got some crazy-good speakers on board.  In fact, our average speaker rating (on a scale of 1 to 4) increased to 3.53 in 2014 from 3.42 in 2013.  Speaker quality is such a high priority for us, so it is rewarding to know that our attendees acknowledge that quality!

The event ended with a scintillating and interactive panel discussion featuring panelists from vastly different backgrounds:  Dick Locke, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 author of Global Supply Management and former procurement executive for HP; Stephen Yuter, SPSM, Deputy Director of Acquisition and Acting Head of Contracting Activity for US Department of Health & Human Services/Indian Health Services; and Brad Carlson, Director of Supplier Relationship Management for SourceOne Management Services.

A panel of procurement professionanls leads a discussion to wrap up the 2014 NLPA Conference

It was a triumphant feeling to conclude the conference.  Attendees told us that it was the best procurement conference ever.  At the NLPA, we certainly strive to put on a great event that blows away the competition and it was awesome to know that we succeeded.

If it sounds like a great event, it was.  And you’ve only read some of the highlights!  There were plenty more speakers and activities that made these three days special!

As they were filing out, attendees asked “Where is the next one gonna be?” and “When is the next one gonna be?” and “How in the world will you ever top yourselves after this?”

Well, we have our thinking caps on.  We definitely set the bar very high and it will indeed be very difficult to top the 2014 NLPA Conference.  But our goal is to do just that!

No decisions have been made yet.  But we have some ideas that we think can make our next conference even better.  And it may take more than a year to be able to accomplish something so groundbreaking.  We are thinking somewhere other than our hometown of Pittsburgh.  And we are thinking May 2016.  And, yes, that is around the same time the Dinosaur will be doing its conference.  But, now that we’ve proven that we can host an event so far above procurement professionals’ other options, we are ready to go head-to-head and show the Dinosaur’s crowd (who prefer a Spring event) how much better a procurement conference can be done.

Procurement professionals deserve a breathtaking conference experience.  The NLPA wants to deliver that and more.

Thanks to everyone who came and helped to make the 2014 NLPA Conference an event that will have a lasting impact on careers and memories!

(see our Facebook page for more photos!)

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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