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Future Connect Hit All the Right Notes

Future Connect is all about leadership. The best and the brightest of the food industry get to attend because the people back home believe in their potential. FMI and the sponsors of the event brought some of the most inspiring speakers of our time to teach these future leaders.
Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor
Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor

That song “Powerful Stuff,” kept running through my head as I thought about what to write about the Food Marketing Institute’s Future Connect 2011. How do you capture the intensity and power of such an event and put it into words?

If you were there, you know.

What Roger Nierenberg did in his session “The Music Paradigm”—with an orchestra that had been pulled together just that day comprised of people he had never met—delighted even those who had never seen a high school ­orchestra perform. The musicians were not all grouped together at the front and middle of the room like one would expect. They were scattered and intermingled with the audience.

Conductor Nierenberg told attendees to find one musician and watch him or her, whether it was a violinist or a percussionist or flautist. He said to focus on the careful maneuvering of their hands, the way each individual read his or her sheet music and how they intuitively kept pace with others in the group—and all the while taking cues from the conductor.

As Nierenberg brought “volunteers” (whom he personally went out into the audience and chose) to the podium with him to “conduct,” the looks on their faces said it all. He gave them the conductor’s wand, but he guided their hands. They could feel the power of so many separate intricate movements and the magic of subtle changes in tempo and intensity.

When, toward the end of this session, Nierenberg called for people sitting so far away that they couldn’t see the musicians to come to the front, many, too many to count, rushed to the stage like children to see, hear and feel the power for themselves. The huge room was still as everyone let the music sweep them up and bring them together.

Consider that this was the “official” opening general session of Future Connect, and it took place at 1 p.m. It isn’t hard to imagine what was going through the minds of some attendees when they walked in: ‘Oh, great. An orchestra. I just had a huge lunch. I’ll be asleep in no time.’

But, the session had the opposite effect.

Consider also that many wondered what on earth an ­orchestra had to do with managing a grocery store or moving up the corporate ladder.

Nierenberg didn’t stand and lecture. Instead, the conductor demonstrated the power of leadership and asked attendees to make the connection.

Imagine leading a group of people you don’t know that well, each with his or her own work to attend to, each coordinating with their peers, and then imagine that the entire group is looking to you to make it all work well as a whole to get something accomplished.

Now, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Future Connect is all about leadership. The best and the brightest of the food industry get to attend because the people back home believe in their potential. FMI and the sponsors of the event brought some of the most inspiring speakers of our time to teach these future leaders.

Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, head men’s basketball coach for Duke University and Team USA (the Olympic basketball team), was the speaker for an 8 a.m. general session, and it was standing room only. He seemed amazed by the event ­taking place there in Dallas.

“Coke and Pepsi in the same room?,” he asked.

He wondered if the world knows that leaders from big ­competitors in the food industry, including grocers in his own neck of the woods—like Harris Teeter and Food Lion—all come together to work for the future of the industry as a whole.

“Do people know you are doing this? I don’t think they do,” Coach K said.

Coach K’s session was the topic of discussion at many of the tables as Future Connect events continued. Some wanted to get the three-minute video he shared with attendees at the conclusion of his presentation—in which LeBron James discusses the dream of Olympic gold—for a team meeting back home.

It was the film shown to the team in Beijing the day they got there to recommit them to winning the gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics (which of course they did).

In the video, James says: “It’s going to be us against the world … We are in a position right now where we control our own destiny. … What’s my excuse now? This is everything that we always dreamed of, of having that guy (Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant) next to you and winning something. … I’m excited and I know you guys are. This is what I always wanted.”

As the video continues and the players are shown doing the amazing things they do, Coach K, in voiceovers, is heard saying: “We trust you. … We respect our opponents. We respect them enough to prepare the right way. … We have to have a single-minded approach and a single focus. … You have to know what you’re going for. … A standard is the way we do things all the time. And if you’re doing it as a group, you make each other do it all the time.”

Powerful stuff.

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