2022 BIFMA 360° Leadership Conference

Views of the Mandarin Oriental property, location of the 2022 BIFMA 360° Leadership Conference. Images courtesy of BIFMA.

The scene of this year’s BIFMA 360 ° Leadership Conference was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Brickell Key, just over a short bridge from the Brickell neighborhood of Miami, FL. The conference is designed, in part, to give the leadership of our industry, largely based in the northern climes, a valid excuse to take a break from mid-winter weather. And the timing of this year’s conference proved to be pitch perfect. After braving travel problems caused by unusually nasty winter weather, attendees found the clear blue sky and breezy 70s temperatures of Miami most enjoyable.

While taking a break from winter may be a factor in planning when to hold the conference, it’s the content that makes it so rewarding for those of us who look forward to attending each year (well, save last year for obvious reasons). Even a year later, and despite all the recommended precautions being taken, given the weirdness of life in the COVID era, attendance was about half of the 2020 event.

The role of Chair of the BIFMA Board rotates among the members. Hank Menke, President and CEO of OFS has served a year longer than he expected when he agreed to take the position, so he opened the conference then quickly introduced Jeff Lorenger, President and CEO of HNI who then introduced Deirdre Jimenez, President and CEO of BIFMA.

Outgoing Chair of the BIFMA Board, Hank Menke, President and CEO of OFS opens the conference. Images courtesy of BIFMA.

At the 2020 conference, Tom Reardon who was the President and CEO of BIFMA at the time, announced his retirement and given the lockdown that followed the 2020 conference and the cancellation of the 2021 version, this was the first opportunity for many of us to meet Ms. Jimenez.

It’s hard to imagine a harder time to assume leadership of an industry trade association, which by its nature, involves keeping the disparate interests of the many members focused on moving the association forward. But Ms. Jimenez announced a remarkable body of work accomplished since she took the helm.

Deirdre Jimenez, President and CEO of BIFMA International

Over the years BIFMA has gained an international reputation for its excellent safety and durability standards; how many times have you heard something like, “this product passes BIFMA.”

The BIFMA e3 Sustainability Standard (Level®) is the gold standard of sustainability standards. It gives companies a path for continuous improvement toward more sustainable products, operations and social responsibility. And it’s 3rd party certification adds a layer of credibility. Ms. Jimenez announced that 2022 will see a further revision of the standard and this one will include cooperation with European manufacturers.

The attentive audience.

The need for a performance standard for outdoor furniture presented itself as we realized the importance of including outdoor space in workplace design. So too is the need for a standard for the increasing number of work pods hitting the market. Ms. Jimenez announced that standards for both those product types will be rolled out in the coming months, along with new ergonomic standards and new standards for cleaning and disinfecting.

The opening Keynote, “Turning Challenge into Opportunity and Change into Competitive Advantage” was delivered by Peter Sheehan, Founder of Karrikins Group. He described the uncharted waters in which businesses are operating right now, with rapid growth in demand that is complicated by issues with the supply chain, the war for talent and inflation.

Opening Keynote Speaker, Peter Sheehan, Founder, Karrikins Group

He described a business environment with unprecedented change and turmoil, with greater than historic levels of consolidation occurring in many industries, new business models complicating the value chain, the “Amazonification” of customer expectations and businesses trying to deal with all this turmoil while employees are working remotely and new employees hard to come by.

Of course he didn’t just leave us hanging, he followed up with examples of how others have thrived and suggestions as to how you could turn these challenges into opportunity by identifying the place where you can create the most value. I won’t attempt to relate them here in a watered-down paraphrase. If getting answers to questions like these intrigues you, be sure to attend next year’s conference. Or buy his book from your local business bookstore: Matter by Peter Sheehan with Julie Williamson, PhD.

Back by popular demand at this year’s conference, Chris Kuehl, PhD in Economics and Managing Director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, has become the BIFMA Leadership Conference’s resident economist. Few speakers can put an audience to sleep quicker than an economist! But few economists could have been a stand-up comedian rather than an economist. Meet Chris Kuehl. He has a talent for presenting the economic facts and predictions in a straightforward and easy-to-understand way while lacing the facts with great funny quips. My favorite this year was, “COVID was started by Zoom.”

Economist Chris Kuehl, PhD, Managing Director, Armada Corporate Intelligence

Among his “Bold Predictions for 2022” – GDP growth between 4% and 4.5%, Interest rates will rise to somewhere between 0.75% and 1.5% over the course of the year, and mortgage rates will rise to about 3.8% – 4.5%. He thinks unemployment will remain at near record low rates in the 3.7% to 3.9% range.

His most welcome prediction is that by the end of 2022 COVID will have transitioned from a pandemic to endemic, being seen more as a seasonal threat like the flu. With typical Chris Kuehl humor he said he hopes we forget his predictions because they’re sure to be wrong.

Economist Chris Kuehl, PhD, Managing Director, Armada Corporate Intelligence

Mark Patel, a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and Leader of the consultancy’s Internet of Things (IoT) and digital business practice spoke on the “Digital Acceleration – Practical Models to Increase Pace & Impact.” He brought into focus how much business has changed due to the impact of digitization and outlined a set of actions –  “Must do’s,” and “Very important’s” –  for companies to adopt in order to avoid simply being left behind.

His six “Must do’s” are, 1.Performance guarantee (full refund), 2.Product availability online, 3.Ability to purchase from many channels, 4.Prices available online, 5. Real-time/always-on customer service and 6.Consistent brand experience across channels. Of course the must do’s follow changes in consumer behavior and expectations that are being driven by the digitization (or as Peter Sheehan called it the Amazonification) of the economy.

You may rightfully ask how he recommends doing all these “must do’s” – through digitization of course! He said it’s become clear that companies are  transforming their core and building new businesses by harnessing the power of data and AI. They are modernizing their core technologies by capitalizing on advances in those technologies to automate operations. They are also building digital talent in their organizations to create captivating brand experiences.

Mr. Patel wrapped up by discussing sustainability. He said sustainability has finally reached a tipping point – where companies will either get on board or be left behind. But he pointed out that the threat is only half the equation – there’s tremendous opportunity for those who recognize it. For example, McKinsey estimates that $3-5 Trillion will be invested in various “sustainability themes” across various industries between now and 2030.

He ended with what he believes are the sustainability priorities for BIFMA members: Sustainable sourcing and supply chain traceability, and Circularity and carbon neutrality

Gary Wheeler, CEO of ASID led a panel discussion among designers, Gretchen Holy, Principal at DLR, Steven Burgos, Director of Design at Gensler, Miami, and Brett Shwery, SVP Interiors Practice at AECOM. They discussed the trends and concerns they are seeing with their clients that will have an impact on the BIFMA members. It has become a key item on the BIFMA Conference agenda to hear the points of view of the design community; a trend we heartily endorse.

Design Panel, L to R: Moderator, Gary Wheeler, CEO. ASID, Gretchen Holy, Principal, Higher Education, DLR Group, Steven Burgos, Director of Design, Gensler Miami, Brett Shwery, SVP Interiors Practice, AECOM

Maria VanDemen is the District Sales Manager for OFS in South Florida and the Caribbean. She spoke of an IIDA outreach program aiming to increase awareness of architecture and interior design as a potential career among minority middle school children. There’s a long way to go, as she reported that only 5% of interior designers identify as Black and only 3% identify as Hispanic.

Syrine Reese-Gaines, is the Founder and Managing Partner of Brainy HR Solutions. Her presentation, “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging – The Modernized Approach to Cultural Evolution & Organizational Success” made a compelling case for why it is in the self-interest of companies to be more inclusive. She also provided a DEIB Cultural Blueprint – a list of eight actions companies (and individuals, for that matter) can take to become more inclusive and equitable for all people.

Syrine Reese-Gaines, Managing Partner + Principal Consultant, Brainy HR Solutions

The closing Keynote was delivered by Kaihan Krippendorff, Founder of the Outthinker Strategy Network. Mr. Krippendorff was an animated and inspiring speaker with way too much to say to pack it into an hour’s speech. So he made signed copies of his latest book, Out Think the Competition available to attendees. Perhaps the best way to give an idea of what he presented is to relate the subtitle of his book: “How Innovative Companies and Strategists see Options Others Ignore.”

Closing Keynote Speaker, Kaihan Krippendorf, Founder, Outthinker Strategy Network.

I genuinely wish that all my friends could have been there, and recommend next year’s conference to anyone who can possibly attend. Watch officeinsight for announcements of timing and the line-up of speakers, starting in about October. It’s a fun and energizing experience. The BIFMA Board and staff do an incredible job of mixing worthwhile content with ample opportunities for networking with others in the industry.