Q&A with AIM/R President Stew Chaffee

Attending my first AIM/R conference this year, I was keen on gaining more insight into the organization. Here’s my Q&A with AIM/R President Stew Chaffee where he shares his thoughts on the future of the industry and gives us a sneak peak at what to expect in Miami for their 44th annual conference. 

Danielle Galian:  What new things can people expect this year? What are you bringing back?

Stew Chaffee: Miami is new for AIM/R, Michael Hobbs our Conference Chair has selected the Biltmore Hotel which is a fabulous venue for our 44th Conference. We haven't been on the east coast since Boston four years ago. We try to move the location around so members aren’t always heading east or west year after year. One of  the constants over the last eight plus years has been the Rep Café session although you won’t find it listed on the schedule, we’ve rebranded it as Rep Roundtable. We felt Café was too casual of a term as it relates to what these sessions are really about. These are problem solving, brain storming best practice exchanges among our members in groups of 8. A very powerful exchange of ideas, personally my favorite session, listening to other reps around the country open up and help one another be the best they can be.

DG: What sessions are you most excited about at this year’s conference? Who are some of the speakers people can look forward to?

SC: Mr. Hobbs has put together the best program I think we’ve ever had , and we’ve had some great programs in the past. When you have Rick Fantham, President of Hajoca and former president of ASA doing an hour session on “The Wholesaler Perspective,” that’s great content coming from an industry leader.  Every one in attendance will be listening at level one! Equally as powerful will be the panel discussions which are comprised of reps from around the country discussing topics like, Driving Your Agency to the Next Level, The Financial Rep, Regional Managers Biggest Ally or Biggest Hurdle just to name a few.  

DG: What can first time attendees expect? How can they make the most of their experience?

SC: First time attendees at first may feel overwhelmed initially because our conference has grown so much over the last five years, we’re pushing 500 this year. So to help them feel comfortable we are holding a Special Session before anything gets started to walk them through the schedule, maneuvering the conference app, explain how to get the most out of the conference and to meet the Board of Directors in an intimate environment to help make them comfortable. We also will have mentors to be assigned to the first timers so should they have questions or concerns they have a go-to person for help. Then we kick into a  First Timers Only reception prior to the Opening Welcome Reception, special thank you to “The Wholesaler” magazine for being the Opening Reception Sponsor, our members truly appreciate your support of our association. We just really want every one to have a great time and look forward to coming back.   

DG: What are your thoughts on leadership?

SC: Leadership for me is not letting any one down, taking responsibility to do what you've committed to do, lead by example. I've been very fortunate to have had some great mentors preceding me at AIM/R  that have set the bar high. It’s certainly a different approach when it’s a volunteer position versus business, we’re all running our companies and our first responsibilities are families and  business, then we have to carve out some time for the volunteer work.  We restructured our BOD responsibilities earlier this year to work more in teams, while also having the Board members shadowing the Sr.  VP’s in their roles. This provides every one with additional support and gives the Board members a great feel for what it’s like should they choose to role onto the Executive Committee. In the future as these members roll onto the Sr.  VP level they will already have experienced what each position entails because of the shadowing they’ve already done. I suppose that’s part of leadership as well, coaching, sharing and teaching as much as you can so others can be as good as they can be. Fun stuff! 

DG: Let’s talk about AIM/R today, what’s new?

SC: One  of the  AIM/R Strategic Initiatives has been to be more engaged with other industry associations, doing with them what our members do amongst ourselves, exchange best practices and ideas. A few years ago several members from the ASA Executive Committee along with members of AIM/R’s Executive Committee got together to figure out why our associations had drifted apart and what we could do help support one another again. Both teams did a great job listening to the concerns and recognizing our industry will be better off if we worked together for common causes. Mike Adalezzi and his team have been very supportive and helpful to AIM/R and I feel that’s supported by the number of Reps who are now attending ASA compared to 10 years ago. We've taken a similar step this summer with the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating , CIPH. I was fortunate to be invited to attend  their annual conference in Banff Alberta, where we signed a Memorandum of Understanding between our two Associations. The goal is similar, work more closely, exchange ideas that can help our members and industry. Andrew Dyck form CIPH will be speaking at our conference in Miami.  

DG:  What is the biggest change in the industry from your perspective? 

SC: The answer was on your September edition cover — labor shortage in our industry.  ASA is doing a great job recognizing and taking action on this matter with regards to the distribution channel, AIM/R has this concern as one of our Strategic Initiatives especially on the trade side. If we don’t have plumbers on the other side of the counter it won’t matter how many people you have on the distributors side of the counter. The projections are a shortage of 260,000 plumbers in the next three years, this will provide a tremendous opportunity for those young people who enter our trade. We all need to be telling this story to any and all, so many are in search of a solid career, let’s help them find it. 

DG:  What is the proudest moment for you when looking back at AIM/R’s history?

SC: For me personally it was being conference chair three years ago. With AIM/R the Conference Chair makes EVERY DECISION, from location, agendas, speakers and food, etc. They get help to execute the plan but they call the shots to keep everything moving fast and not to get bogged down getting a consensus. At first it was intimidating, but once it was explained why we do it this way you just roll with it. Totally rewarding.  I’m also very proud how much our conference has grown over the last five years, the association is stronger than ever and more manufacturers are strongly suggesting that their representatives join and attend our conference because they see the value.   Very rewarding for every one of the present and past board members when your association is becoming stronger.

DG:  What continues to motivate you in your role?

SC: My career was influenced so much by previous AIM/R leaders, it’s just my time to give back, that’s what motivates me. 

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