A Bright Future- MHEDA CEO Liz Richards retires after 28 years
As MHEDA CEO Liz Richards prepares to retire, a look at her 28 years of experience and what comes next for the association.
In nearly three decades leading the Material Handling Equipment Dealers Association, (MHEDA), Liz Richards has helped the organization run smoothly and also steered it in new directions. The non-profit association is dedicated to serving all segments of the material handling business community, according to its website.
“For over 65 years, MHEDA has provided material handling companies and their employees with business resources, leadership training, networking opportunities, benchmarking data, career development tools and insights on the latest industry trends,” the site said.
Now, as Richards plans for retirement from her role as CEO of the association at the end of the calendar year, she took a few moments to reflect on her tenure with Material Handling Wholesaler.
Below are some of her thoughts, which have been edited for a print format:
What is the timeline for the MHEDA leadership transition?
“I’m working until the end of the year, Dec. 31,” she said, adding that MHEDA Interim CEO Jeannette Walker will then be taking over. “She started on July 10th and she’s amazing. She came from the industry, she’s been in it for over 20 years, and she’s familiar with the association. She hit the ground running.”Richards said a wealth of plans are in place for the association going forward. “I’m feeling great about it,” she said, of Walker’s future leadership and the association’s future.
How did you learn about MHEDA and end up in the role of CEO?
“MHEDA used to be led by an executive vice president before the title changed to CEO,” she said, noting that in 1994 she received a call from then Executive Vice President Tony Colletti about taking a job as the association’s director of marketing. Richards, who at that time had just had a baby, was unfamiliar with the material handling industry, including the association.
“I said that I didn’t even know what this is and so thanks but no thanks,” she said, who added that she also loved her current job. A few months later, Colletti called again. He was leaving the post as executive vice president and thought Richards had the perfect skill set. “He said, ‘Please meet with the search committee,’ which I did, and they offered me the position,” Richards said.
She had to jump in and learn quickly, starting the job Jan. 3 of 1995 and her first ProMat following on Feb. 10. “I was walking around, thinking ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?” she said. “In retrospect, the board of directors and the past presidents could not have been more gracious or more welcoming. Together, we all made it work.”
During your time at MHEDA, what were the organization’s greatest achievements?
“Tony got the board much more engaged than they were previously. He did some organizational restructuring,” she said. And during Richards’ first year, Tim Hilton of Carolina Handling was in his first year on the board and introduced his strategic planning process.
“We modified it and implemented it at MHEDA. Having that process in place helps us plan everything we do in the organization. It’s been our greatest success,” she said. Richards said the process includes identifying, through an annual in-depth environmental analysis, what MHEDA members are facing. This includes challenges, opportunities and trends and topics include everything from wages to labor to automation.
The research then becomes “the basis for everything we do as an organization,” she said. “I call it our organizational engine.” It took a while to build out the strategic plan, according to Richards, who said each year the executive committee reviews the surveys, feedback and more to create a road map. “We put the process in place in the late 90s and continue to tweak it,” she said, of the strategic planning process.
In addition, Richards is also pleased with how the organization interacts with board members to continually improve. This includes an involved nominee orientation meeting, including flying members to Chicago, all the way through exit interviews. “These are all little pieces of the process,” she said.
During your tenure you brought a lot of new programs like Women In Industry, MHEDA-NET and Networking Events. How has MHEDA programming changed during your years with the association?
She pointed again to how the impact trends researched by the association have helped formulate the programming.
“I realized that we need to dig into our organization, hence the Emerging Leaders Conference. We are also forming an Emerging Leaders Advisory Group,” Richards said. Women In Industry began as a breakfast at the convention and has grown and expanded from there. And the Automation Solutions Conference has also grown out of trends.
The association’s networking events are of particular value, Richards added, offering the chance to “network with others, learn from mistakes and avoid failures.” MHEDA organizes peer groups, which set their own agendas, to talk about current challenges, as well. “That’s something that has been very popular,” Richards said. “And we have regional networking programs that we host at member locations.”
What are some areas that you did not have as much time to address during your tenure in need of attention that you would like to see focused on in the future?
“One particular thing that we always struggle with is it’s really hard to come up with a stump speech about why MHEDA is so important,” she said. “There are so many different areas that somebody in the industry can develop from” through the association, she said.
“I think sometimes non-members think, ‘Why would I get involved and share my secret sauce?” But Richards said when people join the association, they quickly appreciate the benefits.
“When you join and find others are tackling the same issues that you are and people in the industry are so gracious and they’re willing to share,” she said. “It’s a relationship that’s hard to sometimes put into words. “I’ve heard from so many different members who come to the convention or a conference that they have this ‘aha’ moment and realize this is what they’ve been missing.”
Any thoughts on the future of the association?
“This organization is in great hands. We’ve got an amazing team. Jeannette’s aware of that. I think the future looks extremely bright.”
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