How Ecosystems Help CEOs And Industries Navigate Uncertainty

By engaging with trade associations, CEOs can shape the future of not only their own company, but their industry as a whole.

Covid-19 complicated an already challenging landscape, except this time it left the world reeling. As the pandemic enters its third year, it still spreads fear, causes shutdowns and forces CEOs to recalibrate on a regular basis. One of the most important takeaways in today’s marketplace is that companies are banding together with their supply chains; they are forming larger ecosystems and utilizing these robust communities to shape the external environment, better navigate uncertainty and position for industry growth. Forward-leaning CEOs are building their ecosystems by engaging with their value chains through industry and trade association strategic partnerships. This focus is helping industries brainstorm innovative solutions and shape the uncertain environment. It’s a rising tide that lifts all boats approach—and it’s working.

Persistent Hard Times: The Mother of Strategic Partnerships

Some great business partnerships were created to weather tough times; sometimes those tough times are due to internal issues, sometimes external issues, sometimes uncontrollable circumstances, sometimes extraordinary opportunities, and occasionally in preparation to achieve the next breakthrough. Successful strategic partnerships come in all shapes, sizes, textures, colors and flavors. Nowadays, CEOs are using a new application of strategic partnerships that is more inclusive, impactful and ambitious—the sort that moves the needle for entire industries.

The Power of Strategic Partnerships Through A Much Wider Lens

CEOs who engage on trade association boards are migrating these organizations to an outward looking focus. They participate in the development of a strategic industry plan that helps their company and all companies in the value chain overcome challenges and build consequential partnerships through the trade association. As the outward looking focus is taking hold, CEOs insist upon measurable outcomes and business solutions.

Here are a few examples with actionable solutions:

1. The Global Business Alliance (GBA) is a Washington, DC-based trade association that represents 200 of the largest international companies that operate in the United States. GBA president and CEO Nancy McLernon and her team established a wholly owned subsidiary, GBA Sentinel. According to Ms. McLernon, this new product, which is managed through the subsidiary, “will give global companies access to the cutting-edge tools they need to efficiently audit and monitor their supply chains and digital assets. We believe this initiative will help rapidly advance our nation’s effort to prevent future attacks and underscores how seriously world-class companies take protecting America’s supply chains.”

2. Airports Council International, North America, is led by Kevin Burke, president and CEO. Before, during, and after the pandemic, Mr. Burke and his team have driven strategic partnerships to new levels. They achieved the necessary “Cares Act” funding, which kept airports solvent—a vital resource in shaping regulations—and provided vital virtual online training for professionals. Airports valued their trade association’s rapid response.

Baking Industry: Shaping the External Environment Through Its Ecosystem

3. The Baking Industry’s strategic partner is the American Bakers Association. This is a fully integrated partnership dedicated to shaping the business environment at the state and federal level. ABA CEO Robb MacKie received a late-evening phone call from Chuck Metzger, CEO of Hearthside Food Solutions, who told him that if Hearthside didn’t get relief from the “work from home” order in Michigan, they would not be able to open for business the next day. ABA through its vast industry ecosystem, went to work.

  • They sent Mr. Metzger the industry documents certifying bakers as essential workers under federal guidelines (an early win for ABA at the federal level), and then reached out to the governor’s office in Michigan. They were able to resolve the situation, and Hearthside was able to open the plant.
  • Two days later, Mr. Metzger encountered the exact same situation In Ohio. This time MacKie was confident they could sort it out quickly as they had developed excellent relationships with Governor DeWine’s office. “And sure enough, we worked our magic again,” MacKie reported.

Strategic Partnership Call to Action for Industries

Chronic uncertainty is now a fixture of the business landscape. CEOs can build their own strategic partnerships as others have by engaging their industry trade association and joining its board of directors. In this capacity, CEOs work toward common threads of unanimity, use actionable market research to identify critical industry challenges and outcomes, build actionable strategic industry plans with key performance indicators, and expand reach with vast ecosystems to overcome challenges.

Steve Heese, president, Chris Craft and Chairperson, National Marine Manufacturers Association sees his decision to build his partnership with his trade association was the best one he’s made, saying, “I encountered the opportunity to meet and learn from the smartest people in our industry, which allowed our company to build relationships with the best, brightest, and most forward-thinking captains of our industry and their companies.”

This approach is worthy of immediate exploration—it could be a moonshot moment for CEOs.


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