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Association Bisnow
January 8, 2008


You wouldn’t ignore a gold mine in your own backyard, would you?  Ralph Nappi, CEO of NPES (aka Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing, and Converting Technologies), says the networking opportunities an association can offer are priceless—but too few associations tap into their value.  Bisnow hiked out to Reston to hear about the innovative Leadership Forums he’s instituting at NPES.

Speaking of priceless . . . one of the NPES’s 500 members, KBA, makes the equipment used to print all the paper money in the U.S. (and more than 95% of the world’s paper currency).  The four $1 bills in the frame are un-separated, so Ralph hasn’t been able to use them in a vending machine.

Ralph says that associations too often view networking as an “accidental or haphazard benefit that comes along with their activities.”  In his former role as President of the American Machine Tool Distributors Association, he created the Leadership Forum program as a way to go about networking in an organized way.  Participating members were put into hand-picked groups of 8-9, which met 3 times per year for in-depth, confidential discussions moderated by an association representative.  By not placing direct competitors in the same groups, he says members feel free to share the details of their businesses, warts and all.  Repeated gatherings of the same group of people, Ralph says, allows the trust level within the group to “skyrocket.”

Even after coming to NPES, Ralph still moderates the AMTDA’s longest-standing Leadership Forum.  Ralph says the group, which has been going for over 10 years now, kept the job fresh for him throughout his 19-year run at the AMTDA.  He and his wife Karen live in Vienna with their four children, ages 3 to 21.  Each year, one of them goes on a “Daddy trip” for some quality time with Ralph—he and his daughter Elizabeth (21) went to Spain last year.

At AMTDA, the groups were so well liked that despite costing $2,300 (approximately three times the amount of annual dues), Ralph didn’t see a single participant drop out when the industry went into a 60% decline.  And the benefit of the Leadership Forums isn’t restricted to members.  Ralph says that beyond the goodwill an association gets from hosting them, it becomes much better informed about the industry through its participation in the group sessions.

Ralph came to NPES in January 2006, and its first Leadership Forums are now getting off the ground.  In the last year, Ralph has spent time developing a strategic plan for the NPES and its two sister organizations:  the Graphic Arts Show Company, which holds an annual industry trade show at Chicago’s McCormick Place; and the Graphic Art Education & Research Foundation.  He’s also stopped in at the NPES’s international offices in Shanghai, New Delhi, and Moscow, which allowed him to squeeze in some sightseeing at the Taj Mahal, Great Wall, and Kremlin.  Something to be said for tourist networking, too.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
Arent Fox
Reznick Group
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