The GAWDA 2013 Annual Convention. September 15-18, Orlando, Florida

The GAWDA 2013 Annual Convention drew together vendors and distributors of gases and welding equipment from across the country to meet, have fun, and share ideas. This exchange of knowledge and spirit began with the First-Timers’ Reception held on Sunday afternoon and carried right through to the President’s Gala that closed the convention on Wednesday evening.

GAWDA November 2013

In-between dancing, drinks, and various company hospitalities, attendees had time to discuss where their businesses have been and, ultimately, where they hope to be heading. The conference was held at the beautiful J.W. Marriott Orlando at Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida from Sunday, September 15 through Wednesday, September 18. The sunny location gave attendees opportunities for a dip in the lazy river or an afternoon of on-site golf in-between networking breakfasts, event speakers, and committee meetings.

Sunday night was a time to meet and greet new and old members of GAWDA and a well-attended First-Timers reception provided a relaxed setting for those new to GAWDA to meet each other, as well as learn more about the events to come. This was followed by 2013 president Craig Wood, and his wife Darlene, hosting the President’s Welcome Reception for all attendees.

Following Monday’s networking breakfast, served indoors and on the spacious front patio, outgoing president Wood addressed the crowd and presented Dick Couch, founder and CEO of Hypertherm and a speaker at last year’s convention, with the Presidential Award of Excellence. Hypertherm, which offers innovative metal cutting systems, has received accolades through the years for being one of the best companies to work for in the US. Wood thanked Couch for his dedication to the industry and to modeling continuous improvement.

Following the award presentation, attendees heard speeches by two men with unique military backgrounds. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North spoke about leadership and what it means to small businesses. He noted that while universities bestow MBAs, or Masters of Business Administration, on graduates, what is really needed is an MBL, or Masters in Business Leadership, for those owners of small businesses. He urged company leaders to lead by example and to, “be the model of behavior you want to see in others.”

Both North and second speaker Captain Scott F. O’Grady urged those present to provide job opportunities to veterans of the Iraq war and those returning from Afghanistan. O’Grady, a US Air Force fighter pilot who was shot down over Bosnia and survived for six days before being rescued, noted that the focus, high standards, and perseverance that veterans possess make them ideal employees and natural leaders.

Tuesday began bright and early with the Contact Booths in full swing. Vendors of all forms of welding gases and related hardgoods displayed their wares, wisdom, and warmth, greeting distributors who came to find the next best thing in the welding and gases world, while more than 120 exhibitors were showcased - including the new publishing triumvirate of gasworld, CryoGas International, and Specialty Gas Report.

Both afternoons and the evenings offered something to do for everyone. Women in Gases and Welding (WIGAW) hosted a virtual skeet shooting event on Monday afternoon at the adjoining Ritz Carlton Hotel Golf Club House. The group works for the advocacy, recruitment, and professional development of females in the gases and welding industry. From the buzz overheard at the booths on Tuesday morning, the event was a direct hit!

Meanwhile, golf prevailed on Tuesday afternoon for those who could withstand the 90ºF+ heat. It turns out many can and the outing, sponsored in part by Norris Cylinders and Computers Unlimited, was sold out. Both Monday and Tuesday evening saw lovely Florida coast and beach-themed receptions from companies such as ITW Welding, Air Products and Victor, while Worthington Cylinders, Gas Innovations, Saf-T-Cart, Dynaflux, INOXCVA, Computers Unlimited, and American Torch Tip Company hosted a popular beer and wine tasting event.

Secrets to success
Wednesday began with an inspiring talk by business speaker and New York Times best-selling author Jason Jenkins.
Earlier that morning, Jenkins had greeted breakfasting GAWDA members, questioning them as to what they see in the future for industrial gas distributors. Jenkins would go on to make listeners privy to his ‘Five Common Sense Secrets Used by the World’s Best Companies to Drive Growth’ as he kicked off the morning’s presentations.

The five secrets began with having ‘a noble purpose’. What matters is why you do what you do, not what you do, he explained. Jenkins pointed out in secret two that every company out there that succeeds does so because it ‘embraces change and growth’. Secret three revealed that those leaders who embrace change have the strength and intelligence to ‘let go’, especially of the status quo.

“Make lots of small bets,” Jenkins advised with secret four. Small bets are less costly and so, can be made with more frequency. While small bets often realize a big payback, they also allow you to ‘fail fast and move on’ - which is key to continuous innovation. Secret 5 brought Jenkins’ discussion full circle: those with a noble purpose for their business are also ‘good stewards’ of that business and those it employs. “Good stewards,” Jenkins informed the audience, “are responsible to others, value service over self-interest, share information, abandon power over others, are accessible, keep their hands dirty, are fearless about growth, stand for something, get rid of superficial distinctions, make everything better, are coaches and mentors, and are called to serve.”

An underlying theme of the conference was invoked; that not only must those who lead companies have a purpose and a vision that employees can share in and support, but company leaders must hire good employees, then trust in and encourage the employees to help grow and develop the company.

Another dynamic speaker and presenter followed Jenkins. Dave Mahoney of Noble Gases gave a very memorable performance, singing a rousing rendition of James Brown’s ‘Living in America’. He followed this lighthearted opening act with a more reflective question and discussion - Is Living the American Dream Still an Option? His answer? A resounding Yes.

The Closing Ceremonies, a Young Professionals Scavenger Hunt and the President’s Farewell Gala (where Weldcoa was the Platinum sponsor), all concluded the conference, while Norco’s Ned Pontious was then inducted as the new president of GAWDA, 2013-2014, and segued from Mahoney’s optimistic view of the still vibrant American dream to ask his own question, and one he hopes all GAWDA members will help him answer in the upcoming year - how will GAWDA remain relevant?

The final event of the conference, the much-anticipated President’s Gala, was a farewell event hosted by outgoing President Craig Wood and his wife Darlene. With plenty of dancing to live music, it was a memorable way to conclude the convention, meet those last contacts, and solidify friendships until the next time. Speaking of which, the 70th GAWDA (2014) Annual Convention will be held from September 21-24 in San Diego, CA. Visit for more details.


GAWDA generosity
The Monday morning of the 2013 convention was also devoted to sharing the wealth. Two recipients of the GAWDA Gives Back Program, chosen this year by outgoing president Craig Wood and wife Darlene, were on hand to give thanks and to accept checks for $81,814.50 each for their organizations - more than $162,000 in total.

Representatives from Camp Boggy Creek, a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses, and from Give Kids the World, a 70-acre fairytale vacation retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, clearly moved the audience as they explained just how GAWDA members’ generosity would improve the lives of the young recipients.