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The Art and Science of Leading Leaders Through Event Production With Michael Mikitka

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Mark Hiddleson

Michael Mikitka is the Executive Vice President of the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), a division of the Material Handling Institute (MHI) Knowledge Center. WERC helps its members and their companies to succeed by creating unparalleled learning experiences, networking opportunities, and access to research-driven industry information. WERC exists to lead the warehousing industry, advanced warehousing science, and develop competitive advantages for both individuals and corporations.

As the CEO of WERC since 2000, Michael moved into his current position in 2020 and has enjoyed a front-row seat and witnessed the environmental changes to the warehousing industry and how the industry has met new challenges. He received his Bachelor of Applied Sciences degree in industrial and organizational psychology, is a Certified Association Executive, and a Board Member for the Material Handling Education Foundation, Inc. (MHEFI).

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • What attracted Michael Mikitka to the warehousing industry?

  • Micheal’s tips for serving at the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) and his role there

  • The connection between WERC and the Material Handling Institute (MHI)

  • How the warehousing industry has evolved over the years

  • How WERC's annual national conference was impacted by the pandemic

  • Micheal talks about the importance of attending WERC's events and some of its past speakers

  • Micheal's mentors and how WERC educates its members

  • Micheal shares his favorite conferences and podcasts

In this episode…

The warehousing industry provides many opportunities for players to serve and add value to each other. According to Michael Mikitka, companies benefit a lot from joining associations where they interact and learn from other leaders.

In an increasingly complex world, warehousing distribution fulfillment professionals make sense of things so that people get their products and services, companies deliver on their commitments, economies grow, and communities thrive. As a leader at the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), Michael loves the opportunities he gets to serve fellow leaders. He takes an active role in executing WERC’s annual networking events, which help bring together different players within the industry.

In this episode of The Tao of Pizza Podcast, Mark Hiddleson interviews Michael Mikitka, the Executive Vice President of the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), a division of the Material Handling Institute (MHI) Knowledge Center. Michael talks about the art and science of leading leaders through event production. He explains how the warehousing industry has evolved over the years, how WERC educates its members, and the importance of annual industry conferences.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by Specialized Storage Solutions Inc.


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Episode Transcript:

Intro 0:01

Welcome to The Tao of Pizza where we feature top logistics leaders, entrepreneurs, and supply chain innovators and share their inspiring stories with a holistic twist.

Mark Hiddleson 0:16

Mark Hiddleson here, host of The Tao of Pizza Podcast where I talk with top industry innovators in the warehousing, logistics, and supply chain business with a holistic twist. I wanted to thank drew Hendricks for hosting me on his podcast, Legends Behind the Craft last week. If you get a chance go check out that episode. Before I introduce our guest, Michael Mikitka, this episode is brought to you by Specialized Storage Solutions. Listen, I've been in the logistics and storage industry for several decades. I know I don't look that old, but it's true. We provide industry leading warehouse storage solutions nationwide. So basically, if you have a warehouse that needs rack shelving, carts, conveyors are mezzanines, we help with design engineering installations, inspections, and repairs to help clients optimize logistics operations. Sometimes people don't even realize that we can actually help with permit acquisition services as well. We take a holistic look at your entire business supply chain ecosystem to develop the resources for continually improving your operation. To learn more, visit, or give us a call at 707-732-3892. And I'll even give you my personal email address for podcast listeners. So email me if you're ready to take your warehouse and storage and retrieval systems to the next level.

I have with us Michael Michael Mikitka. He has been with the Warehousing Education and Research Council. We call it WERC, since 2000. This August will be 22 years where he's enjoyed a front row seat and witnessed the environmental changes to the warehousing industry and how our industry has met new challenges. WERC helps its members and their companies to succeed. By creating unparalleled learning experiences, networking opportunities and access to research driven industry information. WERC exists to lead the warehousing industry, advanced warehousing science and develop competitive advantages for both individuals and corporations. And increasingly complex world warehousing distribution fulfillment professionals make sense of things so that people get there products and services. companies deliver on their commitments, economies grow, and communities thrive, WERC powers distribution logistics professionals to do their jobs, excel in their careers, and make a difference in the world. Michael, thank you for joining us on The Tao of Pizza Podcast.

Michael Mikitka 2:41

Thank you for having me, Mark.

Mark Hiddleson 2:43

This is exciting. In my career, if I had to say one organization, it wouldn't even take me a second to say the word has been just the biggest contributor to my career. And I didn't realize until I read your ba we started about the same time I was involved in the local council here in Northern California in 2000. And I think we met at the 2001 National Conference which is held in San Francisco. It's so great having you so I wanted to know how how did you get into this industry? I'd love to hear? Well,

Michael Mikitka 3:25

association management is the industry that I'm in. That's the industry I came from. So I worked for the insurance trade association. In its education department, I was a technical writer. And there is an industry of associations, there's an association for people in association and so the the skills, the experience, to bring industries to bring groups of people together to share the best practices to really be a service to the industry. That's what, that's what really drew me to it. I didn't start out I didn't leave college saying this is what I want to do. But it's something that my eyes were open up to, like I said when I started with the first association I worked for, and it really puts us puts me in a servitude role which I like I like serving an industry I like helping to make it better and stronger and and to deliver on the promises that we make and that we're asked to make by a group of its members or volunteers. WERC has always been and still very much is a volunteer driven organization. So they're really puts us in the forefront there's not much between our members and us right I mean, I answer the phone we all answer are we all answer the phones, whatever it is so so we're out there, constantly hearing what's needed and and then coming back and kind of work on what we can deliver. But yeah, like most people in associations, I stumbled into it. And I've been here for like you say two decades now. So it's been an amazing experience. It really

Mark Hiddleson 5:00

it's a need the warehousing industry, I just I love this industry. And I've done it right out of college. So I'm one of the, you know, 20 years and these days, it's unheard of I know, the average career I think is three years, people chain industries. And the volunteer piece, that's one of the ways that the council's serve WERC is by hosting tours. And we had a really strong group of leaders. And in the there was guys like Ray Wilkinson, Dennis Lee, and I was relatively young to be in that kind of leadership role. But we basically we wanted to host four or five tours a year. So it was just a great way to serve the industry, great way to meet other people in this business. And I have a hack on and see if this is a fair enough. One of the things I used to love to do is volunteer for registration. At WERC, I think that's how we develop the relationship. And I thought that was a great idea with Do you have any other ideas at the conference, but I was just say, if you're going to go to a conference, and volunteer to do something, and I loved working the registration area.

Michael Mikitka 6:16

Yeah, it is interesting as things have evolved, and you know, we moved to a bit of a touchless system, if you will, people now check in and an iPad, a printer prints out their badge. And, you know, the need has changed. But what hasn't the need from our perspective in terms of people working at registration desk, but the interaction hasn't, I mean, that has remained steadfast since the day I started. And I'll never remember it was Leslie Hanson hearts. WR cert, WRC is first woman president, she served I believe it was in the late 80s, early 90s. She took me aside at the first conference, and she said, you will find that this industry is really all about the people. And it's very practical, right? Our, our industry are problem solvers. They are the ones that have to make things happen.

Mark Hiddleson 7:10

Right. And so it is very much displayed,

Michael Mikitka 7:11

and any type of volunteer groups we have, whether it's the chapter, whether it's people helping us at our registration desk, people plan our events, people serving in different roles within the organization, there really is a great sense of personal responsibility and making things happen. It's a great

Mark Hiddleson 7:32

group. And if I would say, you know, whenever I would go to a conference, there are people with these haven't seen them. Maybe you only see him once a year at the conference, but it hit it off just like you. We're all friends. I mean, there's so many people I can think of over the years from all over the country. And it's nice to be able to connect like that, and even would call them during the year if you have a specific question that you know, and the entity sit in a roundtable with somebody, and it's 20 people, and they're all different warehouses, different industries, but they're sharing ideas, to like you say solve, you're watching Real World, problems get solved. It's like a sneak peek into the, you know, the best minds the best, you know, hearts and minds in the industry. Can you same definitely. Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.

Michael Mikitka 8:21

Not people are people are wanting to help each other. That's something about our industry. Like you said, it's very personable. And so we'll see people at conference and it's like, they may not have seen each other for a year. Or they might have talked once in a while, but they'll pick up like, like, you know, there's never been a whether it's a year or two, maybe since they've attended conference, they'll pick up like, as if there's no time that's elapsed.

Mark Hiddleson 8:46

And what was your first role? Because we met I know, you're the executive vice president. Now you were president of WERC before the MHI. What was your first role that that WERC?

Michael Mikitka 9:01

I was brought in to manage its conference and its chapters. So I was building on the experience that I had had another organization and managing conferences. And in part of the WERC experience was also to manage his chapters, which was something new for me. But the nice thing about our organization, we've never been too large. Our staff has ranged from eight to 12 people depending on different times, and we all wear a lot of different hats, and we all kind of chip in and given that size. We really had great insight into the organization as a whole. So in 2008, I transitioned to a CEO and then in 2022, our center 2020 WERC was acquired by MHI. And now I have a dual role and that I serve as an EVP at MHI over their knowledge center. Part of that knowledge center now includes WERC.

Mark Hiddleson 9:57

Okay, great, and I wanted to talk More. So MHI is material handling? Institute and which is? Institute or industry?

Michael Mikitka 10:03

Yeah, it's institute.

Mark Hiddleson 10:06

Material handling Institute. And it's all of the manufacturers of conveyor companies, rocky companies, forklift companies, all kinds of, you know, anything you could think of that has to do with innovation supply chain logistics, right? It's all of those. And there's they do two events, which is modex and Promag. Right. MHI. So what's new involved in those conferences before the merger? It seems like it's a natural connection. But I want to kind of talk about how did that relationship with between WERC and MHI evolve? Sure,

Michael Mikitka 10:45

and I'm sorry, it actually is industry, our industry is material handling industry. And we've always had a good working relationship with with MHI, like you said, there is some overlap in our members, and certainly the solutions that they provide are of major interest to our members. So WERC would attend Chromat and or modex, we would exhibit or we might help provide some content, there was a year a couple years at modex, that we put together some sessions for their attendees and for our members who were attending the show. And so we we can have that kind of relationship with them. Occasionally, there might be a project or two that we would work on with them, or participate in support in some way. And likewise, so when the time came, and we were looking for what would be next for WERC. MHI was was clearly one of those organizations that stood out to us as as having that kind of potential.

Mark Hiddleson 11:46

Yeah, it was it was perfect for for me because I was getting more involved in MHI. And his MHI. Also is Mojito, right, is that the same organization material handling.

Michael Mikitka 11:58

Now, he's got a material handling equipment Distributors Association is a different Association, by like WERC. They have a great working relationship with MHI. And so when you're at Chromat, or modex, you will see me here they're represented there as well.

Mark Hiddleson 12:15

Excellent. So we talked about the, the environment has changed in, in warehousing. So what are some of the things? You know, what are some of the trends? Or how's things changed and evolved over the years? In our industry? I know, it's a big question.

Michael Mikitka 12:39

Yeah, it is. I mean, it's, when I started in 2000, you know, e commerce, I'm not quite sure, ecommerce was a term at the time. You know, it was sending stuff buying stuff via the website, and, and we had just kind of come out of the, you know, a bit of a bubble from the whole ecommerce side, this is a first was growing, and companies were developing legs, and so to speak, to, you know, the introduction of, you know, this rare technology called RFID, and the mandates that were made, and what would that mean, and, and, you know, so it was, you know, and of course, then you see over the years, just the challenges, some of the regulatory issues that have come up, you see the changes in customers demands that have come up. And it's not only, you know, from a, a b2c relationship, but also between b2b That expectations have changed there as well. And you, there's so much, you know, it's hard to kind of pinpoint what has been the major influencer because I think one has, there's one is constantly influenced the other, you know, we have, we have dominoes that are happening are a bit of a Jenga game, if you will, and keep building these and pulling one out and try to add it to the top and, and rebuilding as we go along. But I think that speaks to the resiliency of, of what it is that our members do, right, this this part of the supply chain that we we own when we talk about distribution, warehousing fulfillment, it is it is something that, obviously is essential. And when it's not working, we hear about it, and everybody hears about it, as is evident now in some of the lead new stories over the last several months.

Mark Hiddleson 14:30

Yeah, we never heard of supply chain. They have been in his business. 25 years. He'd never heard supply chain until recently that now we're on the front page, because it's not working the way people want it to be.

Michael Mikitka 14:42

Yeah, yeah. I mean, and it's one of those things that people you know, it's behind the scenes unless it's working unless it's not working. You really don't realize it and I remember kind of the first time I was exposed to it from a press standpoint, and there were there was a big issue around the holidays with the some toy that was just not available, right. And it was one of those things that were talking about the demand, they were talking about the supply chain, you know, and it was, it was just interesting that, that's when it comes to the forefront. And then of course, it becomes even more critical over the last few years when you're talking about, you know, the PPE stuff and stuff and, you know, continuing with the food chain, and what was considered essential, and it is, you know, it really has come into its own, and it continues to, to, to really become a prominent role of, of the supply chain.

Mark Hiddleson 15:31

And that it's, that's really the perfect segue into my next question. And you know, the pandemic, I was thinking about, you know, people like you, you know, you talked about essential, obviously, I mean, I think that the biggest one of the biggest things you work on all year has to be the national conference, right? And you have 1000, I think, is 1000, or 1200 people getting together in a physical location. And so when everything shut down in March of 2020, the conference is always like, end of April 1 part of May. So what I mean, what was that, like? What were you thinking? What were some of the conversations? And how did you guys deal with that? You know, it's interesting,

Michael Mikitka 16:22

like everybody, you kind of look back, and at those moments, and I remember it was early February, we were having a meeting with our board. And we were talking about, you know, there's these rumblings about, you know, this, this version of the flu, right, and it just started coming up as an issue and kind of Asia, some of the large meetings were pulling back their companies were just starting to put restrictions into there, and we're like, we're watching it, we're monitoring it, we'll see how it goes. Less than 30 days later, march 16, to be exact, I remember the day, we had to make that decision. And in part, it was driven because the Providence Rhode Island Convention Center was being turned into a facility, a care facility. And, and so in some ways, we didn't have much choice, but the option of re looking at the option of finding replacement, obviously didn't exist. And for the association industry, for the hospitality industry, it had a huge, huge impact, and it over the next, you know, 18 to 24 months. So, you know, we had to do what's best for our members, we had to do what's best for our team, and quite honestly, our members needed to be within their organizations. So you know, it didn't even make sense to try to even offer it as an option. Because the forefront there is how are you managing through this? How, you know, they were working with their teams, and, and all of those issues of what do we do to continue? So the exciting part, if, if it's fair to say that was to see how our industry came together. And you know, some of the other organizations like ALAN, the American Logistics Aid Network, you know, stepped up, they were having regular phone calls with, with a number of the associations that fall within our area. And we were exchanging information. And it really was a time when you just, you know, collaboration is an understatement, right? We were all sharing, what are you hearing? What do you know, what do you see? Meeting a few times a week. And then of course, when we were then doing that with our members, by having you talk about the roundtables that you sit in a room of 20 people we were doing that phone calls, you know, because the information was changing so quickly, what people needed was changing. It was just let's get on a call, ask your question. And let's see if somebody has an answer to it. Right. And, and we did that, you know, for a number of weeks, you know, at the start of the pandemic, until probably June, you know, and rebooking our conference wasn't an option. Like I said, our our industry was heads down, and, and that's where they needed to be. And so we just looked, how can we best serve them during that time?

Mark Hiddleson 19:12

Because almost I just think, as you're saying, almost every single company involved is is an essential business. I'm trying to think of an example. For us, you know, we do a lot in the food industry, and grocery industry, cold storage, I mean, those functions had to keep rolling to feed. I mean, the people have to eat. So right. That that is amazing. And how did it and I also saw Alan mentioned a couple things. Alan, what does Alan stand for? Again, the

Michael Mikitka 19:44

Alan is the American logistics aid network, and it's an organization and association of industries that come together when there is a disaster. It actually sprung out of the hurricane in New Orleans, I can't think of that. Katrina. Katrina. Exactly after

Mark Hiddleson 20:06

Katrina, people got together and said, Hey, next time, how can we do this better?

Michael Mikitka 20:11

Exactly. And so Alan started out of that, and has just grown into this incredible organization, they work with different state and federal agencies. So the ability to disseminate information, what we could pass on to our members, what we could share with them, and they would share with the network is incredible. So when there's a pending disaster, we'll get a an email saying, hey, what we need is, does anybody know of anybody who can help us with a staging area, or if we can get, you know, 20,000 square feet of warehouse space, we can start moving supplies and whatever it is, and, you know, we share that with our members as to all the other organizations that belong to it.

Mark Hiddleson 20:52

Yeah, that's a really Alan's really cold organization. And I get those emails too, because it's through WERC. So they're working with you. So all your members are people that are in your network. And I think I saw it on your LinkedIn, I think LinkedIn is how you and I, we've stayed in touch over the years, because I'll see, you know, it's been such so many years for Michael mature, always reach out and say, congrats, or when MHI you require my ma Ty, I saw your post on LinkedIn, it's like all Hey, I gotta reach out to Michael and see how things are, are going but the ALAN is, I mean, that's a great way and people they'll respond to right people have the resources they're looking for, and they'll find it in the right area. But people think, well, we've done all this stuff to Texas, and then they'll do through your network, we'll find out, hey, we've got this stuff nearby, and just create rapid solutions in a changing rapidly changing environment.

Michael Mikitka 21:45

Yeah, so basically, any association that touches the supply chain in any way, is a part of Alan. And so there's 3040 people on on these calls, and that occur some regularly and then more as needed based on what might be happening.

Mark Hiddleson 22:04

Nice. So the conference is I looked on the website, and I didn't see for this year, it didn't say where it's the where and what is the conference? Do we know when it's going to be this year?

Michael Mikitka 22:16

And so we did hold our conferences here, when we are required, we were booked through 2022. And what we wanted to see with the disruption that had occurred by not having a conference in 2020, we had we did not have a conference in 2021. Our conference was virtual, what would 22 look like? And how do we plan for 23 and beyond? So that's actually something we'll be sharing, probably by the end of July. So we had not booked it. We had some places in mind. And we're just trying to work out those details. Now, now that we know now that we've been back now that we've experienced a conference again, what does that look like? What do we need? That type of thing?

Mark Hiddleson 23:00

Yeah, nice. I don't so keep checking on the website to see any July though we'll find out where it's going to be in it's always held, like the last week in April or first week in May, usually, right? Usually, right?

Michael Mikitka 23:15

We might be shifting that a little bit. Because given that there's a lot that goes on during that time. And so we've taken feedback from our members from our our committees, we might be looking at maybe close to the end of May, the very beginning of June, you know, once we get past

Mark Hiddleson 23:31

Memorial Day,

Michael Mikitka 23:32

so we might just shift it a little bit for that. But but we are looking at our options now and what cities and hotels and things like that will work for us.

Mark Hiddleson 23:43

Yeah, that's that's definitely exciting. anybody listening who's wants a career in logistics or warehousing everything you need to have to make the National Conference, you got to put it on your list, ask your boss or if you're the boss, send your people. I can't give a good enough plug for WERC in the in the National Conference. The local roundtables. I mean, unparalleled learning, I think, a warehouse tour, I can't think of any other way that you learned other than a warehouse tour. Right. And that's a lot of what we did in a local council was hosting tours. Would you agree with that? Yeah, it was the most

Michael Mikitka 24:21

popular event for any of our chapters that would run an event would be a facility tour. People like to see how other people are doing it. And, and so it it really was a big show Intel when you think about it, right? Walking through a facility and and noticing something and and I remember one of the one of the greatest comments we got was somebody who attended our WERC conference and we run tours there as well. And they said they can't they had gone on a tour, they saw an idea for a piece of equipment that has, you know, paid returns that you know, will fund their conference experience for the next 20 years. So it's the Little things, sometimes that can make a big difference. And that's, that's something about our group are very practical or our industry is very practical. And, and that's what we'd like to deliver in, in everything that we do, whether it's the conference, and whether it's our research, whether it's you know, any particular type of publication or experience that we offer, we want to make sure there's that practical, practical

Mark Hiddleson 25:22

element to it. And then hanging out at the conference you just reminded me of, we have a group of friends at the conference that in between the roundtables there, the some of the greatest roundtables are in the swimming pool, you know, because guys are in there. And there, maybe there was a roundtable because you can't go to all of them, right? You have to look at schedules, I'm gonna go to this, I'm not gonna do this. But we're comparing notes, you know, and throwing a football around in the pool. And even then, there's great ideas and relationships with people, you know, we call it poolside logistics, one on one.

Michael Mikitka 25:59

Go, I didn't even know about that I missed.

Mark Hiddleson 26:01

Yeah, we shouldn't be a sanction to go on the, on the schedule.

Michael Mikitka 26:07

Next time, we have to make sure that's in our meeting spec. So there's a nice floor, Jacuzzi or something like that? Yeah, but it is it's it, you know, it is one of those where people do meet, right? It's the hotel bar, right? I mean, how often was that just packed with people, you know, in between, you know, the end of the sessions and an evening event, or just before people were heading out for dinner. And when you're in town, and you go out, it's hard not to go someplace and see somebody who's at the conference. And so it is, it is a it is a great opportunity, which is really what WERC is about right, where education and research and, and education comes from the networking from sharing ideas with each other acts, actually, you know, part of the role of an association is to serve an industry. You know, you'd be remiss if you didn't have that element to it. Yeah, the

Mark Hiddleson 26:57

camaraderie, and the and then another thing I wanted to talk about is some of the speakers I've seen, I mean, I've seen Mike Ditka speak at WERC event. I think that was in Chicago. I've seen Brian, Billy, I'm a football guy. I love that you had new football guys. But you've had bestselling authors you've had in the one what I remember when you were talking about RFID was Walmart was was the company that was driving a lot of the Supply Chain Innovation, because they were going to have a mandate that everybody that they dealt with had to have RFID by by a certain date. Right. And you had speakers from Walmart. So you've already begun. But one of my proudest moments is and I don't know if you remember this, but it was a Chicago conference. And Emmitt Smith was the keynote. They run into the hallways a few times. And I thought, man, you know, this is kind of a long shot. But I was want to ask Michael, if if I could get it because a lot of the people were involved in local councils, were allowed to sit in kind of the front tables. We could sit and play for tables in the front for presidents past presidents. And I said, you know, is there any way that you could give me at a table with Mr. Smith?

Michael Mikitka 28:10

Do you remember that? I think I do. I hope that I was able to do that. Now that you're saying that. But yeah, you said

Mark Hiddleson 28:18

you know what, I can't commit to it. And, you know, very promotion, you said, but I'm gonna look, I could see what I can do. And, you know, it was a long shot to me. I thought this is a long shot. And you came to me about 20 minutes before he was a keynote speaker on I think it was Wednesday is the last day or Tuesday's the last whatever the last day was a keynote at lunch. And he said, I was able to get you not just at the table with Mr. Smith, but you're sitting next to me Smith at the table, and that's one of the proudest moments of my life. With one exception is that I didn't realize I was starstruck. Like I didn't think I thought this I'm at this conference, I've been involved in it for you know, eight or 10 years or whatever. And Emma Smith is kind of the newcomer, but he was so professional. He had done his homework. He actually was using RFID technology for his sports memorabilia business. So at that table is sat down, and we're all you know, it's all the leaders from WERC. And he he led that table. And the only question I asked them, you know, could have been any I'm a football fan. You know, all his games. Every moment question I asked him was Why did you do Dancing with the Stars? Though, so, but I was redeemed because when he got up and did the talk afterwards, there was q&a. And the first person that asked a question from the audience, ask them the exact same question. That's, thank goodness, it wasn't just

Michael Mikitka 29:45

that question. I mean, the conference is about memories. You know, I mean, it's so interesting because organizations put so much time into what is our theme of the conference. And, you know, it really comes down to a lot of people remember, like your group To the cities you've been to, and you refer to the experiences that you had. And I bet you can't tell me one of the things for any of these, any of the conferences you attended. I mean, they're great. They help us from a marketing perspective and give some, you know, vision and focus to our committees that were planning content and things like that. But, but more often than not, people always refer to the city and or they refer to an experience that happened to them.

Mark Hiddleson 30:24

Yeah. And then there's been some amazing, amazing musicians like Mike Raber. I can keep going comedians. I mean, they're just, it's educational. But it's entertainment. And then those memories are priceless. Yeah, like it. Yeah.

Michael Mikitka 30:38

Yeah, it was, actually Lee Scott was the CEO of Walmart when he came to speak to us. And I remember the day that he, he, his office contacted us that he accepted our invitation. You know, we were, we were starstruck, right. And we really get this to work, because it's really coming together. And so, but like you said that they that was the year, or was the following year, their mandate was going to be in place, and a lot of talk about that. So you know, it was a nice, it was a nice one for WERC and to be able to deliver it to, to our attendees and our members.

Mark Hiddleson 31:13

Yeah, because I know, I know, it's a great organization, and but you just keep finding ways, you know, that that you're proud to be associated with, you know, it's like, okay, Walmart is driving these changes for everybody. And then, while we're there speaking at our event, it's a great, this is just a great way to connect and learn at a conference. So do you have any other stories of speakers besides Lee Scott, that, that you were able to get somebody that was kind of a long shot?

Michael Mikitka 31:46

offense? You know, it's, we always try to mix it up between industry and kind of the paid speakers, I can talk about some of the sports figures. And there are times that I'm even surprised that at the depth that they come in with it and the impression that they'd have on people. You know, it is it is always flattering, when people want to line up and see a speaker afterwards. I mean, to me, that's how do you measure success, that shows they're interested that shows that they liked it. I think the year we brought Randy Lewis, who at the time was with Walgreens and was doing work, to incorporate to engage with people with disabilities into the facilities into warehouses, and him telling his story. And you know, it's a very personal story. I mean, he has a son who has a level of autism, and he's thinking about what will my son be doing one day and, and so it kind of drove him, he was able to introduce it, work with great team members. And, you know, it was it made headline news, and to have him speak at our conference and to talk about it. He got a standing ovation. And they were actually, you know, our group, largely, largely mostly men at the time, still, that still that to this day, but But changing. There were guys that were crying, you know, I mean, it was just like, amazing story. And so it's the experience, it's the impression is, what are you taking away from this. And years later, we had a gentleman from Lowe's who had some of his team members had seen him at our conference, they adopted that he came to talk about his program him and Randy, we had Lowe's and Walgreens talking together about this. And to be a part of that to help bring that to the forefront. You know, it's one of those things that our organizations always been very proud of.

Mark Hiddleson 33:37

Yeah, that's amazing. That those are some amazing stories. I'm, I'm embarrassed that I missed that one. I don't know. I missed a few over the years.

Michael Mikitka 33:48

And he's actually the only speak the only person we brought back twice to our main stage. You know, so it was one of those stories that I think there was a few years and some more work was done. And we wouldn't come back again and talk because again, it's one of those stories that people want to hear about and hear about over again.

Mark Hiddleson 34:05

Yeah, because it's, it's heartfelt, it's touching. And it's a way to give back and it really is it's a generous industry. It's hard to describe and you've been doing a great way of explaining but people just they're open hearts and you know, open hands just willing to help they're problem solvers, but it's just a group of right who excited to solve problems. I have this science not in my office anymore. I'd knocked it down but it's, we're I always mess when I say it the wrong way. But we're faced with opportunities disguised as unsolvable problems that were those unsolvable problems are really opportunities. And sometimes when I say that I say it the other way around. opportunities that are really problems, but

Michael Mikitka 34:53

it feels that way sometimes, but you're right. Right. But the reality is is that they are our problems are cambiar opportunities?

Mark Hiddleson 35:02

Yes. So do you have any mentors that that were that he wanted to mention that made a big difference for you?

Michael Mikitka 35:14

There's been a lot, I mean, I've been very fortunate. So with the way WERC had been structured, we had a board of directors. And every year somebody new would move into the board role, the chair role, and that every year, I was just working with people who are so good at what they do. And I could learn something from all of them. And it was, you know, I could I could go back and name each each person who served in a leadership role, and what you know, and find something that I learned from them in terms of how they dealt with people and how they managed our discussions and in, you know, how they manage some of the challenges that we face. And so it's, it's really, it's hard to call anyone out to be I mean, I'm being really honest. But you can look at, you know, our website, you can see everybody who's served in a leadership role, at least since I've been involved with the organization, and all of them have left an impression on me. And it's, you know, I feel like I'm name dropping sometimes when I say, oh, yeah, you know, Ken Ackerman and I will talk every once in a while, it's like other people, VCAT Ackerman, you know, and where you, you deal with different professors who, you know, are so revered by their students. And it's, it's amazing, or people who have led organizations and three PL owners to, you know, VPS, and some of the largest organizations who serve as volunteers for our organization. And so I'm always looking at how, how do we get back? How do we make that experience worthwhile? How do we provide the experiences that you talked about with Ms. Smith, so that their time that they're giving to us pays back dividends to them? That's, that's my goal. Yeah,

Mark Hiddleson 37:16

that's, that's nice. That's beautiful. So all and I love, it's one of the things that I haven't seen any other organization who really doesn't like that. That's how the Local Councils work as well, you start out as board chairman. And then there's a few other positions in between the Vice President, the next year become president, and then I love the last one is then the year your past president. So the President. And for me, I've you know, it's five years, I was the president that I was a past president. And we just all stuck around all the past presidents. And we we just, we had five past presidents. It's Chris Murphy is Kevin Shimamoto. It's Stan Mendez. And, rightly, in Ray, we always in our I'm still, I haven't been on the local councils for years, but I still attend events, I still help them find venues because I love attending events like guys, we'd love to keep this. Keep it going. I did a last word to her when I'm locally was the Port of Oakland tour. And I think it was right before the pandemic probably. I mean, it was really close, I'd have to look it up. But it reminded me I just I had one of my first tours ever set up was the Port of Oakland. And I was like, We need a bus. And we're going to have the launch at Scott seafood. And you know, when you're running those, it's a nonprofit. And we charge like 40 or $50 per person. And the rain did is kind of just let me run with it. It was my first deal. And we had a little checking account. It always had like between 20 530 500 bucks in there but that quarter was really awesome. People loved it, but I was over budget by like 1200 It was when we went on this tour, they they borrowed a bus from the port. So I think they did sandwiches in the lunch room or everything but I was really you know, was fun and we had the money to do it. So it was fun. That was you know, it's a lot of fun. Scheduling those tours, volunteering, getting 40 or 50 people together to do something exciting. Yeah, that's a neat to get out on the port is a really awesome tool. I mean, it gives you some visuals, how those containers get taken off and the ships and all the logistics that's involved just within the port. And the you guys do any other port tours all over the country like Houston or it

Michael Mikitka 39:43

depends. The chapters are slowly coming back is when the pandemic and facilities being locked down. There's still a big challenge that was a challenge for us this year at conference, companies being willing to open their doors. You know when we say we want to bring in 3040 People So it's starting to come back. And our ability to do that is starting to come back. But the chapters have been very dormant for the last two years or so because of it. And now it's now it's getting the volunteers back involved and engaged and getting it moving, how we're going to do it. We talked about tour that was at a conference one year, we ran a tour of the FedEx facility at its peak operating time, which is like midnight, right? 11 or something like that. And if you've attended that one, and I thought when we signed up that tour, I'm like, oh, you know, are we going to get people to come down for a bus at 1030 at night, head out to the airport, you know, to watch this. And I'll tell you, that tour sold out, people got up. I don't know if they made it successions the next day or not. But they wanted to see FedEx airport operations during its peak time. And so, as those planes were all being loaded, they're shooting off into the sky, like, you know, fighter jets, often aircraft carrier. People, people talked about it. So we'd love to, you know, it's not that we're not trying, you know, we're, we haven't moved away from it necessarily, but just kind of as a result of the last few years and its impact on our volunteers as well as facilities, being able to open the doors. Those, those are the challenges that we have to work through going forward now.

Mark Hiddleson 41:18

So the local councils are still getting Yeah, like, I don't think there's anything scheduled here locally, but I am gonna I am gonna make some phone call. There will be some probably someone was tough people. It's tough to put a tour together with summer. A lot of people are on vacations and so we always try to first tour around September and then our last one we always for years when I was involved, we always used to do a tour in Reno. I mean, we're in Northern California. And Rio was it was kind of unique back then they were building a lot of big box warehouses in Reno because there's tax reasons to be in Reno and it's kind of a great place for distribution. You can distribute from you don't have to come to California. And it was kind of close. And we you mentioned the professor's we actually the day we started our company in 2005. The next day I hosted a WERC tour and or we did the council we hosted a tour in Reno. And Dale Rogers was the speakers he wanted to the professor's you were talking about you familiar with Dale Rogers? Oh, sure. Sure. Yeah,

Michael Mikitka 42:25

no, Dale. Dale have spoken at our conference before. And he's at Arizona State University. And so we've we've had the opportunity to work with Dale, and he's one of the several of the academics who, you know, it's, you feel like your name dropping a bit when you start putting them out there, but but they really, you know, they're out that are they're out there in our industry, they're speaking, they're sharing their ideas, they bring people together, they challenge our thinking, you know, which is always good. And me know, it's great to be a part of it. And that's actually, you know, being part of MHI. Now, MHI has what's referred to as the College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE), dance, kick me. And associations do love their acronyms. And it's it's a group of educators that help other educators, right. And so and they helped us produce student Day this year at MHI, which is an exciting change for WERC to be part of that. So we had almost 300 students that came in and, you know, we break them into groups and send them out on the floor. And we get companies that volunteer to have the students stop by, and then of course, and then kick me itself. They're running a case competition for students. And so that falls under, you know, MHS Knowledge Center and part of WERC. So myself and more. So my team is very much involved in in executing that.

Mark Hiddleson 44:06

And I also I noticed you're hosting webinars, there's one tomorrow, I think, the 15th. There's a webinar on WERC, that I forget what the

Michael Mikitka 44:19

there may be i i looked at the calendar before I jumped on the call, but we do do webinars regularly. And of course, now being part of Ma Chai MH WERC members can attend the webinar series that they have. They have an economist who speaks regularly does webinars on economic forecasts and what they're seeing. So it just kind of gives you a pulse of what's going on. They actually delivered a webcast yesterday. That would be the 14th of June, and kind of talking about what the Fed meeting that's happening today and what the outcomes might be and not as rosy as we would like but it is the reality and And again, we're talking about a very practical group, tell me what I need to know. So I know how to manage it when I have to.

Mark Hiddleson 45:07

Yeah, I think it just been such an advantage for me to be involved with, with an organization like that, because, you know, I had the confidence that we really are learning from the cutting edge, the cutting edge sources of all this information, we're bringing that knowledge back to our customers. And that's why I was you were one of the first people I thought of when I started this project of doing a podcast and like, Man, I'd love to talk to Michael about this. So we're getting kind of close to the end. But I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about your favorite conferences. And obviously, the work and that's one of mine. And, and favorite podcast, if you listen to podcasts, I know you listen to this one every time. Exactly. Is there any other ones. So conferences, your favorite conferences and other podcasts,

Michael Mikitka 46:05

you know, conferences from my own self, my own personal development. And, and this is really kind of a shout out to associations in general, I just recommend people find one to become involved in, we'd love for it to be WERC if that's where your interest is. But there are a number of other associations that serve our industry in different ways. And I just always encourage people to find one that works for you. And if you have questions, feel free to reach out if, if you're pursuing one thing, and we can't help you, you know, we'll we have great working relationships with a number of organizations, they attend our conferences, a guest, I attend their conferences, a guest. So I'm more than glad to share, you know, what we know about them and how they might be able to help you. But for me personally, there is as I mentioned, there's an association for associations. The American Society of association execs, and they hold a conference for executive team members, called great ideas. And it really is just a kind of a very more relaxed atmosphere, people sharing ideas, exchanging ideas, what worked for them, what didn't work. And so I walk away with just, you know, pages of notes from that. Every year, industry wise, you know, I do and I'm not saying this, because we're part of MHI but even before we were part of MH I just walking through that f4 and seeing everything, it's like, it's, you know, as if I just stepped off an island and I'm walking through a Best Buy, you know, I mean, it's just so much incredible stuff. And, and so I think, you know, that's always been something I enjoyed going to because you don't get the time to even know what's out there until you start seeing and hearing about it. You read about it, trade press, I'm a big proponent to have you know, subscribe to the trade presses that serve our industry. Usual grab some great insights from it. Podcasts when I have to tell you, I'm just getting on to the podcast board I you know, wagon I, I started out like there's a few things that I pick up from Wall Street Journal puts out one or two a day, you know, something about the headlines of the day, you know, it's easy, digestible, just a few minutes of kind of what's going to be happening or what to put on my radar. So that I'm not trying to read the news all day. You know, so I think if I if I was you talked about meetings that I attend podcasts that I follow. Was there a third thing?

Mark Hiddleson 48:48

No, it was just those two. And I was. So I'm kind of new on the podcast scene too. And it was something I went to a wife and I go to a film festival every year in Napa. Oh, and by the way, I was going to put a want to throw Napa Valley hat in the ring. If you if you haven't scheduled the conference already. It was. It's beautiful. Yeah. And weather's always good that time of year. But I didn't listen to podcasts. We went to a film festival. They had a documentary about podcasts. And they asked you this was like 2017 2018, they said, How many people know what a podcast is, and only about a third of the room raise their hand. I was like, I didn't know what it was, I just knew was something I wasn't going to be involved with. And really, because I just didn't, I didn't know what it was. And I was working with a coach. A life coach just on business, you know, these important to have coaching and you know, when you own your own company, that's like Who's your boss, you know, so I was like to have a coach to work with and, like Coach was sending me podcasts that were related to things we were talking about or things I was working on. That was like wow, Oh, this is amazing. Because you can find out you can get so specific in an industry or answer a question or if it's a person that you want to find out more about or an author, and I just kind of got the bug, it was actually, I do a couple talks a year for people asked me to do like a 20 minute presentation. And, you know, when I said, What are the things I've changed in the last few years, and one of them, one of the main things is, it's listening to podcasts, if you want to get your staff trained on certain things, or getting knowledge. And now all of a sudden, I'm hosting was kind of just like that, because, you know, for all the people I've met over the years that have helped me in my career, you know, like you and they're, it's just like you said with the mentors is beautiful, that there's so many people that if you name one, it's not fair to the other. The hundreds of people, so I wanted to start sharing the story, you know, sharing about words, this is a great way for me to, you know, share how important WERC has been in my career, to really build my career around the knowledge, the relationships, the networking. So just we've mentioned a few ways to connect with WERC, but how else, you know, what do you think if somebody wants to learn more? What are the best ways to connect, besides a tour webinar?

Michael Mikitka 51:21

You know, it really is just kind of picking up the phone and calling our office. And even though we're remote, you know, we, we use a service. Now our phone is answered by somebody, and you can ask for what you need, and then they have enough information to be able to be able to point you to someone on our team to answer that question. If not, we'll take the information and share it with our team. And we'll figure out who's best to get back to you. Email, I believe all of our you know, our staff is listed on the website, you can click on it, and email us reach out to us via LinkedIn. You know, there's, you know, this speaks to again, just, you know, how I feel about being engaged in associations, whether it's WERC or another one, a lot of organizations offer different ways and different levels to be engaged. If you have the time, and you have the passion, and you want to, you know, really invest a lot, we have opportunities for that. If you say, hey, I really don't have the time to travel right now. But I'd be happy to help you by reviewing potential sessions for the conference we have, we have ways to do that. You know, so there's, there's kind of the high stakes and the low stakes, depending on where you're at, and what time the amount of time you have to give. But like all associations with respect the fact that, you know, we exist because of our members, and, you know, our members help are the ones who make us who we are, they help us provide that, that direction that we're working towards, and always trying to set our sights on. So you know, LinkedIn phone call, email, you know, whatever works for you, we you know, we appreciate the the outreach, and, you know, we're gonna look for a way to help you engage in a way that works best for you.

Mark Hiddleson 53:06

Yeah, and we're gonna have those on the podcast, we'll have links to the website. And right here, I just got permission to put your personal phone number on there. Yeah, I appreciate it. And also been talking with Michael moqueca, Executive Vice President of the warehousing, Education and Research Council. Michael, I want to be the first to say thank you. It's, it's really been a pleasure to have this conversation. I look forward to continuing our relationship.

Michael Mikitka 53:39

Well, hey, thank you very much. I appreciate you involving us on this journey and, and what you're doing for the industry by pulling this together. It is. Again, we we get better by working together by sharing our time our talents. And, and so thank you for, for learning about this podcast.

Mark Hiddleson 54:02

Yeah, it's a new world. Thank you, Michael. It's a that warms my heart and it is it is new and exciting. And it's funny when you were talking about 2000. We we didn't know we didn't really have the internet. The way it was instantly reminded me is I used to have my emails printed out at the office. And then I would go in there once a week and read the printed folder because I got this email thing is a fluke.

Michael Mikitka 54:27

It's totally can you imagine now, right? Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Hiddleson 54:31

So thanks again. It is my pleasure. Thank you very much.

Michael Mikitka 54:35

You're welcome. Thank you.

Outro 54:37

Thanks for listening to The Tao of Pizza Podcast. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.


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