For 28 years Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA) chief executive officer Liz Richards has led the association with a firm belief in the importance of teamwork and building a culture of service. With her retirement approaching in December, she takes a moment to reflect on her time in the industry from formative relationships to career highlights.
When I joined MHEDA, I had no experience running a trade association and had to rely on help from my team.
Like many others have experienced, I was introduced to MHEDA by friend and former colleague Tony Colletti who was our attorney at a retirement community where I was the building director.
Tony was leading MHEDA when he reached out to me and suggested I meet with the search committee as he was planning to move on. Tony was convinced I had the skill set to take on the role.
I was offered the job and accepted it although, truth be told, I was very apprehensive because of my lack of industry and association experience.
I attribute my success to Tony, who stayed on as a mentor to me for the first six months, alongside the four individuals on the MHEDA team who had been in place for many years and the 1995 board of directors who spent a lot of time getting me up to speed.
"You couldn’t pay for the education I’ve received working with such incredible leaders in this industry and learning from their respective management styles."
There have been so many people who have inspired me throughout the years, certainly all the presidents and chairmen that I have had the privilege of serving alongside. I believe the individuals who have served on the MHEDA board of directors have all left the association better than they found it.
Together with the support of the MHEDA team we have established successful programs that continue to flourish and grow, including our Emerging Leaders Conference, Women in Industry and MHEDA-NET, a structured networking platform with more than 200 members involved.
We began the Women in Industry initiative with a breakfast at the annual convention in 2015 to determine the interest and it was evident early on that women were looking for a place to network with one another and have a place in the industry for professional development. The breakfasts have been part of the convention ever since.
In addition to the conference, MHEDA has formed six Women in Industry MHEDA-NET groups where women can meet virtually at set times throughout the year to benchmark, share best practices and support one another. I have personally been involved in the inaugural Women in Industry MHEDA-NET group since inception.
"Materials handling is a problem-solving business, which is an intuitive skill for women. My hope is that more women will gravitate toward the industry and to MHEDA in particular."
There is always more work to be done but in the 28 years that I have been with MHEDA we have definitely seen more women enter the industry. This year’s Women in Industry conference had the highest attendance we have ever seen!
It has also been rewarding for me personally to grow our relationship with the academic community. Our aim is to introduce students to the materials handling industry as a lucrative career path.
As a retirement gift, a scholarship was established in my name which could not have delighted me more! Many thanks to the MHEDA board of directors and Manufacturers Board of Advisors (MBOA) member Brian Neuwirth, president of UNEX Manufacturing who made this scholarship a reality.
The thing I will miss the most about my time at MHEDA will be interacting with our members, our board of directors and, of course, the MHEDA team.
This is an industry full of smart and gracious individuals who have the drive to succeed but who are also willing to share and benchmark with one another, all working toward the goal of improving the industry and the professionalism of each organisation within it.
Surrounding myself with talented people who have skills I may not possess has always been the key to our success. I have never been one to set myself apart from our team – we work hard together.
"We have a culture of service, and our mantra is: serve members. Serve each other. Have fun. And we have had a lot of fun along the way! I think our members see this and appreciate being part of our fun and our culture of service."
I would love to take a moment to give a specific shout-out to John Gelsimino, president of All Lift Service Company and MHEDA’s 2023 chairman of the board.
John was instrumental in assisting with the many details leading up to my retirement.
John preaches preparedness and has helped me think through every facet of the knowledge transfer necessary to facilitate a smooth transition for my successor.
Speaking of my successor, Jeannette Walker is going to be a fantastic leader taking over the helm of MHEDA!
Many people plan to travel when they retire but I have done my share of travel with MHEDA and will relish some down time.
After my retirement I am most looking forward to spending time with my husband, Ron, our critters and other family and friends. My mum is 96 and still active and healthy and I hope to enjoy more quality time with her.
We live on a lake in the Chicago suburbs so there will be boating, paddleboarding and fishing in my future too!
Many thanks to all the members who have made my career so enjoyable. And thank you to our friends at Forkliftaction for your support of MHEDA!
A LIGHTNING ROUND WITH LIZ
After 28 years with MHEDA what would you like to be remembered for: Just as all our board members have said over the years, I hope I have left MHEDA better than I found it.
Best career advice you have ever been given: Join a Toastmasters club. With all the public speaking I have been asked to do, it was great advice.
Describe your leadership style in three words: Hands on, caring, transparent.
Personal motto: Be of service to others.
Hidden talent or something about you that might surprise readers: I am a pretty good artist and plan to hone my skills in retirement.
Work in materials handling? The Forklift Diaries would love to hear your story!