TPM Takeaways

It’s an amazing thing: After a year of meetings, conference calls, multiple draft panel ideas and draft agendas; after dozens (hundreds?) of speaker recruitment calls around the world; new ideas, old ideas, rejected ideas and a pretty solid group of keepers; through industry ups and downs and an election; and after myriad distractions, errors and omissions, starts and stops, cancellations and last-minute changes, the 13th annual TPM Conference has come and gone, and planning for TPM 2014 is beginning.

Speaking from the perspective of one who’s involved intimately (I’ve served for the last several years on the TPM programming committee), it’s incredible how much planning, time and effort, spread over a year, it takes to put together a two- or three-day industry conference. And no sooner is the last session wrapped up, the last speaker closes, the final question is asked, the handshakes and hugs and wishes of “safe travels” delivered than thoughts shift to tease out some inkling of what may be in store for next year.

My brain hasn’t shifted out of TPM 2013, so here’s my summary of the just-concluded conference. This is, of course, the view through my lens, just one of the more than 2,000 views from those who watched, listened and participated in TPM 2013.

The Long Beach Convention Center is the perfect venue for this event, or at least as close to perfect as possible. Although no one could have predicted this at TPM 2001, or even TPM 2009, it appears the “perfect” venue may be about to become too small to handle the ever-growing size of the TPM audience. With no obvious alternative site, some changes will become necessary if the size of this audience continues to expand.

Although I believe the quality of the panel topics and speakers is the best in the business, the amount of effort required to plan, recruit and implement these elements isn’t getting easier. And, although there has been progress attracting more highly valued shipper attendees, too many service provider types have voiced too many concerns about too few customers and too many of their own colleagues and peers. This also results in too few BCO panelists and thus too few of their opinions being heard and discussed.

This has been an issue of considerable attention over the past several years and will continue to be a focus of future TPM planning sessions.

Still, there can be no argument (not much, anyway, from a group with argument in its DNA) that the networking opportunities TPM provides are unsurpassed in our industry. How else to explain the large (and growing) number of people without event credentials appearing in the hotel lobby and around the convention center? Although it fascinates me to note how many of our colleagues change jobs or companies each year, this year it seemed as if many of us also had assumed new identities — or at least were wearing the ID badges of others.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to greet old friends (or avoid “non-friends”) and to meet new people is clearly one of TPM’s great attractions. Where else could you have the good fortune, as I did, to sit between the managing director of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and one of Alphaliner’s top analysts and listen to their animated, amazingly detailed, expert-to-expert conversation about the state of business in the Indian Ocean; about the relative merits of various ports (many of which I’d never heard of); or about the state of the Indian economy and the impact of all of this on global trade.

There were a few disappointments, but only one of any significance. Throughout most of the TPM 2013 planning stages, we intended to stage three panels on issues facing U.S. waterfront labor. Until December, we thought we’d pull it off. But in the end, the International Longshoremen’s Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union backed off, citing negotiations that were either going on or would be next year as the reason no speakers would be available. 

That these two powerful, influential organizations continue to set themselves apart from the industry that supports them is nothing short of — well, pick your own adjective.

So we move on. What issues will drive our ever-evolving, endlessly changing industry during the coming 12 months? The conversations and crystal ball gazing have begun. Your bets are as good as mine, but at least we know when and where we’ll be reconvening for TPM 2014.

Enjoy the rest of 2013, stay busy and healthy, and let’s agree to meet back in Long Beach for TPM 2014 next March 2-5. 

Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services. Contact him at 503-208-2232 or at barryh@cms-cs.com.

 

 

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