AD Enters Leadership Training Arena; Association Competition?

AD leadership training program

AD launched an interesting, and perhaps valuable, initiative that, on the face of it, would appear to target a core element of an association’s value proposition … training.

And, it is interesting given that, presumably, a significant percentage of leading distributors within the marketing / buying group are members of various associations.

However, AD, like many marketing groups, also offers an online learning system (and LMS system) that has numerous manufacturer training programs and typically many other skills development online training offerings. This new initiative is now aimed at the upper end, focused on leadership development.

Coupled with its array of multi-industry conferences (HR, Finance, eCommerce, Marketing) along with its renown national and network meetings, AD is able to address many members’ training needs in a unique, multi-industry, best practices sharing environment.

AD Launches Center for Independent Distributor Leadership

According to an article recently in Supply House Times, AD has launched its Center for Independent Distributor Leadership.

The article, a press release from AD, states:

“Affiliated Distributors (AD) announced the launch of the Center for Independent Distributor Leadership (CIDL), a development program designed to prepare the current and future leaders of independent distribution with the competencies and experiences to build long-term, sustainable success for their companies.

“We listened to our owner/member community and found that many can benefit from organized training programs to prepare the next generation to lead,” said Marty McLaughlin, Chief Marketing Officer for AD and co-founder of the CIDL. “The CIDL will give AD members structured education pathways in leadership, sales and operations for up-and-coming leaders to gain core competencies for their future.”

The CIDL will complement and build on existing education offerings from trade associations. The new education initiative features three leadership certification pathways: Leadership Experience, Distributor Sales Leader and Distributor Operations Leader.

Leadership Experience is a four-year certification program designed for rising and next generation managers who will lead AD member companies into the future. The certification brings together cohorts of 25 to 30 leaders to build upon the success of independent distributors and ensure the sustainability of the independent business model.

The Distributor Sales Leader program provides sales professionals with a long-term development track including courses and interactive workshops to learn sales strategies ready for immediate field application. The certification program elevates sales teams to better sustain top-line revenue and increase sales growth in highly competitive markets.

The Distributor Operations Leader program helps operations leaders learn and implement best practices that optimize profitability and performance of independent distributors. The certification program provides leaders with the roadmap, tools and network to drive sustainability and growth among their companies.

AD created each program’s curriculum in collaboration with instructors from top universities like Texas A&M University, leadership coaches and independent distribution thought leaders. This group of industry experts will teach courses within the three CIDL certification pathways.

“We have amassed the preeminent experts in distribution to help independent distributors work on their business and further develop the talent that leads their growth.” said Brandon Hagen, Vice President of AD Member Education and co-founder of the CIDL. “These are great opportunities for companies to invest in their people and take active steps to shape their next chapter.”

In addition, the CIDL offers the Distribution Manager Development Program in conjunction with Texas A&M University’s Industrial Distribution Program. This offering delivers an introduction into the financial, operational and sales disciplines for emerging managers.

“AD stands with independents; and the future of independents, within each of our industries, will depend in great measure on how well we support and develop the great people who lead and work within them,” said AD Chairman and CEO Bill Weisberg.

Courses in the Distributor Operations Leader program and Distribution Manager Development Program are now open for registration. Additional program dates will become available on a rolling basis this year. AD owner/members can learn more about the programs at”


  • By doing this with Texas A&M it presumably mitigates any revenue loss for A&M’s ID program, which is frequently over-subscribed. There could be an impact on the UID training program in the future.
  • The program appears comprehensive, robust and is targeted at middle / senior management. And, quite frankly, it may be needed as the membership may have felt that their associations were not meeting their needs … for the desired target audience … or the members wanted more focused training in an environment where they can network with others from other industries (and their industry.)
  • An interesting element is, given that AD members are in nine or ten different vertical markets (depends on if you count bearings and power transmission as one or two), is the ability to bring independent distributors from multiple industries together for training which will also create networking opportunities, cross-industry benchmarking and best practices and perhaps the opportunity for acquisitions across vertical markets (hence diversification.) This could be a significant benefit for independent distributors on multiple levels.
  • From an association viewpoint, what becomes the value proposition of an association if significant segments of its membership seek services that the association theoretically espouses as its desired focus (i.e., networking, benchmarking, training, perhaps standards, ???)
  • From at least a naming (marketing) perspective, there may be a double entendre here with the name. Is AD the center for independent distribution? Given that there are more distributors outside the AD realm, the answer is no, but … the naming, and affiliation, infers yes.

Is this an indication that associations need to rethink their platforms going forward? (and yes, this may change by industry). Or, perhaps, associations do need competition to up their game? There are only two reasons for this initiative … an unmet membership need or an additional revenue stream.

Which, begs the question, what do association members feel they are not receiving?

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