Editor's Note: This is an extended version of an article that ran in the November/December Automatic Merchandiser.
Carla Balakgie assumed the role of president and CEO of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) this month, succeeding Richard Geerdes. She joins NAMA after serving eight-plus years as CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA), which serves the electronic payments industry. Automatic Merchandiser recently interviewed Balakgie about her hopes and plans for NAMA. Following are excerpts.
What about this association and this industry motivated you to accept this executive position?
When I first began learning about the NAMA opportunity, what struck me most were the similarities between it and the trade group I then served, The Electronic Transactions Association (ETA). There are many parallels within their constituencies; both groups represent supply chain industries that include product suppliers, delivery, and sales distribution functions. In some cases members of ETA also are members of NAMA. Over the course of the interview process, which included the good fortune of being able to attend a portion of the 2011 OneShow, I discovered that both associations share like cultures, and more important, the nature of the individuals in the community is similar too. I felt a strong connection with NAMA from the outset.
It’s also interesting to note that both industries are primarily based on ‘away from home’ experiences, and that one of the keys to making each of them successful lies in ensuring the ease of the transaction. In my role at ETA, we’ve been focused for years on driving the growth of electronic payments in every retail sector. Part of the opportunity I saw with NAMA is the enormous potential that electronic payments and emerging technologies offer for expanding the unattended retailing channel. The convergence of new devices with consumer demands, particularly from a generation that is embracing and in some cases defining them, is enormous and exciting. Yes it can be a challenge; all growth requires investment and risk. But I’ve seen first-hand the power and value of the electronic payment system not just as many people understand it today, but also what lies beyond cash and credit/debit with regard to new transaction opportunities. The tools that are emerging to anticipate, track, incent and compel commerce are powerful and game changing. If NAMA members can learn how to harness these assets—loyalty programs, couponing, virtual wallets, and mobile devices to name but a few—they will be well positioned to profit from the changes that lie ahead. Ultimately that is my job as the new leader of NAMA—to help members anticipate and execute on business opportunities that are of value today, and tomorrow, so they can grow their businesses.
On the personal side, the position with NAMA gives me the opportunity to diversify my skills as a professional which is especially exciting to me. I love the challenge of working with an older, more mature trade association where some elements are at a different business life stage, and having the chance to bring to bear my 27 years of association background to help push NAMA toward its next level of achievement. And of course I wouldn’t have taken the position if I didn’t think I could be effective and deliver increased value to both the membership and the industry as a whole.
What about your past experience best prepares you for this role?