A Passion for Customer Service

May 15, 2017

Dan Mathews, National Automatic Merchandising Association’s Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, hadn’t planned on staying at NAMA for the long haul. He had already had enjoyed a storied career in the foodservice industry, but the siren call of opportunities and innovation kept things interesting at the association.

Eighteen years later, Mathews is embarking on a new journey – retirement. He plans to have fun -- golf, play with his grandchildren, and travel – and to continue educating young professionals, sharing the ideas and knowledge to position them for success in the years to come, something that drove him during his time at NAMA.

His dream job

"I love to work with young people," said Mathews, "high school seniors or college and university students who would benefit with personal leadership training to assist them in being more successful."

Mathews wants to give back in the way his own mentors did for him. Helping them achieve their hopes and dreams, address failures and successes. They have so much to look forward to," expressed Mathews with deep feeling about the young leaders. "It is fun to watch them grow."

Cultivating leaders, especially through education opportunities, has always been important to Mathews. When he was hired by NAMA's then CEO Richard Geerdes in 1999, one of his first projects was to assist NAMA to form an affiliation with a major university.

Mathews joined the search for the right school to form a strategic partnership. While there were several interested parties, it was Michigan State (his alma mater), and in particular Ronald Cichy Ph.D. and Michael Kasavana, Ph.D., who asked what NAMA wanted from the relationship and were ready to work together from the beginning. "That is how The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University got the endowed professorship, and it has paid off huge dividends," said Mathews, who calls Kasavana a "machine gun of ideas."

Mathews also considers the NCE program one of his accomplishments while with NAMA. The NCE or NAMA Certified Executive, is a designation earned through experience, education, demonstrated leadership and finally an exam. The designation identifies those who demonstrate outstanding professionalism and raise the standards of the entire industry.

NAMA's evolution

In the early 2000s, Mathews saw NAMA double its finances, form strategic initiatives and hold the first capital campaign. It was the beginning of a positive change for the organization and Mathews decided that while he had planned to stay only five years, he wanted to remain a part of the organization. "This industry has a tremendous volunteer group," said Mathews. "There is a strong board of directors and an active executive committee. The staff is so very caring, supportive and helpful."

Mathews was inspired to see the industry come together to address issues that threatened the future of vending. For example, in a time when vending machines were being cited as selling only junk food, the association created the Balanced for Life program to address nutrition in snacking. Mathews led the development of the nutrition program, working with industry members and nationally-recognized experts to find a solution. Balanced for Life would eventually form the current FitPick program used by operators nationwide to offer “better-for-you” options to consumers.

Another large step forward came when NAMA went in search of a new CEO. Mathews considers the start of Carla Balakgie's term as NAMA's president and CEO another defining moment for the organization. "She brought a new level of professionalism to the association," he said. NAMA became more global with international companies interested in the U.S. industry. There was a greater mix of professionals with women stepping into important roles. The Women in the Industry (WIN) group was founded along with the Emerging Leaders Network (ELN). "The young people in our industry are so smart," said Mathews. "I'm so impressed with them." That is why he's ready to hand over his role in the organization he loves. "There are so many dedicated young people in this organization looking for an opportunity. It's time for me to step aside and give it to them."

Enjoying the journey

As he steps away from NAMA, he’s focused solidly on the future. "I’m not one to look back – I’m looking ahead. I believe I have a lot to offer, and whomever would like to be on the receiving end, I'd like to help them," he added, ready to continue to serve.

He’s counting on the expansion of so many evolving segments of the industry to continue to drive growth. “Office coffee service, pantry service and micro kitchens will continue to deliver benefits for consumers and the industry overall,” he added, not skipping a beat.

About the Author

Emily Refermat | Editor

Emily has been living and breathing the vending industry since 2006 and became Editor in 2012. Usually Emily tries the new salted snack in the vending machine, unless she’s on deadline – then it’s a Snickers.

Feel free to reach Emily via email here or follow her on Twitter @VMW_Refermat.


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National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA)

May 7, 2009
Executive Staff Carla Balakgie, FASAE, CAE, President & CEO Dan Mathews, NCE5, CCS, Executive Vice President & COO Bill Meierling, Senior Vice President, External Affairs...