Earlier this month, the Ardent Partners analyst team took the short flight out to Indianapolis to attend the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) 101st annual conference. For the second year in a row, we had the pleasure of meeting with ISM’s CEO, Tom Derry, to discuss all things ISM. The conversation covered the growth of the ISM Conference and the changing demographics of its attendees. It also covered progressive ISM programs, like the 30-under-30 Recognition program and the Richter Scholarship, plus new learning solutions, like eISM and the Mastery Model, that are all intended to help grow the organization, particularly among the millennial generation. We also gained some insight into the ISM Manufacturing Index, a global economic metric that resonates far and wide, but remains shrouded in mystery. We covered enough ground with Tom to span multiple articles. Today’s article is the first installment of a multi-part series.

Gradual Growth for the ISM Conference

As the Baby Boomers retire and leave the procurement and supply management industry, it becomes increasingly important for ISM to reach a broader and younger audience to sustain and grow conference attendance. Like last year’s conference, this year’s ISM event aimed to do exactly that. And it appears to be paying off. According to Tom, conference attendance has grown for ISM, with nearly 2,000 attendees at this year’s event and a 166% increase from the under-30 crowd. But he admits that he would like to see exponential growth in millennial attendance, rather than “geometric” growth. As a result, ISM is partnering with different media organizations to reach different age brackets and markets.

Tom also noted that attendance is up among groups of three or more, accounting for roughly a quarter of attendees. Although this cohort has taken advantage of more competitive pricing over recent years, he sees it is a “massive shift” (and an opportunity) for the organization. The more attendees that ISM brings into the fold, the more exposure they have to ISM’s services and community; and the more relationships they build, the more likely they are to return. (These relationships are also important for conference attendees, as job tenures have gotten shorter and procurement/supply management professionals continue to rely on their network to help secure their next opportunity).

Going Global

ISM currently has about 50,000 members, although 95% of them flow up through their regional ISM affiliate offices, while the rest are direct affiliates spread across the globe. ISM is trying to build upon its global membership and expand into new markets and geographies, but as Tom says, this push is driven more by the desire to better serve their existing members than for the sake of expanding. To this point, Tom emphasizes the need for ISM to attract and retain a more diverse audience and membership – one that is attuned to world issues and approaches them in unconventional ways.

This dovetails with another challenge for ISM, and that is to be more global than they currently are. It has limited resources, but the companies that ISM serves (and the people that work for them) have international footprints. As Tom says, these organizations want to work with a society like ISM that can reach their employees, critically in their native languages. Although ISM is able to provide many native languages for the Certified Professional in Supply Management (“CPSM”) certification, it does not currently have this capability in its e-learning programs, like eISM and the Mastery Model.

Final Thoughts

As one of just a few procurement and supply management professional organizations in the world, ISM is not resting on its laurels. It is looking forward and trying to grow by providing more value to an increasingly diverse audience. Growth was a common theme in our discussion with Tom – growth in conference attendees, particularly millennials, and global membership into new and emerging markets where its influence is already felt. In the next installment in our series, we will examine what the ISM is doing to attract more millennials to the organization, nurture them in their formative years, and support them throughout their career progression. Stay tuned!

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