WSL Future of Health Event

‘Soft Skills’ play a vital role in business

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Sports fans know that great athletes are distinguished by intangibles as much as their physical prowess. The phenomenon was neatly encapsulated by hockey star Wayne Gretzky when he said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

The ability to respond to a situation while it’s unfolding, accurately anticipate future developments and help raise the level of teammates’ performance is as important in the business world as it is in sports. The Academy of Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s University aimed to foster the emergence of intangible skills at its recent Future Food Industry Leaders Training Conference. The event brought together up-and-coming executives from more than 80 retail, wholesale and CPG companies — including Stop & Shop, BJ’s, Dollar Tree, UNFI, General Mills and Kenvue — to explore aspects of their working lives that are often taken for granted.

Over the course of four days, the group of rising stars heard from experts about a range of what Joe Bivona, executive director of the Academy of Food Marketing and Food Marketing Educational Foundation, calls soft skills. Among the speakers were Dana Born, a retired Air Force brigadier general now on the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, who offered insights on leadership (remarks complemented by a later presentation by Michelle Curran, a fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan); SJU professor Ron Dufresne, who examined the importance of developing team psychological safety; and futurist Jack Ulrich, who talked about how businesses can successfully navigate during transformational times.

While traditionalists might quibble with the orientation of the conference — which was put together by Bivona and Alison Nolan, the academy’s director of events and sponsorships — participants were enthusiastic about what they heard. They indicated that many of the subjects addressed aren’t normally covered in corporate training programs, adding that lessons learned are applicable to their personal as well as professional lives. In addition, relationships forged during the conference will serve participants well as their careers progress.

More future food industry leaders will benefit from the event than those present. Proceeds support the academy’s scholarship fund and SJU’s innovative co-op and internship programs.


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