With the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) conducting its annual Executive Development Program on the MSU campus last week, The School of Hospitality Business took the opportunity to invite the NAMA President and CEO Carla Balakgie to speak in HB 451 – Your Emerging Leadership Journey on Wednesday, October 21. The course is taught by Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77). Carla was joined by NAMA Education and Events Coordinator Erika Charleston.

Based in Chicago, NAMA has a long partnership with The School, having established the NAMA Endowed Professor in 1999. NAMA Senior Vice President and COO Dan Mathews (BA ’66) is a School alumnus and member of The School’s Alumni Association Hall of Fame Class of Contributors. NAMA is the national trade association representing the $42 billion vending; coffee, tea, and water service; and micro market industries. With more than 1,300 member companies, NAMA provides advocacy, education, and research to its membership.

Carla has led NAMA since December 2011. Prior to joining NAMA, she served as CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) for nine years, and previous to that position, Carla was senior vice president and COO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), where she held management and executive positions during her 15-year tenure. Carla began her career in association management at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) following several years in commercial publishing.

Carla is a certified association executive (CAE) and a Fellow of the American Society of Association Executives (FASAE). She is the first woman to lead NAMA in its 79-year history.

Carla talked to the students about her journey from the family farm in Western Pennsylvania, where her 86-year-old mother still lives, to leadership in NAMA.

“It was a mission-focused way of life,” Carla said. “We all worked, we all contributed to the farm. We were a solid, loyal unit.”

Carla graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania – an English major deeply influenced by her mother who read voraciously and her father who farmed and worked in a factory. “I learned that reading was a gift,” she said.

Carla worked full-time through college at a printing company, broadening her education to communication. She says it took “cliff jumper courage” when she began her career with ASAE, where she says all the jobs were her responsibility. She volunteered for more work, internally and externally; she worked on continuous quality improvement, in knowledge and organizational activities; she gave her best effort “every time,” just like her mother taught her; and she stayed true to the mission of ASAE.

In fact, Carla explained, it was her mother who was her inspiration, providing support and encouragement, as well as the values Carla lives by: fairness, loyalty, giving and receiving value, relentless excellence, endless curiosity, authenticity, a focus on the mission, putting people first, and balancing passion and pursuits. Learning is another of Carla’s core values.

Carla went on to advise the students in a number of areas. “Beginning your careers, know yourself and get along with others,” she offered. “Be sure you establish a mentor relationship,” getting energy from others. “Balance in life is very important,” she said, urging the students to pay attention to their family members.

Noting a fundamental shift in how people work today, Carla encouraged students to learn how to live and work effectively. She reminded students that they are as qualified as anyone else: “Skills and knowledge will get you to the table.” But their “fit” with their company and their attitude will add value, improve business, and allow them to display independent thinking and problem solving. “Think and Act Like the Owner,” she said, repeating a School mantra.

Erika, an English and Italian major from Georgetown University, traveled around Italy after graduating in 2012, and then joined NAMA. She is responsible for planning and executing continuing education programs and events for members of the vending industry. She addressed the students, noting that while she had little knowledge of vending machine operations prior to joining NAMA, she has always been very enthusiastic about snacking!

She urged students starting their careers to “show up, be engaged, and be self-directed.” She said, “Be a curious leader. Encourage others to help you understand what they do, and why. Don’t assume you always know what’s going on. Listen.”

The students were impressed and inspired by Carla and Erika’s work and messages. Many students in HB 451 are members of the award-winning student chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). They invited Erika to attend the chapter’s meeting later that evening, where she continued to share her advice and stories.

“Today’s learning experience is a wonderful example of what happens when you bring industry to the classroom,” says Dr. Cichy. “Not only were our students exposed to a segment of the industry that many of them have not considered, they were also introduced to a dynamic leader and an inspiring young colleague. Carla and Erika coached our emerging leaders and are our partners in preparing the future – our students.”