Q&A with AAMA – September 2016

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Gala & Meeting Time

AAMA Chief Honors John Schultz & Salutes New, Energized Leadership

Q: What will the highlights of the coming AAMA Meeting and Gala be?

Chris Felix

Chris Felix

A:  Clearly at the top will be honoring John Schultz with the Lifetime Achievement Award (but keep reading because there’s a lot happening on top of that). I’ve reflected a lot on John and his lifetime of work that we’re honoring. He’s spent 45 years in the industry in a variety of positions, and he’s played a huge role in the turnaround of the AAMA over the last seven years.

As an example, when John came aboard, we struggled to find people to fill board seats. This year we have nine nominations for seven open positions. That’s a good problem to have! A lot of the people throwing their names into the hat today are younger or newer to the industry. We’re also starting to branch out: When I came on, it was mostly distributors and manufacturers and now we’re starting to see people from the FEC community. A lot of that is due to the changes John brought about.

Another plus is that the senior members of the board are encouraging younger people to get involved, and that’s a great thing. It bodes well for AAMA to have a practice of mentoring and bringing fresh people in as we build a succession path in leadership. Back when I joined, AAMA was largely seen as an “old boys club.” That has changed dramatically!

Every time I look at the board now –– the committees we have and how much energy there is –– I’m amazed at how far we’ve come and that’s largely because of John. On a personal level, he was an incredible mentor to me as I entered the association world. I had sales and business experience, but no knowledge of how trade associations work and function best.

Of course, when John was hired as executive VP, he didn’t have any association management experience either, but what AAMA needed at that time was a business leader. And John was certainly that. He was able to use his vast leadership experience to move the group away from a country club vibe, providing a strong structure when we really needed it.

The growth of the association is largely due to John, as well as strengthening the relationship we have with our sister organization, the AMOA. We’re in a much better place than we were. A big example of that is how we were able to work together to create the jointly owned Amusement Expo. That was huge. We go on lobbying trips to D.C., attend each other’s meetings and so on.

So for all that and more, we’ll be honoring him at the Gala dinner on Thursday, Sept. 15. Chairman of our charity, Fire­stone’s David Cohen, has been working on the details, plus we’ll present the Joe Robbins award at the dinner, though the recipient of that honor will be a surprise until that night.

The meeting is coming together nicely. We’ve filled all the sponsorship presentation slots (even after adding more this year), and we have Kevin Bachus of Dave & Buster’s as the keynote speaker. We have a full slate of meetings (a lot of people know about the Gala, but don’t know that the senior leadership is there working the entire week). Our steering meeting is on Monday, and then we have committee meetings and a networking event on Tuesday. Wedne­s­day we have the board of directors meeting for both the charity and the association, and a welcome dinner. The sponsor presentations start on Wednesday afternoon and go all day Thurs­day, leading up to the Gala’s dinner, awards and product preview. Finally, we wrap it all up on Friday with the morning press breakfast and the kids’ event from 10-2. By the way, the feedback from the Children’s Miracle Network and KEEN is that they’re bringing a much larger group this year.

I think the fact that the manufacturers stay another day and keep their equipment set up for the kids is a huge statement about how AAMA is trying to do more for the image of the industry, rather than focus on the participants in it. It really does speak to all the things we’ve done to change the image and functionality of the association. We’re trying to include events to help members learn how to run their businesses better, like educational programs, the government relations lunch and the keynote address, plus have this wonderful children’s event.

While we’re honoring John and all he’s accomplished, I think you’re going to see even more change and forward-thinking ideas under Pete Gustafson. Pete really is the excitement in our group. He’s come in like a bull in a china shop, asking a lot of questions about who we are as an association and where we’re going. Honestly, his excitement level is through the roof.

It’s fun and scary at the same time (laughing). He’s not part of the old generation that’s content with doing things a certain way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” He’s definitely questioning the way things are done and where we’re going, asking thought-provoking questions as to what we want the association to be like in the future. I think that’s what we need. He’s going to help us get to the next level and he’s doing it with an energy level that is phenomenal.  He’s bouncing off the walls about how things can be done better, and he’s meshing perfectly with Tina (Schwartz) and Ashley (Davis) in the office.

It’s funny, Pete and I had a conference call the other day and I told him, “Five years from now, people are either going to be talking about how I was president during the association’s most exciting time or the most horrific (laughter).

I was part of the group that hired Pete, we’ve created the buyers’ group, and we’ve reignited our Fair Play pledge, which I’m not sure anyone even talked about when we brought it out the first time. In general terms, it’s guidance from the association to manufacturers on how to build skill games vs. fixed percentage/fixed payout games. It’s something we started going a couple of years ago and it fell off the radar. We’ve restarted the conversation and our government relations team is looking into it because we feel it’s the right thing to do for the industry. I’d like to have it ready to roll out at the meeting, but we want to do it right, making sure we don’t put any onerous regulations or stipulations on anything.

And there’s more that I can’t really talk about now. So depending on how things play out, we may have a lot of really exciting stuff come out at the annual meeting! As I said, either it’s going to be the best or the most horrific, I just really don’t know yet! But truthfully, I think five years from now we’ll look back on these two years and see them as a huge change for the good.

[Editor’s note: To learn more about AAMA’s Annual Meeting and Gala, visit www.coin-op.org or call the office at 847-290-9088. The meeting and Gala runs Sept. 12-16 at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois.]


Chris Felix, National OEM Sales Manager for MEI Conlux/CPI (Crane Payment Innovations), worked for MEI prior to its acquisition by Crane. Felix, who was elected to his two-year term at the AAMA Annual Meeting and Gala in August, has been honored with the group’s President’s and Joe Robbins awards. A U.S. Navy veteran, he served as a Nuclear Reactor Operator aboard the USS Minneapolis St. Paul and the USS Greeneville submarines. When he’s not busy with work or association duties and travel, you might find Chris out training for a marathon.

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