Note: This blog is the second of a two-part series about the site selection industry. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.
In the early 1990s, Fantus was acquired by Deloitte (now Deloitte’s Global Location Strategy group). By this time, site selection had evolved from a fledgling specialty to an established profession and site selection consultancies expanded across the country and the globe. Today in the U.S., there are pockets of site selection firms in Chicago and New York (Fantus’ historical locations) as well as in Greenville, South Carolina, Atlanta, Dallas and many others.
As for my dad, Bob Ady, he left Fantus once it was acquired and then co-founded and served as co-managing director of World Business Chicago. After a number of years there, he started his own single-shingle site selection consultancy, called Ady International. While Bob achieved much in his storied career, the business accomplishment of which he was the most proud was the foundation of the Site Selectors Guild, a very elegant and graceful way for his career to come full circle while creating something of lasting value to his peers in the site selection industry.
Formation of the Site Selectors Guild
According to my mother, Bob had had the idea for an organization by and for site selectors for decades, but it didn’t come together until 2009. That year, as in many previous years, Bob was asked to lead the Site Selector panel for IEDC’s annual meeting. As this group of 13 site selectors met prior to their on-stage event, Bob took the opportunity to float the idea for a site selectors group to them. The first organizational meeting about the Guild took place on October 24, 2009* – I know, because I took the minutes. The most important elements that Bob wanted to achieve with this group were to:
- Build camaraderie within the site selection industry, which was fragmented at that time with many different firms and few opportunities to network with one another;
- Promote awareness of the site selection industry;
- Provide educational resources for site selectors – whether established leaders or newcomers entering the field – so that the industry would continue to evolve and flourish.
The Site Selectors Guild ran its first conference in March 2012, and has been on a solid run since then with eight consecutive sold-out annual conferences and a membership base that has grown from the original 13 site selectors to over 50 members today. It also recently hired its first full-time president and CEO, signifying stability and longevity for the organization. The Guild is well on its way to achieving Bob’s original goals for the organization.
Looking to the Future
Here are my key take-aways.
- The worlds of economic development and site selection are intertwined. Felix Fantus, Maury Fulton and Bob Ady knew this, and the best site selectors today understand this. They know that a deal is not a good deal unless all the parties win, because once the deal is done, all parties concerned have to live with the results. The one quote that the Wall Street Journal used from our time together was this: “According to Mr. Ady’s daughter, Janet Ady, he used to say that ‘You’ll never know if you paid too much in incentives; you’ll only know if you didn’t pay enough.’” I memorized that quote during the countless training programs Bob held for economic developers in his attempt to help level the playing field between communities and companies.
- The work that we do in our communities and for our corporate clients is exceedingly important and carries both grave responsibility and cause for humility. Maury Fulton often cited the factors that inspired his awe: “The ever-present realization that a client would really rely on our recommendations and actually spend millions based on our opinions or even prejudices. The corollary realization that our report, if it involved relocation, could play havoc with a community’s economy and the people living there.”
- For decades, companies have been looking for an “easy button” that would make the site selection process simpler and faster. Many companies try to do their own short listing by researching communities online. But has the internet made site selection consultants obsolete? Some Guild members led vigorous debates on the topic during the last annual conference. Their conclusion: That day may someday arise, but it hasn’t yet. The judgement that site selectors gain through the process of researching many siting projects for clients is still vital to a successful decision.
When site selectors help companies find the right communities in which to thrive, they make the company more successful and contribute to the economic growth of the community. That is noble work, and the world is a better place with site selectors in it.
Janet Ady is the president of Ady Advantage, an economic development and site selection consultancy based in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the proud daughter of Bob Ady and can recount many stories of her own related to a lifetime growing up in the business, and the ten years they were able to work on projects together.