With Inauguration Day bunting still draped throughout the Capital Hilton and the bleacher seats for the inauguration parade still lining Pennsylvania Avenue, the atmosphere at the 2005 Executive Summit of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) was even more politically charged than usual.

Held Jan. 24-26 in Washington, D.C., the annual NAW meeting offered distributors from many different lines of trade an update on the political agenda of the Bush administration from an all-star lineup of politicians that included Karl Rove, senior advisor to the president, and several U.S. legislators.

The meeting also gave attendees a glimpse of a major new research project to be published by Deloitte, the global consulting firm that inked a strategic partnership with NAW last year and will be providing NAW members with new tools to improve productivity.

The annual meetings of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) always offer attendees unique insight into the inner workings of Capitol Hill. Dirk Van Dongen, the association's leader, and his staff are well-known in the halls of Congress as some of the most effective business lobbyists inside the Beltway. In fact, Van Dongen is reportedly on speed dial at the White House.

That kind of access has helped NAW land Karl Rove as a speaker for the past two years.

Attendees who heard Karl Rove speak at last year's NAW meeting were still marveling at how his remarks in that speech — 10 months before election day — accurately predicted how the campaign would unfold. After directing the Bush re-election efforts, Rove is now focused on managing the administration's push to overhaul Social Security. At this year's meeting, he said that the plan would give taxpayers the option of directing a portion of their Social Security contributions to private retirement accounts invested in a mix of conservative stocks and bonds.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina also urged attendees to support the Bush agenda, particularly changes that will be proposed for health-care plans.

Burr isn't a stranger to the field of distribution or to NAW. A frequent speaker at NAW meetings, Burr worked for Carswell Distributing Co., a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based distributor, before representing North Carolina for several terms in the House of Representatives, and moving to the Senate last year.

In his presentation, Tony Snow, Fox News political commentator, said he expects President Bush to move fast to take advantage of the republican majority in both houses of Congress so he can mark his tenure in the White House with new Social Security and health-care legislation, and not be judged solely on the outcome of the Iraq war.

Along with the political insiders who spoke at the meeting, this year's program also unveiled the “Distribution Value Map” that Deloitte will publish for NAW members. This planning tool is intended to help distributors develop and refine the processes within their companies that offer the most value to customers, vendors and employees. Deloitte's Neil Gholson, global segment leader, led the discussion on the Distribution Value Map. Beatty D'Alessandro, chief information officer, Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis; and Ed Kamins, chief information officer, Avnet Phoenix, helped develop the planning tool and also participated in the discussion.

Michael Raynor, a director with Deloitte and author of “The Innovator's Solution,” looks at the concept of developing unique value offerings from an unusual perspective. In his presentation, he urged NAW members to employ “disruptive innovations” to establish footholds in new markets. His concept is to build a niche in a market, product or customer segment that competitors either don't want or overlook, and then “march upmarket” into the mainstream market areas. Raynor said Wal-Mart did this by building its foundation in rural areas before moving into major metropolitan areas, and that Southwest has employed a similar strategy in the airline industry.

In other news at the meeting, Senator-elect John Thune, (R-S.D.) received NAW's Distinguished Leadership Award.

Thune said tops on the Senate legislative agenda would be asbestos reform, malpractice insurance reform and health-care legislation.