AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines' Convention Remarks

Craig Huffhines, AQHA executive vice president, outlined the five pillars that the AQHA Executive Committee and staff are working on.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines (Journal photo)

Well good morning again. When the coach (D. Wayne Lukas) is up here, you have to take good notes. I took one. I circled it and he said, “We must constantly be looking for excellence.”

We’re a business whether you’re in the competition business or you’re providing customer service. We’re striving for excellence. We’re going to talk about some of those things. I see some of our corporate partners down here in the front row. I know your companies embrace that same excellence and that same challenge … to provide the best products and services to our membership. I want to thank you all for that partnership and we’re going to bring you up here a little bit later. We’re going to talk about excellence today and what we’re striving to do as an organization.

Taking the romance of the 19th century industry into the 21st century business culture. That’s what we’re attempting to do. That 19th century romance is what attracts us to this business. What a pleasure and privilege it is to be a part of that history and heritage.

As an organization, we’ve got to migrate and we’re working to migrate very quickly. I want to say the folks that I’ve had the privilege to work with through the executive committee members have embraced this and they’re full-charged. They’re holding us accountable and they’re pushing us forward as a team. I’ve enjoyed seeing our staff engaged with the executive committee and moving this big rudder forward. Thank you executive committee for your support and for challenging us to be a better organization.

We talked this morning that there are 23 countries represented here this morning. Trent just mentioned that we’re 2.7 percent membership, a little over 253,000 members. I want to challenge you to see that it’s actually more than that. We have a churn. We have about at 30 percent churn annually and members going out of the system and maybe coming back the next year or three years later. Truly if you wanted to look at the scope of this membership, it’s closer to 350,000 members because of that churn.

Actually it’s really a community even larger than that. If you were to look at how many people touch us on a daily basis, there’s nearly 1 million folks who liked our Facebook page. Those are folks who are just interested in what our industry is all about. We also know what there are some 800,000 folks that actually own today a Quarter Horse.

Our community is much greater and much larger so our responsibility to serve this greater, larger industry goes even beyond the 253,000 members. Half a million folks receive some information from us on a weekly or monthly basis. They’ve either signed up for a newsletter or requested some sort of information, but they are directly connected to us on a daily basis. These are the folks that I think our corporate partners are really interested in.

This year, we’ve been looking at ways where we can engage these folks both internally as members and externally to try to grow the organization and have them be a part. The Parthenon was built 2,500 years ago by the Greeks on the Acropolis in Athens way up so they could scout and understand where their enemies were. It was also a place of worship. Their goddess, Athena, was the goddess of wisdom, strategic defense and the crafts.

Our craft is obviously the horse and servicing our industry. We’re trying to be strategic about it and get all the wisdom we can get from the people in our membership. Look at those pillars (Powerpoint slide). Pillars are used as an acronym for business and we try to create our own pillars, which is going from our foundation up, which really defines values. I’m going to talk to you about five values we’ve identify this past year.

Welfare: You heard our president talk a whole lot about what we’re trying to do to protect our horse, No. 1.

No. 2 is customer satisfaction. What are we doing to try to get your work turned around quickly and be friendly, and create services that make you feel like you’re a part of this community and you’re happy with the way we’re serving you.

No. 3, communication. Are we getting information to you timely? Can you find it timely? Are you satisfied with the way we’re speaking to you and speaking for your needs.

No. 4 is culture. Are we inclusive? Are we including people that maybe aren’t members but we’re trying to invite them into our organization or are we closing off our doors? Are we going to open this culture up and expand it?

And finally, No. 5, education. We’re all hungry for education because there’s a lot to know about this industry. There’s a lot to know about the products that support this industry. There are a lot of rules with regard to the protection of our horse and the different programs we provide. Those are the five pillars of excellence that we feel are important.

As you look, there are business focuses there down the right that we’re really honing in on to support those pillars:

  • Technology
  • Business development
  • Foundation growth
  • Youth development
  • Operational efficiency

These are innovations and member-engaging. Big words, but from a business standpoint, it’s really how are we going to get this ship rudder turned and really up on another plain. That’s what we’ve been working on this past year. These folks that I introduced to you last year: Trent (Taylor) and Chad (Pierce) and Lauren (Walsh) and Robin (Brooks). We added Kim (Lindsey) last year in ranching. We’ve got Pete (Kyle) and what a super guy he is and a professional horseman and professional person. Carl (Mullins) in publications.

We’ve added more folks this year. Janet (VanBebber in racing), Patti (Carter in shows), Jacy and Katie (Hammer and Reynolds in youth), and Anna (Morrison in international) all bring a whole wealth of energy to our program. Catherine Meck and Meghan Kellett are who we’ve brought in to help our foundation development, raising money and organizing the foundation.

We’re really proud of the team that we’ve brought in to give the energy and the support to a lot of these new programs.

Old Henry Ford said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d say, ‘I want a faster horse.’ ” We want both – a faster horse and a faster car – but to get the faster car, we’ve got to do some planning. That’s what we’ve been doing this year is strategically planning. I’m going to take you through some of the highlights and give you an overview of what Trent (Taylor, treasurer and COO) told you, which is what to expect out of this big computer system and how far we want it to take us.

Customer satisfaction – one of our main pillars – to modernize the Equis or 4.0 system. You all have heard of this for many years, and it has been a challenge. It’s big. We have a go-live strategy that we hope to launch in September. We’re in the fourth quarter. As of the fourth quarter, there have been 13 massive iterations over the past three quarters, and they are probably the most challenging. They have to do with awards systems and how we track awards and horses and members. They have to do with leveling and our members’ side. There’s a whole lot of work left to do.

We have a team in Amarillo, 10-12 folks in our IT department. There’s a team in Vancouver, Canada, about 10-12 database developers using all their resources to take 75 years of data and make sense of it. Then there are 60-65 programmers in Bangalore, India. Think about that. Different time zones. Different cultures. We’ve got Texans talking to programmers in India every day in our office. That can be interesting.

I think Kim McKinney is doing a great job. She has been testing new projects. They’re testing this product as we go, and that challenge of communicating what we need to the folks in India. Y’all know why we’re there – because we can do it at half the cost in India. It’s getting done here, too, but programmers there are much less expensive.

I also want to talk to you about Web design. Many of you have read in the past couple of weeks that we do understand that our current website is not up to par. We understand that. So, we’ve hired a company called Base 22 and they’re currently gathering information and hosting focus groups with not only our Web users but many of you out in the audience. We’re also talking to our international partners and our corporate partners about the things that are important to a website to interact business to business and communicate to the membership. That’s going to be a big project.

We’re going to get some quick mends to update the new site as we’re building the new site over a year, year and a half. We’ve hired a data analytics company, Umbel, out of Austin, Texas, to really mine our membership data. If you’re a big social media person, you have a token on your account. They can track what you look at and what you like. If you like diamond rings and fancy things, we’re going to find out. If you like Ford pickup trucks or John Deere tractors or if you need one, we’re going to find out.

Using data analytics, we’re going to try to customize your experience with us on our website and put you together with one of our corporate partners when it’s time for you to make a purchase.

Those are the futuristic things that we’re trying to create that will enhance your membership experience.

Animal welfare has been a big one. And of course hair testing was a big issue and under Janet (VanBebber, chief racing officer) we’ve been able to implement the very first hair test as a condition for racing at a (Bank of America) Challenge Championship. We did this on a pretty short string in a really short time frame. We wanted a message sent to the industry. I want to thank our racing council and racing committee for endorsing this and making this move forward. When we did this, it created a buzz. And the buzz opened up doors to commissions, particularly our top five Quarter Horse racing commissions.

Janet is talking to them on a regular basis. We’ve had meetings with them in Austin and Arizona. We discussed what we think our industry should look like and a vet list that will sideline those horses that have tested positive. A vet list that will be shared state to state and allow us to get serious about the medication situation in our racehorse environment.

We’ve also restructured our welfare and governance under Chad Pierce (chief legal officer). I’m really happy to say the board and Chad worked arm in arm in expediting these cases that are hard decisions. We’re pushing those through as quickly as possible. The Animal Welfare Grievance Committee is kind of a jury that was developed this year to expedite the review process when these cases come in. An effort to rapidly protect the horse.

The PAC program through which we raised $250,000 last year. We hope to build on that and this year build that war chest so we can go after and influence and create relationships with many of our congressmen and senators as it relates to our special interests in the horse industry.

Communication. Obviously, we are launching or relaunching our affiliate workshop. We’re excited to have many of you come to Amarillo so we can talk shop and strategize on how we can help you at the regional level.

We’ve established the communication blogs for more transparency to let you know what’s going on back at the office and around the country.

Our social media program has been tremendous and that team last year won a significant award; we’re one of the top five associations in the country for social media plans. That includes all of our Facebook, Instagram … and the list goes on. We’re very proud of our social media program.

Business Development. Outside revenue is always good for an association to create the right value proposition. I was really happy when I came on board to see that there were subsidiaries that actually provided goods and services that were unrelated income. This was Awards Recognition Concepts and it is dynamite. At 23 percent growth this year, $2.3 million gross in sales with two major accounts, the Arabian Horse Association and United Kennel Club, have come on board. We’re not only servicing their trophies, but their apparel lines as well.

What’s that do? That pays for our trophies. We’ve got over $1 million of trophies that we distribute annually. I really appreciate the efforts and the opportunity ahead of us in building up this company.

Robin Glenn, bless her heart, she’s one of the hardest-working women I’ve ever met and as dedicated as anyone I’ve ever met at getting data right on the horses in competition. She just launched a wonderful product and those that are in sale management or if you’re hosting a sale this year for the ranch horse sale or whatever, she has created a dynamic sales catalog to go that reduces labor costs exponentially. I think this is going to serve the industry well. Robin, we are very proud of your innovations.

Customer satisfaction, as y’all know Jim Hunt has done an outstanding job of leading our ranch council. We’ve added people to that from the show side and the ranching heritage side. We revamped and repurposed the Best Remuda Program and tied it in with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. We are growing this Ranch Horse and Ranching Heritage Challenge Championship like no other. The entries are overloading Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for the championship that’s happening next weekend.

We’re having to look for other venues to host that championship. We interviewed many last year to try to decide what’s the best time of year to host that event and where should we host it. We’re excited about the growth we’re seeing in this ranching program.

We also saw, as Trent mentioned, the number of entries improved across the board in Level 1 and Level 2. We added that Central Level 1 Championships, and so this is the gateway entry of our novice folks of getting into our business, and those numbers are growing. What a great idea.

This year, we’re going to look at Level 1 and Level 2 and see if we can tune it up a little bit. It’s a little bit difficult to understand for some but we’re going to take a look at that. Needless to say, regardless of the complexity, it’s working and it adds value the program to get novice in. We did allow this year Level 2 Select World exhibitors to also show at the World Show. We thought that was a great idea. Many of you can’t show enough. We’d like to see you hold championships so we were proud to do that.

And of course with Anna (Morrison, chief international officer) coming on in a very short period of time, we’ve been working with our folks in Latin America, our friends in Canada and Europe about how we can make these services easier for you. Maybe down the road putting together a portal where registrations can be downloaded and printed in your backyard and you’re not relying on local mail service to lose that product as it goes back and forth. We’ve been working on innovation in that area.

Education recruitment. We’ve added some dynamite young people in Jacy and Katie to head up our Youth Development Team as mentioned before. I can’t say enough about this Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program. They gave away 56 young colts to teenagers this year to get them engaged. That program has a lot of legs to it. We feel like that will be a program we can grow in advance.

We added to the Foundation staff because we believe in an equal funding. We’re going to need a lot more funding to fund the youth initiative. As you can imagine, we’re going to be talking to some corporate partners about how we can partner in doing that, as well, in the coming months.

So, with that, I want to thank you. It has been a pleasure and a privilege. We like our pillars and we like our values and our business technology that’s trying to help underpin that. We’re very proud of the team we’ve assembled in Amarillo. Two weeks ago, it was 243 employees and we’ve added two this week with Justin (Billings, show management) and Karen (McCuistion, Team Wrangler and the AQHA Professional Horseman program).

Thank you very much.