CEO to CEO: Management and Core Values

CEOs discuss how they became association management professionals and their organizations' core values.

How did you get into the association profession?

I was going to college and looking for a part-time job. The lady down the street was the executive director of an association and looking for some part-time help. I learned to run addressograph and mimeograph machines, and I learned some new typing skills. I did have a strong work ethic, and she noticed this. After I graduated from college, I was offered a full-time job on staff. No two days were the same. I kept learning, and I liked the challenge it offered. I was forced to stretch myself, my skills, and my thinking. I have worked for three associations, each time in a different capacity.

—Carol L. Watkins, CAE, executive director, National Dental EDI Council, Phoenix. Email: [email protected]

I got into the association management profession in a strange way. I was 17 years old, working in New York's fashion industry (I wanted to be a women's fashion designer, learning the ropes at first working for Oscar de la Renta), and I was held up at knifepoint one evening while carrying some expensive dresses. Following the incident I assessed my future well being in that line of work and came to the conclusion that a better neighborhood might be a healthier alternative. I accepted a job uptown here at MPIF as an impressionable young "office boy" (in other words, someone who did what others didn't want to do). Now, 43 years later, I'm still here, only this time I'm the "office man." It's a nice career, even without the runway.

—C. James Trombino, CAE, executive director/CEO, Metal Powder Industries Federation, Princeton, New Jersey. Email: [email protected]

My entrée into the association management world was by chance. With a degree in journalism and a master's degree in healthcare administration, I worked at a healthcare consulting firm for eight years. As one of the firm's project managers, I worked with medical professionals to facilitate the development of research reports to Congress, consensus-development meetings, and public hearings to obtain input from the field. I developed considerable expertise in the kidney arena, which led to my employment as executive director of the Renal Physicians Association in 1995. Association executives come to the profession with either content knowledge or association management experience. My content knowledge combined with my experience as a project manager for large government contracts enabled me to land the executive director job. 

—Dale Singer, executive director, Renal Physicians Association, Rockville, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

My introduction to associations was a mix of plan and happenstance. I worked full-time as a law enforcement officer while working full time on my undergraduate degree at Rutgers. I was approaching graduation and took the Myers-Briggs assessment. It identified three career paths: teaching, sales, and association management. I saw teaching in New Jersey at the time as law enforcement without a gun, and my exposure to sales didn't excite me (perhaps it was my father-in-law's car dealership), so I became curious about this thing called association management. I researched the field, purchased the book What Color Is Your Parachute? and a few months later landed my first job as administrative assistant at what is now the North American Packaging Association.

—Lawrence J. Lynch, CAE, president, National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, Orlando, Florida. Email: [email protected]

What are some of the core values of your association?

The best way to address this question is to state that I do not treat this association as a fraternity. When I took the reins of this sled I was criticized for all of the changes that I made within the association. Our new association is being run like a business, and like any other business, our core values were implemented: the members came first, and the association followed. Sometimes I had to implement a program that afforded no income for the association but the members received a substantial price break, which became a member benefit program and attracted more members as well as maintained renewals. The new core values that have been created are equality for all, free education, and the fact that all members now know and understand our new mantra—individually we struggle to be heard; collectively we cannot be ignored.

—James R. Mitchell, executive director, Ohio Independent Auto Dealers Association, Brice, Ohio. Email: [email protected]

Here are our core values:

  • Innovation and excellence. We have to establish a culture of innovation to stay ahead of our members' needs. We also set the expectation of excellence in everything that we do.
  • Integrity. What are we really without it?
  • Work hard/play hard. We work a lot of extra hours, but we try to make it a very enjoyable experience for volunteers and staff. This core value has served us well over the years.

—Jonathan Vaughn, executive director, Quest International Users Group, Lexington, Kentucky. Email: [email protected]

Our association values honesty, professionalism, music education for all children, excellence in music education, and lifelong music education. Life without music just wouldn't be the same, and our members have a passion for music, not just for the music itself but for sharing that passion for music with others. And all that we do must be done with professionalism and honesty. Music teachers are role models for students, and they must uphold the highest standards of teaching.

—Margaret S. Bauer, CAE, executive director, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

All of our core values can be summarized in a single word: commitment. We are committed to our mental health and addiction-treatment provider members and to the consumers and their families that our members serve. We are relentless in our advocacy, training, and education efforts so that our members can continue to be in a position to provide the highest-quality behavioral health services possible.

—Debra Wentz, CEO, New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc., Mercerville, New Jersey. Email: [email protected]

The core values of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists are very simple: leadership, excellent service, accountability, diversity and inclusiveness, and transparency.

—Mary Riemersma, CAE, executive director, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, San Diego. Email: [email protected]

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