CEO to CEO: Role Models and Leasing v. Buying

Most important lesson learned from a role model, and deciding to lease or own office space.

What's the most important lesson you've learned from your role model?

We've all heard the phrase "If you don't open your mouth, you can’t put your foot in it." Today's version: "Have you ever seen a message 'recall' that worked?" Overwhelmed by electronic communications, it's almost a matter of survival to respond immediately. But that's when mistakes are made, especially in this day of short-and-quick mobile communication. Taking time to let the issue simmer has saved my pot from boiling over many times. Draft your response and give it a rethink and a probable rewrite the next day. The delay on the front end may prevent more than a scorched pot.

—Tanya Howe Johnson, CAE, president and CEO, Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, Indianapolis. Email: [email protected]

Early in my career a wise mentor assured me that "it—the subject of the moment—will reveal itself." At the time I didn't understand what he meant, but over the years I have learned to act rather than to react. Almost any issue can be more fully resolved if one waits to learn the facts that lead to informed decision making.

—Patricia Aiken O’Neill, president and CEO, Eye Bank Association of America, Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

I actually have two role models: my parents. They taught me the value of transparency. My father, in particular, as a public relations executive, was charged with "managing the message." Yet I watched him time and time again communicate the honest message when the easy way out would have been to stonewall and tell half-truths. The truth may be painful at the outset, but the long-term benefit of upfront and honest communications far outweighs the work of shielding others from the truth.

—Lawrence J. Lynch, CAE, president, Environmental Association Management Partners, Orlando, Florida. Email: [email protected]

One of my mentors taught me the importance of being a good listener. It is the one skill that serves me well when I pull myself out of the situation at hand and listen to what people are really saying.

—Gregg Balko, CAE, executive director, Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering, Covina, California. Email: [email protected]

The most important lesson I have learned from my role model is how to work with disgruntled members. Members may not understand the whole scope of the decision-making process, but by gathering their input, listening to concerns, and allowing them to be part of that process, members may become greater supporters of an association. Members appreciate direct contact with staff and volunteer leaders. By building good rapport with members, an association will likely be on its way to having more advocates.

—Christine Maley-Grubl, CAE, executive director, Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, San Bruno, California. Email: [email protected]

How did your association make the decision to lease or own its office space?

I was faced with making this decision when our satellite office needed to be torn down due to mold and structural issues. Our options were to either rebuild or rent. Of course, there was much discussion on the motion to build. We needed to let our members know we had faith in real estate. I truly felt it was not the right thing to do, though. Our membership was beginning to change. We decided to sell the land and put the money in reserve. The extra money has allowed us to complete a successful merger with a neighboring Realtor association. We will be relocating to a rented office that will better suit our members.

—Peggy Kayser, CAE, CEO, Realtor Association of NorthWest Chicagoland, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Email: [email protected]

Free rent is not always free. Our landlord, the local community college, was becoming unreasonable, to the detriment of our work and our mission. In 2009, FSAE decided to move on. Our board approved the purchase of an office duplex and furnishings. It's been tough taking on a mortgage payment and the associated expenses of owning a building, but being able to focus on our members and our work has paid off exponentially. This is a long-term investment that sends the correct message to our members that FSAE is healthy and stable and will be there to serve them for another 50 years.

—Judy Gray, president and CEO, Florida Society of Association Executives, Tallahassee, Florida. Email: [email protected]

For the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, the decision to own space rather than lease it was not difficult. For many years we owned the building in which we operated, but the location of the building was no longer convenient for members, so selling and moving became the obvious choices. Relocating to a much more convenient place and having a building designed to fit current and future needs factored into our decision. It was also a statement of belief in the profession we serve and made good financial sense.

—Don Klein, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Nashville, Tennessee. Email: [email protected]

Owning was never considered in my 20-plus years on the job. When I began, gross annual revenues were just over $1 million, and owning was out of the question. We rented space suitable for our staff, and we have stayed in the same place for nearly 19 years, with a very good square-foot rental rate. We are primarily a lobbying organization, and a major government relations crisis is always around the corner; what extra money we have is being saved for that crisis, versus putting it into real estate.

—J. Michael Keeling, CAE, president, The ESOP Association, Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]