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Got a Story Idea? . Events
Association Bisnow
   
February 28, 2008
 
       
 

ROUNDTABLE OF
CEO STARS
Part 2


 

We’re returning for the second half of our roundtable at McCormick & Schmick’s with three of the association world’s biggest CEOs:

  • Red Cavaney of the American Petroleum Institute;
  • David Israelite of the National Music Publishers Association; and
  • Jonathan Kempner of the Mortgage Bankers Association

A trio of association experts—and fine Bisnow sponsors—also joined in the fun:  Russell Reynolds’ Denise Grant, Arent Fox’s Deanne Ottaviano, and Staubach’s Ellen Herman.

 

Red (at right) has earned the ASAE Key Award (’06), the Bryce Harlow Foundation’s Business-Government Relations Award (’05), and Association TRENDS Executive of the Year (’97).  Can you tell from the wall décor this is a seafood restaurant?

 
Bisnow:

Are associations asked to do more for less these days?

   
Red:

That pressure is always there.  Over the last 10 or 15 years, it’s gotten very hard for an association to go it alone.  Almost everything is done by coalitions or alliances now, to get enough voice to impact Congress.  We’re part of the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, which has 1,300 groups pushing for a workable national energy strategy. 

   
Bisnow:

Are there other pressures on your resources?

   
Red:

The competition has become fierce for good people. We all live in a fishbowl in DC, where a majority of advocacy-based associations are located. We see one another’s players all the time. When we get a vacancy, we bring in the really good people. They are available, but at an increasing cost.

   
Bisnow: You’re saying there’s a war for talent?
   
Red:

There’s certainly very heavy competition.

 
 
Jonathan:

You’ve got to remember, associations don’t offer mortgages, or energy, or songs.  All we have is our intellectual capital, and the ability to find it in those A players is just very difficult.  There aren’t that many people in the top echelons—it’s like musical chairs.  When Denise helped me with a search, I told her in our first meeting that it was my biggest priority.  No one is hired at our association unless I’ve personally interviewed them.

   
Bisnow:

No one, really?

   
Jonathan:

Nobody, whether it’s the receptionist or senior vice president.  And we have a fairly large staff, 170. 

   
Bisnow:

What have you learned from all those interviews?

   
Jonathan:

We hire 51% on personality and 49% on competence.  The competence has to be there, but it’s not enough.  You need the work ethic, the dedication, and the integrity, which is critical in advocacy. 

   
Bisnow:

Do you have a key question that you ask?

   
Jonathan: The main thing is to get them talking.  Let them do most of the talking.  You can sense, if they have it, a confidence—and after a few minutes you get a sense of whether they’ll fit or be heavy maintenance in the long run. 
   
Bisnow: Has finding talent been a challenge for you, David? 
   
David: We largely remade our association in the last few years, so I brought over several folks I knew from Justice.  When you come across someone good, you want them with you.  You see it in sports when a coach takes over and brings his assistants.  One advantage for us is that many people want to be involved with music.  For someone like me, who’s a bad musician, it’s very satisfying to represent a part of the industry. 
 

At the NMPA, David represents familiar names like Universal, Warner, and EMI, as well as some 800 independent music publishers.  More importantly, he scores tickets to the Grammys.

 
Bisnow:

What was the objective when you remade the NMPA?   

   
David:

Part of the mission was to make the association effective in the industry’s new digital age.  When I was hired, we were located in Tin Pan Alley, the music publishing section of New York.  We have 120 employees, most still there.  But one of the biggest changes was relocating our headquarters to Washington.  I did that on my first day. 

   
Bisnow:

Is the way you make money from conventions changing?

   
Red:

We don’t have one.  We released it years ago.  There’s money to be made off conventions, but it wasn’t part of the integral advocacy service we provide our members, so we made it available to others. 

   
Jonathan:

Our convention is still an important source of revenue for us, maybe half.

   
Red: The conventions are going through their own huge challenges right now, with changes in how people get information.  The ones that provide a lot of companion education and required professional content tend to do well.
   
Bisnow: You’re okay leaving that money on the table?
   
Red: Yes.  We also operate without any reserves.  It makes all your staff believers.  They treat the budget like their own money, you get better results.  I haven’t heard of another association that operates this way.
   
Jonathan:

I’m glad I have my reserve at the moment.  We collected acorns over the last few years, knowing at some point times would be bad.  So we’ve been calling on the reserve.

 
 
Staubach
 
Arent Fox
 
Cardinal Bank
 
ITCDC
 
Intelligent Office
 
Washingtonian
 
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