Professional societies and trade groups may not agree on what makes an effective executive director.
For some membership groups, such as the American Medical Association, the top person must come from within the represented business. But generally, on the trade side, it is ``unusual for [an association] to go to a person from the industry,'' said Paul Belford, principal of executive recruiter JDG Associates Ltd. in Rockville, Md., who directs JDG's association search practice.
Of course, that's not always true. The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. - which is a trade group despite the ``society'' in its name - has chosen the likes of Bill Carteaux and Donald Duncan, both industry insiders.
But often a membership society, like IDSA, has more latitude in filling its top spot.
``Our freedom of choice of a designer to head our society results from our talented team of professional staff who are specialists in finance, conferences, awards, communications, development, operations, publications [and] education,'' said Cooper Woodring.
Woodring is wrapping up duties from his nine months as interim executive director of Dulles, Va.-based IDSA as designer Frank Tyneski, 39, steps into that post full time.
Another designer, Robert Schwartz, was IDSA's executive director from 1990-99. He returned to industry after his stint with the society. Longtime IDSA staff member Kristina Goodrich succeeded Schwartz. She left the group in late 2006.
At Washington-based SPI industry insiders have held the top staff position in recent years. Carteaux became SPI president and CEO in March 2005 after holding key executive roles with plastics processing equipment makers, including Demag. He succeeded Duncan, who became SPI president in early 2000 after his engineering and management tenure with materials supplier DuPont Co. and its now-dissolved DuPont Dow Elastomers LLC joint venture.
SPI selected Duncan from three finalists, including another from the resins industry. The third candidate had a background in trade associations.
Duncan's predecessor from 1988-99, Larry Thomas, had legal credentials and Washington-insider ties.
Of roughly 7,200 U.S. trade associations, possibly 200 are larger than SPI, Belford said.
One alternative to hiring a president or executive director is hiring a managerial firm.
More than membership societies, ``trade associations give more consideration to companies like ours,'' said Rick Church, president of CM Services Inc. ``We try to combine the best of both worlds: industry expertise as well as association management experience.''
CM Services represents 14 national and international trade groups, including the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association, Thermoset Resin Formulators Association, Vinyl Fence Deck and Railing Manufacturers Association, Composite Fence and Deck Association and, since April, the Association of Rotational Molders International.
Church said he has noticed recently that volunteer association leaders appear more likely to consider the option of hiring a firm such as CM vs. hiring an in-house staff.
ARM International hired CM Services in Glen Ellyn and vacated its own office in nearby Oak Brook ``to enhance [ARM's value] for members,'' said ARM President Corey Claussen, who is also vice president of Custom Roto-Mold Inc. of Benson, Minn.
Previously, Jeff Arnold, an experienced association manager, served as ARM's director.
In a review, ARM leaders identified the group's weaknesses and decided CM Services could manage ARM's accounting, convention and other services more effectively, Claussen said.
Hiring a member
For service-driven groups, someone with association management experience usually gets the job, Belford said, but not always.
IDSA's hunt began in January with the appointment of a four-person search committee that included Woodring. The committee developed a description for the position of executive director and retained the services of a recruiter.
``As the selection of the type of search firm largely predicates the results of the search, this was a lengthy debate among the search committee and with various recruiters,'' Woodring said. ``Eventually, we concluded that IDSA did, in fact, want to hire a great designer who also had proven ability to effectively manage other people and experience running a multimillion dollar business, as opposed to a more traditional association executive. That became the guiding search criteria well beyond, but not in lieu of, resumes and job descriptions.''
The committee retained Tom Hirsch, principal of Insearch Inc. of Aspen, Colo., after reviewing proposals from two other executive search consultants.
The society posted a ``Designing Design'' letter from IDSA President Michelle Berryman on its Web site and on the front page of its July ``Design Perspectives'' newsletter.
``My phone started ringing with applicants within the hour,'' Woodring said. ``I have spent a minimum of one hour on the phone with each of at least a dozen candidates.''
The IDSA committee brought in two finalists for a full day and evening of interviews, meetings, office visits and staff introductions.
``Similar questions were asked of both candidates to assure we were comparing apples to apples,'' Woodring said. ``We ran background checks on both candidates, including information from various federal, state and other agencies including social security, motor vehicle, credit reports, criminal, civil and educational. I had telephone interviews with at least two persons that each finalist previously reported to and, more importantly, with at least two persons that reported to each candidate.''
IDSA's final choice, Tyneski, began work as executive director Oct. 12.
Typically, an industry group's top executive comes from Capitol Hill or from another trade association, particularly if policy matters are a driving force, Belford said. Leadership experiences in politics or with a similar business-oriented group often become the entry point for a candidate seeking the top spot at an association trying to influence governmental affairs.
Tom Dobbins joined the American Composites Manufacturers Association of Arlington, Va., as chief staff executive in September 2006 after holding positions with various trade groups, members of Congress and the Internal Revenue Service.
Jack Gerard, joined the American Chemistry Council, also in Arlington, as president and CEO in July 2005 after previously heading the National Mining Association.
Susan Oderwald became executive director of the Society of Plastics Engineers in Brookfield, Conn., in 2004 after three years as SPE's top staff deputy.
Church summed it up, saying there is no right or wrong in selecting a leader. ``Like so many things in life, maybe it depends on circumstances,'' he said.