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2020 awards go to three leaders in Washington, Chicago

CEOs and lobbyist of the year are champions for their industries; creating conditions for associations and members to succeed

ALA 2020 honoreesFeb. 14, 2020

An independent panel of association experts has named three individuals as the 2020 Association Leadership Award winners. CEO Update’s annual awards program, now in its 7th year, shines a spotlight on executives who exemplify best practices in association leadership and boast a track record of success.

The 2020 honorees are:

  • Trade Association CEO of the Year—Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation
  • Professional Society CEO of the Year—Michelle Mason, Association Forum
  • Association Lobbyist of the Year—Kevin Keane, American Beverage Association

The three executives will receive their awards at a luncheon to be held Sept. 24 at the Conrad Washington, DC hotel.

Shay has led a transformation of the National Retail Federation into a lobbying powerhouse in the past 10 years. Meeting revenue is up more than 140%, and revenue has more than doubled to $62 million.

NRF played a big role in helping to stop a border-adjustment tax proposal favored by some Republicans in Congress. The group also has been influential in highlighting the impact of trade wars.

Prior to joining NRF, Shay led the International Franchise Association from 2005-2010.

Since joining Association Forum as CEO in 2014, Mason has spearheaded efforts to make associations a driving force for diversity and inclusion. The Chicago-based Forum launched the Welcoming Environment initiative, which has grown to include a national summit and resources for organizations. 

Previously, Mason was managing director, strategy and innovation at the American Society for Quality.  Prior to joining ASQ in 2006, she was vice president of strategic and future-focused research at ASAE. 

Keane’s role at American Beverage Association encompasses a wide portfolio: government affairs, public affairs, communications and policy. In 2017, he was promoted to executive vice president and head of the newly merged government and public affairs department. He has been a chief strategist in ABA’s state and local battles against efforts to tax soda. The group reported nearly $54 million on lobbying, political and influence expenditures in 2018, according to the latest data.

Keane joined ABA in 2005. Previously, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as assistant secretary for public affairs of the Department of Health and Human Services.

CEO Update received a robust response to a call for ALA candidates. The online nomination process generated submissions keyed to clearly defined association criteria, including, for CEOs, effectiveness in presenting the story of the industry or profession, proven leadership in and outside of the group, successful financial results and volunteer contributions to association-related, charitable or civic groups.

For the association lobbyist award, criteria included demonstrable legislative or regulatory progress, strong reputation and relationships, and ability to communicate the association’s public policy positions.

“The number of qualifying candidates for the 2020 Association Leadership Awards was surprising, more than double previous years,” said CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham. “And I’m sure that didn’t make the selection panel’s job any easier.”

Nominees were forwarded to a 13-member panel convened by CEO Update. The 2020 panel members included:

  • Steve Anderson, CEO, National Association of Chain Drug Stores
  • Peter Larkin, former CEO, National Grocers Association
  • Chris McEntee, executive director and CEO, American Geophysical Union
  • Susan Neely, CEO, American Council of Life Insurers
  • Susan Robertson, interim CEO, ASAE
  • Jade West, chief government relations officer, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors
  • Art Herold, partner, Webster, Chamberlain & Bean
  • Ivan Adler, president, Ivan Adler Associates
  • Julian Ha, associations practice leader, Heidrick & Struggles
  • Leslie Hortum, managing partner, Spencer Stuart
  • Lorraine Lavet, sector leader for associations, Korn Ferry
  • Stephanie Tomasso, associations practice leader, Russell Reynolds Associates
  • Jim Zaniello, president, Vetted Solutions

For details on the Association Leadership Awards, including selection criteria and attendance information, visit

This story was updated Feb. 24 with the date and location of the awards luncheon.