ABA’s Neely, HIMSS’ Lieber and NAR’s Giovaniello share insights at fourth annual Association Leadership Awards
Sept. 25, 2017
By William Ehart
Successful risk-taking was the theme of the CEO Update 2017 Association Leadership Awards luncheon held Sept. 21 at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel.
The fast-paced, fourth-annual event, attended by more than 350 executives and other members of the association community, honored three of their own:
• Lobbyist of the Year: Jerry Giovaniello of the $226 million-revenue National Association of Realtors;
• Professional Society CEO of the Year: Steve Lieber of the $88 million-revenue Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
• Trade Association CEO of the Year: Susan Neely of the $79 million-revenue American Beverage Association.
The leaders were honored for their impact on their organizations, their industries and the association community.
In video interviews produced by LAI Video, each pinpointed moments in their careers or in management of their groups when they took calculated risks.
For Neely, an early risk that paid off was leaving a promising career in Washington, D.C., where she was working on Capitol Hill, to work for longshot gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad in her home state of Iowa.
Branstad, whom her father told her could never win, went on to become the longest-serving governor in U.S. history and is now U.S. ambassador to China. Neely acquired additional skills that served her well in subsequent positions.
Neely said that rather than heeding her father’s warning, she took the advice of a mentor, who told her to at least meet with Branstad and get more information.
“I don’t think you can be a good leader without taking risks,” Neely said. “For me, it’s a combination of the intellectual analysis—what’s the probability this will work out and what will it do for your life and your career—but then it’s also just your gut. I put both together and that has invariably been the right decision,” Neely said.
Lieber said his decision to sell HIMSS’ headquarters building in order to free up capital for member and mission purposes in the early 2000s proved prescient shortly afterward when the association got the opportunity to buy the for-profit market research firm now called HIMSS Analytics—a major business unit for the association today.
“It started us down a path of establishing HIMSS as the premier source of information about the field of health information technology,” Lieber said.
Giovaniello related how a chance meeting with civil rights and housing advocate Ralph Neas on the Metro escalator at Washington, D.C.’s Capitol South station led to the opportunity—and the risk—of trying to bridge a longstanding divide of mistrust between his industry and activists like Neas.
“I said if we could work out this (one issue regarding 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act) we would be OK modifying the act,” he said.
Emcees of the event were Heidi Brock, CEO of $6 million-revenue Aluminum Association, and Jay Timmons, CEO of $63 million-revenue National Association of Manufacturers.
Timmons interacted directly with attendees by strolling the ballroom luncheon with a microphone, asking about risks taken by key association executives, including Jack Gerard, CEO of $216 million-revenue American Petroleum Institute, Dawn Sweeney of $95 million-revenue National Restaurant Association, Lori Anderson, CEO of $8 million-revenue International Sign Association and Bob Weidner, CEO of the $10 million-revenue Metals Service Center Institute. All recounted instances that showed how risk-taking is an integral part of leadership.
James Rosen, chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, later moderated a discussion with the honorees about the risks they have taken to achieve success for their associations.
The event was produced by CEO Update’s parent, Leading Authorities Inc.
LAI President and CEO Update Publisher Mark French hailed the honorees in his opening remarks, noting that the current age is one of revolutionary disruption.
“There is not a single company or profession that will not be impacted by the blockbuster changes we are about to experience,” he said.
“This gives associations tremendous opportunities to help prepare and guide their members to terra incognita. Being willing, prepared and capable of taking risks is essential.”
But such risks must be born of insight and awareness of the changing landscape.
“No one knows this better than today’s award winners, who are examples of this new approach to leadership and risk-taking,” he said.