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CEO Update recognizes three veteran association executives for their effectiveness, vision

Tom Kuhn of EEI, Arlene Pietranton of ASHA and Jade West of NAW receive 2015 Association Leadership Awards

Sept. 22, 2015

By William Ehart

More than 450 members of the association community gathered Tuesday for CEO Update’s second annual Association Leadership Awards luncheon to celebrate the impact of associations on the economy and society and to honor the three winners of the awards. The event—which also featured a panel discussion with the winners—was held at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

Honorees were: Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, trade association CEO of the year; Arlene Pietranton of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, professional society CEO of the year, and Jade West of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, association lobbyist of the year.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, last year’s trade association CEO of the year, kicked off the event via pre-recorded video. He was unable to attend but noted the importance of celebrating great leadership.

“As association executives, our jobs are tougher than ever,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to celebrate the very best in association leadership.”

He praised the three veteran executives for their “ingenuity, tenacity and commitment to improve our profession.”

Each honoree was also the subject of a short video highlighting their leadership qualities.

Leigh Ann Pusey, CEO of the American Insurance Association, presented the award to West, citing her Hill experience, coalition-building and political savvy, saying, “She really is the smartest person in the room.”

Shane Feldman introduced Pietranton using sign language and an interpreter. Feldman, who is deaf, is director of strategic partnerships and development at the nonprofit Communication Service for the Deaf. He thanked Pietranton for mentoring him and noted that his mother was an audiologist and “card-carrying member” of ASHA.

Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation, delivered a personal and warmly humorous introduction of Kuhn, the 25-year leader of EEI.

Shay said leadership is “an observable fact,” but a highly subjective thing to judge. Nonetheless, Shay said he knows leadership when he sees it—and he sees it in Kuhn.

“For anyone to remain CEO of an industry trade group like EEI and do it with such passion, commitment and vision that they would keep you for 25 years, that is a tremendous validation of his leadership,” Shay said.

The program, emceed by CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham, also featured a video highlighting the impact of Bright Beginnings, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that serves homeless children. Executive search consultant Leslie Hortum, member of the panel that chose the honorees, explained the selection process.

Capping the program, former CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley led a panel discussion with the three honorees, focusing on the essential qualities of leadership.

Common themes included having a passion, building a great team and sharing credit.

Kuhn said if you love what you do, you’re going to do well at it.

“If you really get up and go, you can make a difference,” he said. And in the association world, “you can wake up every day and be creative about how you can make a difference.”

For more details on the event, see the print and online editions of CEO Update on Oct. 2.