April 28, 2014
Like many people in the association management industry, Kellen Company employees have enthusiastically answered the question, “And what do you do?” only to receive a blank stare and a polite “Huh?!” Although association management employs tens of thousands of people, most of the world doesn’t know about the thriving industry. Many of us didn’t even know about it when we started our careers. In this ongoing series, we’ll share how our employees discovered this career path and why they’ve stuck around.
How do you explain your job at cocktail parties?
I usually ask people in what industry they work and then either name their industry association or ask what it is and explain that I am doing the job their respective association (staff) is doing. I found that it helps to make our services very concrete so that people can relate to associations they are familiar with and understand very well what my job is.
What did your 12 year old self think you were going to be when you grew up? Are you doing anything related to that dream job now?
I come from a winery in the wine growing region Nahe in Germany where winegrowing is an important ‘industry.’ In order to promote the wine and the region, the region has representatives who act as ‘ambassadora’ to draw attention to the region and the wine production, on a national level. When I was small I dreamt of being the representative for my region when I grew up. However, when I graduated from school I wanted to work in an international business environment, so I started studying and living abroad. In my job today, I am the representative for different industries, defend their interests towards policy makers and promote the industries’ products.
How did you end up in the industry?
I studied European Business and Management and then did a Masters in European Studies and European Integration, which brought me to Brussels. My first job after I finished my studies was with an Association Management Company where I worked for the Union of European Soft Drinks (UNESDA) and the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP). I really enjoyed this and from then on I knew that I want to work in Association Management and represent different industries. I joined Kellen Europe nine years ago.
What’s your favorite part about working in association management?
I like to learn about different industries and professions and to better understand these. I really enjoy working with people and meeting new people – in my job I work with people from different countries, cultural and educational backgrounds, which means I am learning every day something new!
Furthermore I really enjoy the variety of job: in the morning I might be in a meeting representing the European Candle Manufacturers, have a networking lunch and in the afternoon I might work on a new business proposal – that’s what I like about it so much, it never gets boring!
What do you think the association management industry will look like in ten years?
In the past years we have seen that corporations are taking a closer look at the associations they are members of, what their fees are, how these are being used, what the deliverables of an association are. They have recognized that associations need to be run in a more professional manner and that professionals are there to ensure that associations provide the promised value to their members. I think the times that European associations are being viewed as the last years before retirement of senior company representatives are over and corporates have understood the added value an AMC can bring to managing their association and I think this trend will continue in the next 10 years.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was told if I want to represent an industry I have to go and visit a production site to understand the industry, talk to the people and understand their business. This has proven to be true: spending a day at a production site or accompanying a member a day in his/her job has really helped me to understand their industry or profession, their challenges and what they need from the association.
About Dani Kolb
Dani Kolb is a Manager in Kellen Europe. She had worked at Kellen Europe since 2005 and has 10 years of experience in managing European and International Associations and professional societies. Dani is specialized in EU affairs, marketing and communication, representation towards third parties as well as strategic advice services. She is the Secretary General of the Association of European Candle Makers (AECM) and the General Manager of the Global Acetate Manufacturers Association (GAMA). Within Kellen Europe she is responsible for Sales and Marketing.
Dani is Vice President of the Society for European Affairs Professionals (SEAP), where she is also chairing the Program Committee. Within the Center of Association Leadership (ASAE) Dani is the incoming chair of the International Section Council.
Dani studied European Business and Management, followed by a Master’s program in European Studies/European Integration. She also holds an MBA in Wine & Spirits from the Bordeaux Management School.