June 9, 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 say something like, “our company provides strategic management to professional and trade associations.” After the listener catches their breath, I add, “organizations like the American Medical Association have huge budgets and can afford to have their own staff, facilities, and support services, right? There are thousands of professional and trade associations that don’t have that level of support and can contract for the same services with a company like ours.” I am always a bit surprised at the number of people who have no idea that such services exist. This opens the door to add comments about managing their conferences, trade shows, communications efforts, websites, financial services, and general membership services.
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 certainly had no idea about association management at that point in my life. I had two aspirations back then, one to be a baseball player and the other, to be a rock n’ roll musician. After playing ball through little league, pony league, and into high school, I came to realize that doing fairly well didn’t cut it and turned to rock n’ roll. After about a decade of gigging around my hometown of Walla Walla, WA, then in the Chicago area living the life of a starving artist my daughter was born, and another realization hit – it was time to get a real job. I still play but only for my own enjoyment. I keep a small collection of guitars that I enjoy checking in on them a few times each month. A true joy for me is that I seem to have passed on some useful musical instincts to my son, Patrick, who has taken the music thing to a whole new level. He is the singer, song writer, guitarist for the popular rock band, Fall Out Boy.
How did you end up in the industry?
After realizing that it was time to give up my aspirations to be a rock star, and after a short stint in the Army and serving in Vietnam, I went back to school and found my way into hospital administration. While working in a hospital in Chicago, I ran for a volunteer position on the board of a newly forming association in the field of healthcare quality management. After serving two years as the association’s treasurer, the group realized that it could not maintain an acceptable service level as a volunteer-run organization and it needed a paid staff. I raised my hand and was hired to serve as their executive director. As a one-man operation, I handled the general administrative duties of answering the phone, maintaining membership records (on index cards at that time), editing the newsletters, and planning the meetings. When we continued to experience growth for the organization, it became clear that more support services were needed and I began to look for alternatives ways of keeping up with the service demands. While having lunch one afternoon with a hotel representative, I mentioned the need to expand staffing and other service needs and his response was, “are you familiar with the association management company concept?” “No” I said. “What’s that?’ He proceeded to give me the name of a local AMC owner and helped to arrange a meeting. I was able to formulate an agreement with my client and the AMC. Since then, I have served in numerous corporate roles while maintaining my work with associations, mostly with professional societies. My wife, Kristi Klinke, and I purchased the Resource Center for Associations (RC) in Colorado nine years ago. RC was acquired by Kellen in February and we are still working through the transition. Kristi is now retired so that she can look after her health but her work was significant in the development of sound client relationships, primarily in the area of customer service.
What’s your favorite part about working in association management?
Association management, like few other professions, is one that allows us to be exposed to a wide variety of professions and industries. I find learning about them to be fun, especially when the organization represents services that have a positive impact on our society.
What do you think the association management industry will look like in ten years?
I would expect that more consolidation will occur over that time leaving fewer AMC’s to service the association client base. AMCs are, in my mind, the preferred model of association management. Its focus is on strategic management which explores challenges and finds solutions that help organizations grow and prosper. And, as they grow, we benefit. More associations will recognize the benefits that AMCs offer and seek our expertise for their organizations. Technological advances are both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that we can serve an organization from anywhere and provide high level communications and educational support. A curse in that as information continues to become widely available online, the need for services traditionally provided by associations in general may diminish. Our challenge is to be the leaders in guiding the associations we serve in exceeding member expectations for return on their investment.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I don’t know who to credit with this but it is a long-standing reality: Honesty is always the best policy. When faced with particular challenges with clients, being totally honest with them often rallies their support. Conversely, when taking other paths, clients can tend to put you on the defense which is never a good position from which to operate.
About David Stumph
Since the Resource Center for Associations was only recently acquired by Kellen, my duties are still somewhat a work in progress. Much of the transitional realities are yet to be determined but we are excited to see the support and transitional progress that is underway. I still serve as executive director to a number of our clients and continue to support the boards and committees with strategic development and support in the accomplishment of their goals and objectives.
I have been in association management for about 36 years and have served associations in healthcare, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine as well as in such areas as legal, architectural, ambulance, publishing, and retail fields. I entered the field of association management after serving on the board of an association in 1978. Over the years, I have served as an account executive, vice president, co-owner, and owner of AMCs in the Chicago area before winding up as owner of the Resource Center for Associations in Colorado.
Away from work, I enjoy playing golf and playing my guitars when time allows. Kristi and I now have our first grandchild that we enjoy checking in on as well. He lives in Seattle which makes it difficult to drop things and go but we take the chance whenever possible. We have two more on the way, both due in October, one in San Francisco and the other in Los Angeles! We are looking forward to traversing the coast regularly for visits as much as possible.