June 8, 2015
Like many people in the association management industry, Kellen 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?
“We create and support communities that allow people to shape their own futures and influence the world around them.” Then I will ask questions to try to make a personal connection, because let’s face it, that doesn’t tell them what I do.
The questions allow me to explain that we provide professional staff for organizations like one they probably belong to, and how the AMC structure helps those organizations. Usually by the end of the conversation we have come up with some new ideas for an association they already know, or invented a completely new association. Or they have walked away, possibly to talk to someone who gestures less dramatically and doesn’t like country music.
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?
Is the rockstar-baseball player-archeologist-writer position available?
I do a lot of writing, though it isn’t what I had envisioned at 12; but what 12-year-old dreams of writing new business proposals and blog posts about social media leadership? My work with a paleontology association allowed me to see the Sue dinosaur bones being prepared for display at the Field Museum. I won’t forget that. I can be found playing music in clubs in Chicago once or twice a month.
But I have failed, soundly, as a professional baseball player. And I can’t even get my son to play catch with me. I’m coming to terms with that, but I only admitted it because I don’t think anyone will read this far.
How did you end up in the industry?
No one thinks to ask that question of a teacher, or a doctor, or a paleontologist. But it is a standard question for anyone in association management.
I was plucked from obscurity by the idea of the Roosevelt University Journalism School, my mentor and hero Charles-Gene McDaniel, and given an opportunity to work in the advertising and circulation department of a trade magazine. There I learned from a wise but erratic publisher and editor, until he quit two months later. After that, I jumped in wherever there was an opportunity. The association that published the magazine hired a new management firm, and I was part of the deal. That firm was called Organization Management Systems Inc. I loved solving problems and growing the business. I built a communications department, then moved over to association management and business development. John Waxman joined the firm a year later, and he and I were a good team. Five years later we bought the firm from the founder, and renamed it The Sherwood Group (because we both liked Robin Hood, the 1939 Errol Flynn movie).
The merger of The Sherwood Group with Kellen is the next stage, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with talented new colleagues as well as those Sherwood veterans to help build the best association management firm on the planet.
What’s your favorite part about working in association management?
I enjoy being part Sherpa, part barrier-buster. Association management requires curiosity, passion, and smart risk-taking. I have always been an entrepreneur, from starting a retail coin collector’s service in my sixth grade class to owning a record store during college to buying an association management company.
Over the last 30 years, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from talented and generous people: Association leaders who are smart and accomplished (and sometimes famous Nobel Laureates and astronauts), and whipsmart, dedicated colleagues at The Sherwood Group, and now Kellen.
Lastly, I have been fortunate to work with organizations that improve people’s lives and health. Giving back and doing good is important to me.
I couldn’t imagine a better job, assuming the rockstar-archeologist thing is off the table.
What do you think the association management industry will look like in ten years?
Associations’ business and membership models continue to evolve, and everyone is focused on data-based decision-making and open-source content. That will become the way we do business. Associations will have to reduce their speed-to-market time for products, as well as their delivery models. Customers expect instant satisfaction and personalization.
Association volunteer leadership models will have to accommodate different types of engagement at top levels, rather than the traditional pipeline systems of today. Finding and grooming qualified volunteers is central to every organization’s ability to remain relevant and successful.
One result of these changes is a greater reliance on professional staff, and in particular on the use of association management companies — full service management, outsourced project management, and particularly hybrid management models, with a single directly employed individual supported by an association management company.
Pressure on associations will increase to demonstrate superior return on investment for overhead costs, and organizations will need the ability to scale staff quickly and rapidly deploy specialized experts as-needed/where-needed, as well as the ability to control costs and outsource the headaches of technology and other components that are not their core business.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My favorite journalism professor and mentor (noted above) taught me that words matter, and never to settle for anything less than excellence. And my cousin once told me “Don’t go to bed angry.” I still have a fortune from a cookie that says “Be a leader, not a martyr.”
About Greg Schultz
Greg Schultz has more than 25 years’ experience creating results-driven teams, counseling and guiding nonprofits, and serving as a catalyst for growth and positive change in dynamic organizations. After all this time, he is still in love with the idea of creating communities where people can shape their own futures and change the world around them.
Greg began his association career as a writer. In 1991 he became partner and vice president of The Sherwood Group, a leader in association management for societies in health, science and technology. In 2015, Sherwood merged with Kellen, creating a unique, global, employee-owned management company with the capacity to inspire stakeholders and deliver superb results.
Before he began his association management career, Greg owned a record store, wrote sports and features for newspapers and contributed short stories to a national fiction review. Greg earned his journalism degree (with honors) from Roosevelt University. Greg is currently Chair-Elect for the Association Management Company Institute (AMCI).
He lives in Chicago with his son. A couple times a month, he can be found playing guitar and pedal steel with rock and country bands in Chicago clubs.