Clarion Brands CEO Gary Downing On The Benefits Of Trade Associations

trade accociations“Trade associations are a waste of a CEO’s time.”

I’ve heard this from my CEO peers more times than I can count.

I understand why. Running a company and shouldering its responsibilities are tough enough. Who has time to join a trade association board? Who needs more travel? Whose schedule can afford more time away from the office? Why not delegate trade-association representation role to a subordinate, who can fill me in on what I need to know?

Understandable. But unwise.

Being active in my trade association has made me a better CEO. Better for my company. And better for my own board.

“One of the great dangers of the CEO role is professional isolation, which can lead to bad decisions. Time with peers is invaluable.”

Here are five reasons why you should make time to be active in your association:

Trade associations give you the chance to be a leader, not just of your company, but of your industry. And that broader industry perspective is invaluable when it comes to charting your company’s long-term strategy, because that strategy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To truly see the smartest future path, you need to be an expert, not just in your business and its customers, but in the industry in which it operates.

Industry leadership impacts the way your board perceives you. The bottom line always will be most important – delivering the number. But your board – if it’s a good one – is even more focused on long-term strategy than you may be. Industry leadership helps you to guide them in discharging that fundamental board responsibility. It’s a meaningful value-add in your service to your board.

Trade association meetings are a built-in opportunity to talk with your peers. Sure, competitive sensitivities limit what you can share. But there is so much you can. One of the great dangers of the CEO role is professional isolation, which can lead to bad decisions. Time with peers is invaluable.

Virtually every business is deeply impacted by government regulation. It’s a pain, I know. But understanding it – and trying to change it where you can – is mission critical for success. Trade associations are the singularly most effective way to understand the impact of government regulation – and to change it. And doing so directly impacts the bottom line.

Let’s be honest – CEOs like being in charge. Working within a trade association requires navigating waterways where you don’t have complete control. That can be challenging. But it makes you better. Because it hones your ability to lead by persuasion more than compulsion.

My advice is this: Give it a go. Join your trade association. Seek to get on its board. And make time to do it well. You’ll be glad you did.

RelatedQ&A: Beer Institute President & CEO Jim McGreevy

PARTNER CENTER