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4 Ways to Move From Component Relations Pro to CEO
CENTER ONLINE, 03/15/2013

In a Component Relations Virtual Roundtable discussion, two former component relations professionals who made the jump to CEO share some insider tips for a smooth transition into the C-suite.

If you're a component relations professional (CRP) looking to start your own company or move to the top of an existing one, the transition to CEO requires more than a move to the corner office.

Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president of Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC, and Linn Wheeling, CAE, CEO of the Association of Change Management Professionals, shared how they took their experience as CRPs and entered the C-suite during the January component relations virtual roundtable.

"As CRPs, we learn multitasking, relationship building, delegation, negotiation, how to quickly assess situations, and how to work with multiple organizations," said moderator Cecilia Sepp, vice president of Association Laboratory Inc.

So what's next? Here are four tips to get you started:

1. Know When It's Time

Peggy Hoffman and her partner were working for a trade association when they realized that its components needed more support on decision making, future planning, and budgetary issues. They searched for an association management company, but did not find anything. Then came the career-changing thought: "If no one else is doing this, then why shouldn't I?"

Today, their company Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC, supports emerging and small chapters and other organizations that have a relationship with headquarters and are looking for ways to be great partners for members. Hoffman says they had no problem finding organizations who were interested. If you can provide something unique, you can build a company around it.

2. Know How to Talk About the Money

CRPs generally understand how to motivate volunteers and make critical decisions to achieve the mission of the organization.

"We wear many different hats and have many different skill sets that we have to leverage at the CEO level," says Wheeling.

However, CRPs often do not have a lot of training and experience in working with financial data above and beyond departmental budgets. Hoffman and Wheeling agree that understanding financial strategy, having all the processes in place for transparency, and being able to communicate to your board of directors are critical.

3. Know Where You Need Improvement

Hoffman recognized that as CEO she was going to have to be hiring people and paying them. While you can work around some things using outside companies, she realized she needed to become more familiar with human resources.

She also admits that she needed to increase her commitment to time management. As a CRP she was good at it, but the new level of responsibilities of being the CEO of a new business made it more of a challenge. She also had to make time to read.

"One of the things I do a lot more now is reading things outside of my area of responsibilities," she says.

Doing that has expanded her interests, changed her thinking, and allowed her to bring more to the table.

"I had to learn about my member's trade," she says, and training herself has helped tremendously.

4. Wear the CEO Hat

As CEO, Wheeling expected to always have the answers—about everything. After all, as a CRP we're expected to be chapter experts (and usually volunteer experts and membership experts). And we leave the finances to accounting, fundraising to the PAC, education to the trainers, and promotions to the marketers.

However, after being put on the spot at a board meeting, Wheeling realized that she could rely on specialized staff to answer those deep-dive questions. It was time to replace the CRP hat with a CEO hat and to think strategically, not operationally.

This also comes into play in leadership relationships. Wheeling recalls that as a CRP, she was "friends" with volunteers. But "as CEO you have remember that you report to the board," she says.

Wheeling added these final thoughts: "Your CRP background will help you up the ladder, but should your situation change, that background will help you land safely in the association world."

You can access the recording of the complete discussion in the Component Relations Section Library in Collaborate.

Carolyn Hook is membership and operations director at the New Jersey Society of CPAs in Roseland New Jersey. Email: chook@njscpa.org

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