At the risk of sounding cliché, I cannot believe how fast the time has gone. It was a whirlwind of a year serving as chairman of an association I grew up within and admire deeply. It was a year full of challenges, debates both fierce and collegial and a few surprises along the way. As the proverbial baton is passed to the very capable hands of Vaughn Mordecai, it is a time of great reflection for me. I feel satisfied, yet find it hard to let go.

During my term, I’ve noted much curiosity regarding the role of the chairman. Industry friends, colleagues, associates and constituents regularly questioned the time, commitment and personal motivations behind accepting this position. Researchers, of course, ask lots of questions by nature. The tone of the questions has varied. Some have expressed a level of gratitude I would say should be reserved for those who serve in our armed forces. Others have sardonically mocked me with pity as if I just told them I lost my dog. This is always an interesting one for me as it implies a form of indentured servitude. The line of questioning is fairly consistent:

  • Do you give up your life for a year?
  • Isn’t it like running a second business?
  • Is it a major distraction from your day job?
  • Did your family miss you?

These are all fair questions. However, the one that I would prefer to linger on is, “Was it worth it?” To be completely frank, it is one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career. Really. And this goes not only for this past year as chairman, but is a reflection of all the years I have had the pleasure to serve on MRA’s board of directors. This is not simply the musings of someone who has the benefit of looking through the rearview mirror. I genuinely enjoyed the entire ride and will continue to serve, and I welcome the challenge of strategic initiatives assigned by our new chairman.

The apprehension from outsiders is understandable. It has been a significant commitment for many years now. It challenged my time, tested my business acumen, and tried my leadership. However, for every core benefit of association membership, it is monumentally accelerated when you volunteer. Think of it as turbocharged membership benefits. Let’s just take a look at the big three:

Networking

Before I volunteered, I made acquaintances at conferences with whom I would make small talk maybe twice a year over a drink. As an active volunteer, I have made friends and business associates for life. We share life moments and we share business opportunities both upstream and downstream. I have trusting, loyal relationships with key industry contacts that never would have been cultivated so deeply had I not been actively involved. 

Professional Development

 I am entering my seventh and final year on the board of directors. Not including staff, the number of board members has fluctuated from a high of 21 voting members when I first started to a strategic downsizing of 11. When you run the numbers, you can see that I have had the pleasure to work with many leaders in this industry. I can honestly say I have learned from every person with whom I have served. Sometimes it was simply how they articulated a business problem, the angle they approached in formulating a plan or how they prioritized solutions. Not surprisingly, they drew parallels from their own businesses, which were often vastly different from my own. The learning in these collaborations are pure gold for a business professional. Having the opportunity to develop strategy and governance with other executives has substantively helped me grow as a leader within my own organization. 

Education

MRA has a number of reputable publications that are excellent vehicles for disseminating information on legal and regulatory issues impacting the industry, ethical debates and innovations that continue to evolve the methods and expectations of our work. If you are not reading Alert!, MRA Update or following MRA’s Twitter feed, I would encourage you to do so. Having said that, the knowledge you will acquire will pale in comparison to the wisdom you gain debating with other industry leaders and setting policy and strategy around government affairs activity and research standards. It is an experience you can’t replicate through blogs and articles and one that has made me a better researcher and adviser to my clients. 

As we transition to new leadership, I will share that I am content with the progress our board made this year yet am hungry to continue to serve. Time was short and I still feel I have more to give. Yes, it was a substantial commitment, but it was extremely gratifying. It was rewarding to give back to an industry that has been so good to me and to have the opportunity to make an impact on an industry that I am passionate about—one that continues to inspire and challenge me every day. If I can leave one lasting message, it is to get involved. Our role in a free market society is critical to both economic development and a dynamic consumer culture. Notwithstanding, our industry faces many challenges that require the horsepower of the entire profession to address. Never allow self-doubt to creep in and inhibit volunteerism. You will be surprised how well your everyday skills translate into contributing on a committee or overseeing association business. Find an area that interests you and go in with an open mind and a passionate heart. I promise you the experience will give back. The time will be well spent. Our profession needs you and I will be serving by your side.