"To be involved with ASAE at this stage is a phenomenal opportunity," said Michael S. Olson, CAE, during a press conference where it was announced that he was the new president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives in Washington, D.C. "Although I didn't know it, I have spent my entire working career preparing for this job. Association management is ingrained in my body and soul. This is the ultimate step for me. "

He's not exaggerating his commitment to association management. A 30-year veteran of the industry, Olson began his career with the Carolinas Association of Professional Insurance Agents, Inc., in Raleigh, where he was appointed executive vice president when he was only 23 years old. Since 1974, Olson has been president and CEO of Olson Management Group, Inc., an association management company, also in Raleigh. The company handles 30 state, national, and international associations, including several medical organizations.

Olson brings to his presidency not only his strong background in association management, but an insider's understanding of ASAE. He served as chairman of the board of the 1985 to 1986 term, served two terms as secretary-treasurer, and was a board member from 1978 to 1987.

Calling legislative advocacy his passion, Olson said, "We must be even more vigilant in getting our message across to elected officials," adding that his first meeting after the press conference was with ASAE staff about advocacy.

Olson, who will officially start his presidency following ASAE's annual meeting in Nashville this August, replaces R. William Taylor, CAE, who is retiring after serving 17 years as ASAE president and CEO.

HCEA Raises Debate on International Attendees The challenge of handling the increasing numbers of international physicians at U.S. medical meetings was the focus of discussion at the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association 1998 annual meeting, held June 7 to 10 in Palm Springs, Calif.

At some shows, 60 percent of physicians are from foreign countries, said one attendee. The American Urological Association is drawing "more internationals than some European conferences," added Kevin A. Wohlfort, CPA, director of industry relations and exhibits, AUA, Baltimore, Md.

That growing trend is proving frustrating to exhibiting pharmaceutical companies, said HCEA attendees. Dealing with international physicians can be not only inordinately time-consuming because of language barriers, but it cuts into the exhibitors' ROI. Because of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, sales reps may not discuss certain products with international physicians. And companies that only market their drugs domestically have no need to attract international physicians to their booths at all.

Ironically, foreign physicians' attendance costs are paid by pharmaceutical and medical device companies' overseas divisions. But those subsidiaries don't necessarily cooperate with the U.S. reps. Whatever the reason, the result is that associations risk losing exhibitors. And if that happens, associations will have to raise dues.

"It's a big challenge for associations," said Wohlfort. "Pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers are our customers. We have to be responsive." Toward that end, Wohlfort has created an industry advisory committee, composed of top exhibitors, grant-givers, and physicians.

Meanwhile, the FDA has been meeting with HCEA representatives, associations, and companies to hear their concerns. The FDA is also gathering information from other countries about their regulations concerning international attendees at medical conventions.

Appearing via videoconference, Minnie Baylor-Henry, RPh, JD, director, division of drug marketing, advertising, and communications, FDA, said that the issue of international attendees was a "top priority for the agency." However, the FDA is still in the information-gathering stage. "It is more important to have consistency at the end of the day than expediency," Baylor-Henry stated.

HCEA attracted about 615 attendees, including 28 association members. There were about 100 exhibiting companies. HCEA's 1999 annual meeting is scheduled for June 13 to 16 in New Orleans.

Medical Trade Show Headed for Cuba For the first time in almost 40 years, a U.S. trade show is headed for Cuba. Peter W. Nathan, CEM, president of PWN Exhibicon International, L.L.C., plans to hold the United States Medical Equipment and Health Care Products trade show in Havana during the last week of January 1999.

Nathan decided to go to Cuba because "it's one of the few frontiers where the United States is not actively involved in trade because of the embargo," he says.

In 1980, Nathan was the first person to bring a trade show to China, and he was one of the first to take shows into the former Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He says, "Trade shows are one of the easiest and best ways to introduce companies and countries to each other."

He decided to hold a health care trade show because it is one of the few areas where the U.S. will allow exports. "I thought the humanitarian aspect of it would be more palatable to everyone involved," he says.

His company, based in Westport, Conn., has received a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, to hold the trade show, and at press time Nathan was waiting for an extension of that license, which he expected to obtain with no problem.

Nathan also has visited Cuba recently to discuss the details. "I've been informed by various Cuban authorities--from the ministry of health to the ministry of foreign trade to a deputy of Fidel Castro--that they are very pleased about holding this event and are offering me whatever cooperation I need," he says.

The show will take over the whole PABEXPO center in Havana. There is a new hotel adjacent to the hall, several new hotels downtown, and more on the way, Nathan reports, adding that he was impressed by the quality of the hotels.

Originally, he had hoped to attract 75 to 100 exhibitors; already about 130 have expressed interest, Nathan says, and that's without any promotion. While exhibitors will not be able to sell on the show floor, they will be able to take orders, and then apply to the U. S. Department of Commerce for a license to export. That process won't be as cumbersome as it sounds, because some of the exhibiting companies are already exporting medical products into Cuba, Nathan points out.

Although his show will lay the groundwork, associations will be able to bring their shows to Cuba only when the embargo is lifted. At that point, "I certainly think it will be possible for anybody to bring a show down there," Nathan says. But after legal restrictions are removed, trade show organizers will still contend with financial restrictions. However, medical organizations may have an advantage.

"Cuba doesn't have a heck of a lot of money. Cubans will be gearing their funds to certain industries, and they will want those exhibitions which fit with their priorities and economic plans," Nathan notes. "Health care is one of the very few [trade show] areas that they are allowing." *