Not long ago, David Kushner, CMP, CAE, was standing in a river with his fly-fishing rod, enjoying the sounds of nature as the water rippled past. His fishing guide, however, was not so serene. “He was really frustrated, and felt like he was unsuccessful in his job because I hadn't caught a fish,” says Kushner. “The guy just looked at me when I told him that I felt I had been successful because I achieved a new skill that day — I tied a new fly onto the line while I was in the river. I didn't care that I hadn't caught a fish.”
That deeply ingrained understanding of the learning process and the importance of celebrating small victories applies whether Kushner's fly-fishing or getting up to speed at his recently landed position as president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. When AM caught up with Kushner in mid-June, it was too early to tell exactly what specific tasks and challenges might lie ahead for the newly minted PCMA leader. But one thing was already apparent: If a commitment to relationship-building, collaboration, and education is on the agenda, PCMA hired the right guy for the job.
Along with preparing for the move from Maryland, where he had been serving as chief executive for the Community Hospital Medical Education Alliance, to PCMA's Chicago headquarters, Kushner is already forging relationships and learning about his new organization.
Saying that he's “a believer in building long-term relationships,” within one week Kushner met with American Society for Association Executives CEO Michael Olson, Susan Sarfati with the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, and a graphic artist who designed workbooks for an educational project he was involved with more than a decade ago.
Chances are he'll spend much more time on the road than in the river this summer as he crisscrosses the country to meet with PCMA chapter leaders, staff, and members. “I want to get a more intuitive sense about the organization and its culture,” he says. “I can't just look back at the historic ways the organization operates; we're in a different environment now.”
That uncertainty, which some find daunting, just intrigues Kushner. “With the economic situation the way it is, with the changes that have occurred across the country after the acts of terrorism, we are all redefining our lives and our meetings. I'm coming on board at a very interesting time. I'm intrigued to see how this industry will continue to build its business in the face of some very difficult challenges — and excited to be a part of those efforts.”
Kushner is a big believer in collaboration — hence his meetings with leaders of ASAE, GWSAE, and “a whole series of organizations I'm sure I'll be getting in contact with very soon.” He's pleased to see the kind of cooperative environment among meeting industry organizations that's grown since last fall.
“You can't operate an organization in isolation,” he states. “Yes, each organization is doing very good work. But think of how the work could be even better when we share our resources.” He knows about this first-hand through his experiences with the Association Council of Montgomery County (Maryland), a small group of local association CEOs who get together once a month to discuss whatever topic seems important at the time. “With PCMA and the meetings community, which has so many distinct components, the issue of collaborative relationships and work is essential.”
Kushner's dedication to education began with his first job: teaching math and business to junior high school students. “Once you teach, it never goes out of your system,” he says.
Kushner morphed into an association staffer through his involvement with the New York State Teachers Association, then moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as national director of membership and education for the American Federation of Government Employees. He later started a consulting firm in organization development and human resource management, the field in which he holds a master's degree. The education aspect of his business eventually grew to the point where he spun it off into a separate company.
His most recent stint — 12 years with the American Osteopathic Healthcare Association — was capped in January of this year when the 70-year-old association put a new strategic initiative into action by working to expand its presence into all community teaching hospitals in the U.S. The new organization was incorporated as the Community Hospital Medical Education Alliance, and “we've been running flat out ever since,” says Kushner.
His CEO experience will be critical for the operational side of working with PCMA, he says. “Based on my leadership experience, I think it'll be important to look at how the organization is structured from a staff and member services point of view, and see if there's a need for any changes.”
In addition to fly-fishing, Kushner feeds his creative side by cooking and relaxes by playing the occasional round of golf. He also established a scholarship at Binghamton University (Binghamton, N.Y.) to help graduate students in education in nonprofit leadership positions. “I wouldn't be where I am without the education I got, so it's a way for me to give back,” he says. But outside his personal commitments, he's no softie: “I'm committed to helping PCMA maintain its position in the meetings industry. I would never take a position to lead No. 2.”