"I've done everything I could do in meetings, but I didn't want to get out of the association business." When you're Jacy Hanson, a 17-year association veteran, with 10 of those years as national meetings services division director for the Washington, D.C.-based American Diabetes Association, you do what a lot of industry top dogs are doing these days--join a dot-com.
Hanson, now vice president of industry relations, MyAssociation.com (www.myassociation.com), also based in Washington, joins a growing list of heavy hitters--Opryland's Jerry Wayne and Greater Milwaukee CVB's William Hanbury, for example--who have left the comforts of business as we know it for high-flying Internet companies, hardly looking back.
"I'm about to hit 40," Hanson says. "I'm entering the next phase of my life, and I needed something new, some adventure."
Nothing stays secret for long in the meeting business. When Hanson started talking out loud about adventure, she and MyAssociation.com's Senior Vice President of Sales John Parke, a former Marriott sales VP, connected.
"I knew John [Parke] and Rich Hanks [senior vice president of MyAssociation.com, also a former Marriott sales VP]," says Hanson. "They are the gurus of sales and marketing of the hotel industry, and when Rich left Marriott, it was huge news. Next to Mr. Marriott, he was it. If it hadn't been them, I would never have looked at MyAssociation.com."
It took a few months of talking, but Hanson was sold on the dot-com's concept--and a new job. She joined the company in October.
From Planner to Supplier Leaving the ADA was difficult, Hanson says, but several weeks into her new position, she knows the decision was a good one. "It's even better than I thought it was going to be," she says of her evolving role, one that involves sales and product development, and, most important to her employers, Hanson's credibility and experience in the association world. MyAssociation.com builds and hosts Web portals exclusively for associations, and Hanson's job as industry liaison is one key to the company's success. "I've never been a salesperson before," Hanson says, "but they're not hiring salespeople; they want association people." As far as selling goes, "They'll train me," she says.
New Challenges She is very enthusiastic about one of MyAssociation.com's product roll-outs, MyTeam, a Web-based project management tool that can be used by committee and board members dispersed throughout the country--a tool she wishes she had had back at ADA. And this is what most excites her: "If I'm supposed to, I don't feel much like a supplier. My role [at MyAssociation.com] is to be the voice of associations, and I feel that I'm still more part of the association world than the supplier world." She's more of an "interpreter" than a supplier, she explains. "Around here I feel like I'm the dumbest man on the totem pole. I'm always asking questions and I'm always saying 'Talk to me in a language I understand.'" She sees herself as a guide for associations in the increasingly complex realm of high-tech decisions.
Looking Back Relationships with staff and colleagues are what Hanson will miss most at the ADA, but the routine of managing a staff of 10 and planning about 300 meetings a year had become, in a word, stifling. "Day-to-day management responsibilities started getting in the way of my creativity," she says, although she acknowledges the ADA as the "true professional standard of what associations should be." The ADA is different from other associations, Hanson says, in that things move quickly rather than mire in bureaucracy.
A solid relationship with the board and her superiors at ADA, however, allowed her to prep them for her inevitable departure. "I had been voicing the need to expand my horizons," she explains, so the news didn't come as too much of a shock. Hanson says in the months prior to her leaving, she had laid out the game plan for several new projects "that would bring in quite a bit of revenue," not disclosing details. But the day came, and Hanson left without seeing those projects through. "I did give them a couple of recommendations for my replacement, though," she says.
"At ADA I spent much of my time mentoring," Hanson says. "Now I'm able to stretch my knowledge, and I am not spending 80 percent of my time managing a staff and turnover."
What about those 18-hour dot-com days we hear about? Hanson says she's working about 12 hours a day--not nearly as much as the time she put in at ADA. "A lot of the work I do now is on my own schedule, not other people's," she explains. "I have great freedom. I feel like I have a life."