On the Shoulders of Giants

FORUM sat down with this year’s recipients for an in-depth Q&A about their paths to success and their hope for the future of the association industry.

By Gary LaBranche

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Gary LaBranche, FASAE, CAE
President & CEO
National Investor Relations Institute

When Gary LaBranche, FASAE, CAE, accepted the Samuel B. Shapiro Award for Chief Staff Executive Achievement, he did so from the unique vantage point of having presented the award to previous recipients as the CEO of Association Forum. In this acceptance speech, reflected on two journeys—his own, and that of the industry to which he’s dedicated his career. FORUM is proud to present his speech in its entirety below.

Shapiro Award Acceptance Speech, June 20, 2019

Thank you. Thank you so very much. I am deeply honored to receive the Samuel Shapiro Award, and to be included alongside the 34 previous honorees.
I knew Sam Shapiro. Sam was a tiny man, yet he was known as the “gentle giant” of our profession. He helped create the CAE program, chaired both the Forum and ASAE and wrote a history of the profession. Sam Shapiro was a giant inspiration to me and generations of others—so receiving the “Sammy” means a great deal to me. I look forward to the day when my successors as Forum CEO, Michelle Mason and Christie Tarantino-Dean also get to enjoy this honor.

Awards allow us to bear witness to each other’s growth as professionals and our development as a profession. Awards are milestones of our progress as a community. And while I deeply appreciate the award, the real reward is looking out and seeing all of you. It is inspiring, and I hope you each get to enjoy this view someday.

I am also inspired by Abraham Lincoln when I say that the world will little note nor long remember what I say here tonight. But the world cannot ignore what you do every day. Your efforts as an association professional, supplier-partner or volunteer leader is important. Because of you, the world is safer and healthier because associations worked to make it happen.

Millions of professionals are better at what they do because associations set standards and codes of conduct, credential knowledge and provide professional development. Buyers find sellers and people with a need find people with solutions because of associations. Associations help make markets and raise capital to advance progress, drive innovation and create jobs. Cures are found, and the arts supported because associations advance those missions. Associations facilitate consensus and forge agreement, fostering civic society and civil discourse. The history of this country was shaped by associations: the abolition movement, women’s suffrage, civil rights and LGBTQ rights were and are advanced by associations. One idea can change the world, and many of the best ideas have come from associations.

Associations are the Freedom of Speech made manifest. The right to freely associate is part of our contract with liberty. These freedoms have never been more important than they are today.

So, let us re-dedicate ourselves tonight to protect the freedoms that foster civil society. Keeping this promise is the highest honor we can bestow on each other – and it is the greatest service we can perform for our nation.

I am honored that the Chair-Elect of the National Investor Relations Institute is here tonight. Melissa Plaisance, Group Vice President of The Alberston’s Companies, is joined by several NIRI members. They and their colleagues help to ensure the integrity of the capital markets, something that matters to you if you own a share of stock or invest in an ETF or mutual fund. I am privileged to work in partnership with them and alongside NIRI’s incredible staff team, several of whom are here today. I am grateful to work with them all and they all share in this recognition.

I have been part of some great association teams, including the Association for Corporate Growth and of course the Association Forum. My career has not been a solo adventure. Mentors have guided me over the rough spots. Friends have both pushed me along and encouraged me to slow down. Colleagues have given me the freedom to soar and grounded me in reality. My journey proves that each of us has a stake in the others’ journey, for as our colleagues find their way, we find ours.

The one closest to me on my journey has been Karen, my wife of 33 years. Her career has been in nursing: starting out in critical care during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 80s, followed by 20+ years as a hospice nurse and now as a geriatric care manager. If they gave out awards for compassion and courage, she would have a warehouse full. But she’d likely say that her greatest honor, is, like me, being a parent to our daughter, Catie. Catie attended her first Forum event as a four-year-old in 2003, and I am delighted that she is here tonight. Catie and Karen, thanks for making my journey worthwhile – I love you.

Before I go, I am reminded of a previous recipient of this award, Rod Geer, the long-time CEO of the Million Dollar Roundtable – and past Forum and ASAE chair. Rod was known for his witty sayings – Shapiro and Key award winner Chris Mahaffey calls them “Geerisms.” One Geerism was a metaphor made famous by Sir Issac Newton: that we stand on the shoulders of giants. What Rod meant is that we are able to see more and farther than those who came before us, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on the stature of all the knowledge, sacrifice and experience that came before us. Well, that certainly applies to me. I stand tall tonight only because of the shoulders that I stand on. We all do. Thank goodness for that – because only by standing on each other’s shoulders can we ever hope to touch the stars.

Thank you.

About the Author

Gary LaBranche is the President & CEO of the National Investor Relations Institute.

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