Robert Waller Jr.
For more than 30 years, Mount Laurel-based Association Headquarters has been aiding industry associations in leadership growth, strategic planning, fundraising and more to get their message across to members and supporters alike. With clients ranging from the American Neurological Association to the United States Amateur Boxing Foundation, their focus is on finding a unique, tailored approach to achieve success. We spoke with CEO Robert Waller recently about the qualities of a good leader, the company’s success—it was founded in a one-bedroom apartment and now has more than 170 employees—and about the benefits of hiring an association management company (AMC).
You've been in this business, advising/assisting various associations in meeting their goals, for 25 years. What advice would you give yourself 25 years ago?
I would tell myself to follow the advice that Jim Collins gives in his book, Good to Great. Ensure that you have the “right people in the right seats on the bus.”
What led you to this industry?
My business partner and I found ourselves at the right place and time in our lives. We were both ready to create an AMC that would be known as the most innovative and trusted management partner to associations.
What changes in the industry have you seen?
An association management company provides volunteer leaders the support they need, when and where they need it. Association volunteers today have a better understanding of these services than ever before.
What are the benefits of a volunteer organization hiring an AMC?
An association management company focuses the attention of the leaders to the direction of the organization rather than the time-consuming operational issues. At AH, we invest in technology and product management solutions, both of which directly benefit the organization and increase overall project efficiency. Managing annual meetings and conferences as well as member databases and revenue streams are also just a small sampling of services an association management company can provide to volunteer organizations.
How do you ensure the approach to each organization is unique?
We ensure that not only are we a right fit for them, but that they are a right fit for us. By learning the culture of the organization, we are able to provide them with the services they need most, while delivering a strong value proposition.
What is the challenge you've seen most often with associations you’ve dealt with?
Too many times, board leaders spend too much time addressing tactical issues as opposed to focusing on the strategic direction the organization should take. We strive to help the board stay focused on strategic issues affecting the industry and the association.
Your company views staff development and satisfaction as a major priority. What do you think is the key to creating an appealing yet productive work environment?
To create both an appealing and productive work environment, AH established the following Core Values based on what employees identified as what they most closely align with: customer service, expertise, social responsibility, innovation, flexibility, respect, transparency and accountability. We live these as a company starting with the hiring process straight throughout day-to-day operations.
Giving back to the community is important to you. Is that something you work to instill in employees?
One of our Core Values is social responsibility. We consistently encourage our employees to “pay it forward” by contributing to the community both inside and outside of the office.
What is your personal management philosophy?
Hire great people, provide them the tools and training they need and then get out of their way and let them do their job.
What do you like to do to unwind at the end of the day?
Catch up with my family
Little known hobbies?
Restoring antique cars.
Proudest career moment?
Receiving “Best Places to Work” [designation] five times.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 3, Issue 11 (November, 2013).
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