Post Pandemic Association Trends with John Dee, CEO of Bostrom

Written by Bostrom


Join Jeanne Sheehy, Bostrom’s CMO and host of b.Cast, as she Interviews new Bostrom CEO, John Dee, on association trends coming out of the last two years of disruption.

In this episode, Jeanne chats with John Dee, CEO of Bostrom, about the current state of the association industry, two years after COVID-19, including financial management strategies, the significance of implementing digital transformation task forces, and John’s outlook for the next 6-12 months as he completes his first full year as CEO. Don’t miss Jeanne’s Rapid Fire Q&A session with John, where he reveals what talent he wishes he had and what he would be doing if he weren’t working with associations.


Jeanne: Hi everyone and welcome to this edition of be cast Bostrom’s Association podcast dedicated to talking about trends insights and really anything interesting going on in the world of Association Management today’s guest is John D CEO of Bostrom who recently took the Helm of this 90 year old organization back on January 1st.

We’re going to dive into his insights about what’s happening in the world of Association Management, post covid digital transformation, financial management strategies, innovation in terms of education and content delivery, and more.

So John, welcome to the podcast! Now you’ve been with Bostrom for 30 years but January 1st you took the helm as CEO, so what’s your first six months been like?

John: Well it’s you know as you mentioned taking over a 90-year company could be rather daunting. I do have the 30 years of experience which is very beneficial obviously, but really the way that we we approach the succession plan has has been in place for about five years. We’ve been working on on the plan itself back in 2018 and with that and the pandemic coming in 2020 it slowed us down a little bit, and actually worked to our benefit. It allowed us to be much more methodical as we were putting together new leadership teams within the company and sorting a lot of things out. So by the time January 1st came I would say I was pretty comfortable stepping into that role and so far so good for the first six months.

Jeanne: Are there any… you know… that that’s amazing, like stepping into that role the first six months, but you’re also coming out of covid you know, out of two years in the association industry that were you know very disruptive, so are there any trends that you’re seeing with financial management technology customer strategies anything that you see popping up, you know that you find challenging or as an opportunity?

John: Yes for sure there’s those things you mentioned, they’re all very relevant in today’s Association Management obviously. First of all you mentioned financial implications from the pandemic itself, investment funds were hit hit pretty well during the pandemic because of the dropping revenues throughout that period with cancellation of meetings and different things like that, and then that became coupled with with the stock market issues of 2022 which as groups were just starting to get revenue streams back and the like, soon had to deal with a loss on investments, you know, albeit unrealized it was still, you know, a hit to their financial statements, so that gave a lot of organizations and Boards paused during that process.

During the pandemic itself I had had many consultive meetings with boards explaining to them that that’s the purpose of the rainy day fund, is for for these types of circumstances and basically trying to convince boards that it was raining outside and it was time to dip into those funds, and that was more challenging than I thought to be honest, they still because of years of practice of holding very tight to those purse strings many many organizations weren’t weren’t comfortable taking that on, and beginning the process of depleting some of those to keep programs going.

Many many did however, and then like I said just this past year with the investment losses that many organizations suffered through that’s been challenging. Thankfully the first six months of 2023 seems to be working its way out of that. So hopefully that’s moving in the right direction. The other trend that that’s very strong is a trend towards outsourcing to be honest. Which has been beneficial for an organization like ours in Association Management Company.

During the pandemic many many organizations need to cut back on staff and and make some very hard decisions and now as they start to move out out of that area they’re starting to ramp back up and and being very strategic at the way they do it. So they’re not necessarily just replacing people that had been on staff before but taking a step back and looking if there’s a different way to do that and many times it is outsourcing certain functions as opposed to rebuilding the staff team that you had in the past. So we’re seeing that a lot on the meeting side marketing as well those kind of areas are basically been growth for us over over the past 12 to 18 months.

Meetings themselves as I mentioned many are back in person now obviously we worked with many organizations to pivot to virtual meetings during the pandemic and then coming out of the pandemic the hybrid way way of meeting and some of those changes will be long lasting. There’s a lot of professional societies that saw a great benefit of of moving to a virtual environment for their education and many of them reached customers that they had never reached before with an in-person conference.

So we’re seeing that thing in place where the trade organizations, many of them want to be back in person, many of our trade organization clients have come to us and said if you set up another Zoom we will we will never attend it. So they really want to be back in person. We’re seeing the growth of those coming back as well so those are all good news on that front but again some of those things that took place during the pandemic will be here and there’ll be something that we’ll be dealing with for a long time.

The last thing you mentioned was technology. Bostrom, part of our succession planning we had a five-year strategic plan and a big part of that strategic plan was also digital transformation and what technology was going to do and actually Jeanne you headed up that effort for us but that continues to to evolve Ai and chat GPT and all those different kind of things are just seem to be coming at us a lot faster than they used to, so so very glad that we put that group together back when we did, back in 2019 to start looking at things, and we really started with a blank slate.

We started with do associations really need an AMS? You know those kind of conversations we really wanted to start from the ground zero. So I don’t know Jeanne if you want to add a little bit about that yourself.

Jeanne: Yeah absolutely you know when when you talk about the boards and the changes they made coming out of covid what I loved about the opportunity that came about with boards is that they made quick decisions. Like they were forced to make very very quick decisions about their meetings, about cancellation, about hybrid, about virtual education, what did that mean, how do we monetize content, all of those things seem to move so fast coming out of covid and technology played a huge part of that you know.

So I think it was great to to lead that digital transformation task force and you know really think about, you know how is technology going to add efficiency and innovative programming to associations in the future and I think that the willingness of boards to move faster to look at new technologies in a different way, you know, that really made our jobs interesting in the last few years and hopefully in the future too.

So John what does your job look like in the next six to 12 months?

John: Well one thing I’ve spent the first six months on is really developing a network of fellow CEOs that I’ve known for a period of time that I admire in the industry and that and really, you know, setting up that Network, so I have that peer group that kind of tap into from time to time to speak to about certain issues that may be unique to the CEO role that I’m not as familiar with. So I made it a point the first six months on the job to schedule one of those meetings each month with a different person, and through that I’ve started to develop that Network so making sure to keep those connections I think will be very important.

There’s other avenues to do that as well through some of our industry associations so I plan to take a more active role in the leadership component of those groups in order to do that as well so that’s from a personal standpoint kind of the plan there.

From a job specific area you know the main thing is really taking care of our employees and the care and feeding of them. Obviously the job market has been very stressful for for all businesses and on the association industry is no different than those. We’ve been growing so we’ve been looking to add on to our staff and at the same time we’ve dealt with some of the transitions that many other firms have dealt with, people moving on to other opportunities as well.

As most people know covid did kind of give people a another lease on life in a lot of areas where they’re looking to do things maybe a little bit differently than they had done in the past and look into different job opportunities and things in different areas and different careers that they may not have thought of back in 2019. So we’ve dealt with our share of that, and like I said with the growth trying to keep that going is important cost of employment obviously is a major issue for a small business like ours. The market continues to drive salaries and we want to make sure that that fits in properly to the service model that we have and the clients that we serve.

The other side of that is making sure, as our employees are our greatest asset, we want to take care of them and that and that goes through a lot of different areas. We started a culture road map again back in like 2019 where we are really focused on career paths for our employees. For professional development there is the major DEI segment of that, that’s also involved. So really working with all of our people managers on on trainings and strategies of working through different issues and all those kind of things so we’ve really invested a lot of that in the past few months and we’re… or past few years actually, and we’re starting to see some of the fruits of that is as we move forward here, but that’s an ongoing thing that’s not a one and done type of situation. It’s something you need to keep in the Forefront all throughout and now I think it is important within my role to not only support the leadership team that’s in place in order to do that, but also have have that impact with all of our employees and to make sure that they understand the culture of the organization and what we’re trying to achieve here.

Jeanne: Yeah absolutely well it sounds like you have a lot on your plate for the next six to 12 months, but you know it’s a it’s an environment you’re well versed in, so I I’m sure it will be successful.

At the end of every podcast we do a mix of what some people out there might find familiar in terms of a proust questionnaire, or a mix of what James Lipton used to do at the actor Studio which is a rapid fire question and answer period. So I’m going to throw some questions at you and the first thing that comes to your mind one word a phrase however you want to answer it. It’s just a very quick Q and A to just get the audience a little bit more insight into who you are. John, are you ready?

John: Interesting sure.

Jeanne: All right what is your current state of mind?

John: Stressed.

Jeanne: What do you most value in your colleagues at Bostrom?

John: Humor.

Jeanne: What characteristic makes you well suited for working with associations?

John: Being a father and coach.

Jeanne: Very good! What do you consider your greatest achievement?

John: Hmm that’s a good one. I’ll say becoming CEO of Bostrom.

Jeanne: Who’s your favorite client at Bostrom?

John: You’re trying to get me in trouble. They’re all my favorite.

Jeanne: Who’s your favorite employee?

John: Jeannie Sheehy.

Jeanne: Thank you, thank you! All right which talent would you most like to have?

John: I am not artistic at all, be it drawing, or painting, or music, or anything. I would love to have any artistic talent.

Jeanne: Ah that’s great. What is your favorite word?

John: Favorite word? That’s a good one. Favorite word. what’s my go-to word? Yeah no idea. All right I’ll do two words “game on.”

Jeanne: I love it! All right last question and then we’ll put you out of your misery for this podcast. What profession other than working with associations would you like to attempt?

John: Oh well I’ve been very active as a volunteer athletic coach in multiple different sports and have always said if this didn’t work out for me after 30 years I’d be a high school teacher and Coach.

Jeanne: Oh that’s great! That’s great! Thank you John. Thank you for joining us for today’s podcast you were a very good sport. And thanks to everyone for listening in and we’ll see you at the next b.cast

John: Thank you!

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