by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | April 22, 2013

Elizabeth ZielinskiLast week, Meeting Professionals International announced the appointment of Paul Van Deventer as its new president and CEO. He will take over leadership of the association starting on April 29. Van Deventer comes from his position as a vice president in the health-and-wellness division of Walgreens, where he was responsible for overseeing revenue generation and client retention for the drugstore chain's suite of employer-focused health-care solutions. You can read more about the choice here.

Throughout the search process, MPI repeatedly stressed that it was seeking a leader who was in alignment with the strategic priorities and vision of the organization. In the announcement naming Van Deventer as the candidate chosen, participants in the search process confirmed that they believe that goal has been met.

From the announcement, we can infer certain things about what MPI envisions as its future under Van Deventer's leadership:

1. Building the MPI brand;
2. Driving overall growth;
3. Developing new partnerships and products, and
4. Expanding levels of engagement.

In the announcement, the reference to members and chapters is made only in passing; the overwhelming emphasis is on branding and growth. But how does one improve the latter without addressing the former? Moreover, the strategies seem to be focused on improving the benefits of partnering with or sponsoring MPI, but you can't offer value to those business units if you can't deliver their buyers -- the planners.

The reaction to the announcement on social media and in my personal network has ranged from lukewarm to indifferent. A few have mentioned to me that MPI has told them this is the time to expect real positive and substantive change at MPI. But that has been promised many times over recent years. And it begs the question, how often does change need to be promised before an organization realizes that something is fundamentally wrong? Let's never forget, MPI is an association, which by definition is a group of people who come together for a joint purpose. In an association the size of MPI, those joint purposes are diverse and variable. But in the end, we all want to be able to do our work better than we can do it without MPI. I'm not convinced that growth and new partnerships are the way for the planner membership to best achieve that.

I'd like to be cautiously optimistic about this choice. The announcement does mention that Van Deventer was chosen in part for his excellent communication skills and his collaborative management style. I thought Cindy D'Aoust, the interim CEO, was doing a great job -- and I believed MPI was on its way toward becoming a member-focused organization once again. Maybe that day is on the horizon, but from what I have seen discussed as the MPI strategy, I'm planning on keeping my membership dues in the bank for the time being. There might not be another organization bigger than MPI, but there are others who are getting the education, services and member engagement accomplished far better.

I'd like to know what others are thinking about MPI's choice. If you'd like to comment anonymously, please contact me via my email address at You can also leave public comments via the form below.