On November 28, 2016, Steven Stout, CAE, joined TSAE as the new Chief Paid Staff Officer. Stout, a TSAE member for 10 years and past board member, had previously been with Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals (HFTP®) for 14 years.
He is a nationally recognized association leader, past participant in the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP), TSAE Young Professional Leadership Award recipient, USAE Magazine & The Association Forum of Chicagoland’s 40 Under 40 honoree, and one of Association TRENDS magazine’s Young & Aspiring Association Professionals.
We recently sat down with Stout to get to know more about his association journey to this new role.
Association Leadership: Everyone has their own story of how they found themselves in association work. What’s yours?
Steven Stout: Like most of us, I fell into the industry by accident. Right out of college, I got a job as a radio DJ at an Austin radio station. I was on-air from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday! It was awesome getting a chance to interview major bands or musicians traveling through Austin! My biggest claim to fame was getting U2 and No Doubt in the studio perform when they were in town for a tour. I was there for a year before the station was sold to a company looking to change the genre of music – one I knew I was not an ideal fit for – so I began looking for another job.
I found a job with HFTP as a meeting specialist since we did so many events at the radio station. When I started, I just needed a job because I knew my days were numbered at the station. I thought to myself, “Okay, three years of this, and I’ll go find something I truly love.” The more invested and involved I became with HFTP, the more I really enjoyed it: the staff, the members, and the projects. It was like nothing I had ever done before.
AL: So when did association management become a career, not just a “job,” for you?
SS: It was actually after I completed my first year as a staff liaison to a council. The council was overseeing one of our professional certification programs, and they had a tough task ahead of them. We made it through the year, and the program improved because of their work. My council chair worked for Walt Disney Resorts, and at our last meeting he brought this huge “official” framed certificate signed by Mickey Mouse congratulating me on the “magic” we accomplished throughout the year. The members were so overly appreciative of my efforts when I was really just doing my job.
It was then I realized this is a very special industry that we truly help make our members better professionals. From that point, I was hooked.
AL: You were a TSAE member for 10 years and served on the board. What was your experience like as a member?
SS: I was apprehensive about joining TSAE as a member as I was not in one of the top staff role in my organization. I still signed up and attended the New Ideas conference, but I was a terrible attendee. Every break we had I ran up to my room to avoid talking to anyone (because networking is not a skill I learned). I actually was en-route to the elevator when someone noticed I was new and dragged me to the New Member Reception. I met one past chairman, then another, then a few board members, and by the end of the reception I was playing Wii Tennis with the chair-elect.
From that point on I decided to really get involved – I applied and was accepted into the TSAE Leadership Academy, which has since evolved into Leadership TSAE. I served on the TSAE Finance, Nominating, New Ideas and Magazine committees. With each group, I met established and experience professionals who were willing to sit at the table with me, let me ask questions and interject my opinions. This was a big confidence builder for me back at my own office – which pushed me to earn my CAE in December 2009.
In 2010, I earned the TSAE Young Professionals Award, and in 2011, I served on the TSAE Board of Directors. I grew up within TSAE building my skill set and network pool. I fell in love with the organization, and I owe each level I advanced in my career to my involvement with TSAE.
AL: Why did you want to serve as TSAE’s chief paid staff officer?
SS: This was a decision I weighed carefully before throwing my hat in the ring, as I had been with HFTP for 14 years. Being somewhere that long, you become kind of like a family and change can be scary. But the more I thought about the possibility of serving in that role, and the more I talked it over with industry friends, the more excited I got about serving. So, it got to that point where I really wanted the job and I would have been disappointed if I didn’t at least try. I wanted to make sure it was not only the right fit for me but the right fit for TSAE because I do truly love the organization.
AL: What are your goals and aspirations for TSAE’s future?
SS: I want TSAE to be a place for everyone, whether you are just starting out working at an association or selling to the industry all the way to the C-Suite positions of these organizations. I want everyone to know, no matter your role, we have a place for you and we have an experienced network ready to welcome you. TSAE wants to be a shining example to other state organizations in calculated risks so our members can benefit from our venture. Perhaps they won’t do things exactly the way we did, but if they take components from our initiatives and implement them in their own organizations, that’s a success.
AL: What has been the biggest surprise moving from the member side to the staff side?
SS: As a member, I always knew there was a sense of community with TSAE, but the support of our industry in taking on this new role has been overwhelming and humbling. Members have been so supportive – sending cards, making calls or simply approaching me to say, “I am here if you need me.” Even outside the TSAE membership, association execs and affiliates all over North America are reaching out saying how excited they are about the future of TSAE. It makes you want to earn that support and prepares you to roll up your sleeves and say, “Let’s get started.”