Getting to Know Christopher Williston VI, CAE

At the TSAE Board of Directors annual retreat in early June, Christopher Williston VI, CAE, executive vice president, Independent Bankers Association of Texas, was installed as the 2017-2018 Chairman of TSAE.

Williston has been a member since 2006 and served on the board since 2012. He has volunteered in a variety of capacities, including chairing the Magazine and Budget & Finance Committees, participating in the Governance Task Force, and as a Leadership TSAE mentor.

He sat down with Association Leadership to talk about his passions, what it is like to be part of an association legacy, and what he sees on the horizon for TSAE.

Christopher and his wife, Michelle, with their five children.

Association Leadership: For those TSAE members who have not had the chance to get to know you, what would you like them to know about you and what drives you personally and professionally?

Christopher Williston VI, CAE: Personally, my family and my faith are the two most important parts of my life.

I consider myself to be the luckiest guy alive. I met my wife, Michelle, in our first semester at TCU. We were married in 2004 and now, 13 years later, we’re blessed to have five children (Emily, Lincoln, Lorelei, Nicholas and Susanna). Michelle and our clan of kids make me want to be a better man. They push me forward and ask the best of me, and I try to do the same for them.

I also can’t understate the way that my faith has influenced my life. I worked in ministry for six years before joining the association industry. Michelle and I also founded a 501(c)(3) organization a few years ago (The Mary Claire Project), which assists families who are seeking to bury their babies lost in miscarriage. These experiences have connected us with many people facing challenging moments in their lives and deepened our empathy and love for others.

Professionally, I think others would tell you I’m a very intentional and principled person. I believe in doing the right things, the right way, for the right reasons. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect (far from it) but it does mean I’m going to pursue what I believe is right, even if it’s not easy.

I also believe in building consensus and getting feedback from others every step of the way. I think my commitment to operating in that way has opened many doors for personal and professional leadership.

AL: As TSAE Chairman, you’re following in the footsteps of your father (Chris L. Williston, CAE; Chairman 1999-2000) and grandfather (C. Lincoln Williston, CAE; Chairman 1976-1977). How has that level of connection to the association industry influenced your experience?

CW: My dad and grandfather are my heroes. They’re two amazing men who have personified professionalism and excellence in this industry over the last 50 years. To be included in any category with them is a tremendous honor. Following in their footsteps has driven me to work harder and give more (particularly to TSAE) to distinguish myself.

That said, growing up around this industry certainly made my experience unique. What I often hear from others is, “I didn’t even know what associations were until I started working for one.”

In contrast, our family vacations were tacked on to the front or back of association events. I joke about my “misspent youth” tagging along with my dad at industry events and cocktail receptions.

Given my family history, I knew to turn to TSAE and the association industry to find a job after college — even if the positions didn’t align with my formal education. I feel like I got a leg up in my career by joining TSAE early and plugging in.

Christopher with his father and 1999-2000 TSAE Board Chairman Chris L. Williston, CAE.

AL: You’re the youngest Chairman that TSAE members have elected. Do you think that’s a significant shift for the association?

CW: I’m very proud to be the first of my Gen Y peers to serve at this level within TSAE. There are many of my peers who have embraced TSAE over the last 10 years and have done amazing things for the association. I’m just the first to have this honor and responsibility.

But, I don’t believe my service to TSAE at this level signals a major shift for the association, as much as it is an actualization of something we’ve been talking about as an industry for years — the multigenerational workforce.

TSAE is filled with great leaders who represent all the generations currently in the workforce. That’s an invaluable asset as we build an organization that is responsive to present and future needs of the association’s members.

We have a great governance and nominations process at TSAE, which looks at the needs of the organization and puts forth nominations of individuals who align with those needs. We do seek generational diversity for a variety of perspectives. I believe you’ll see leaders from each generation continue to serve at the highest levels.

AL: How would you sum up where TSAE is headed as an organization?

CW: The greatest thing about this organization, in my opinion, is the community of professionals that exists at its core. That community is TSAE’s strength and it will continue to be so.

As we look toward the future of the organization, we’re developing new ways for association staff to grow their skill sets.

So many of the industries that TSAE members serve are undergoing significant changes. We all must be thoughtful and nimble to help our members respond to those changes. We need well-trained association professionals who can understand, not only their job function, but how their roles tie back to their associations’ mission and the future of these industries.

This will result in new programs and offerings for TSAE members, as well as expanded partnerships between TSAE and other organizations.

The staff we have in place at TSAE, led by Executive Director Steven Stout, CAE, is talented, creative and ready to run. I couldn’t be more optimistic about TSAE’s ability to rise to meet evolving member needs.

AL: Do you have specific goals you want to see accomplished in your year as TSAE Chairman?

CW: I hope to see more payoff from strategic initiatives the board has worked on over the last several years.

First, we’ve set out to develop leaders at all levels of the association. We’ve done a great job providing education for established association professionals, and TSAE is focused on expanding its education offerings to provide a roadmap for growth early in members’ careers.

For members just starting out in the association industry, TSAE is reintroducing the Association 101 program later this year.

For those a few years into their careers, TSAE volunteers are building the framework for a future certificate program that will allow members to expand their base of association knowledge before they are eligible to pursue the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation.

I also see more potential in TSAE’s endorsement program. We have two great relationships with endorsed providers right now (Darling Promotional and enSYNC for strategic assessments). We’ll be focused on the biggest challenges facing associations and helping identify the best service providers to help TSAE members respond to those challenges.

With those initiatives coming to fruition in deliverables for TSAE members, we have the fun job of identifying the next set of strategies the board will pursue beyond my tenure as chairman.

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