Ready to Lead with a Lifetime of Lessons

ready to lead
Photos by Melissa Hatcher

By Jodi Ann Ray, CAE, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants

I AM HUMBLED and honored to serve as Chair of the TSAE Board of Directors. I have two amazing professional communities that mean the world to me, and TSAE is one of those communities. It is my sincere hope to lead the board in a direction that honors TSAE’s mission and vision this year.

When I was asked to share about myself, I wasn’t sure where to start. But after thinking through my time and experiences in the association industry, I was able to identify some key lessons that I have learned along the way. These are lessons that have shaped my career and made me who I am today.


It is hard to believe that I was appointed to my first executive director position 28 years ago with the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce in Connecticut. I was 23 years old and had served in the membership position for about a year and half before I was given the tremendous opportunity to serve as the executive director. I clearly had a lot to learn, but I had the drive to work hard and learn everything I could. I am thankful to those leaders who supported me and gave me a chance to prove myself.

And that is what a lot of those early days were all about – proving myself. Not everyone thought those leaders that gave me the opportunity to lead had made a great decision. I didn’t want to let them down. I worked long and hard, and for all those things I didn’t know I worked a little harder.

There were some tough lessons along the way and the most important lessons were about dealing with adversity. It is one thing for someone to say they don’t like your work; it is quite another for them to make it personal. I had a mayor of one of our local communities who worked really hard to embarrass me in a public meeting. I learned quickly what it meant to put on a brave face. Even though there are some moments that could have broken me – they didn’t. There was no time to retreat, but rather I had to pick myself up, hold my head high, and keep on moving. The most important part of the process of earning respect was building and cultivating relationships with current and past leaders. For every difficult person, there are at least five more who want to see you succeed. Adversity only makes you stronger.

and that is what a lot of those early days


I made it through that exciting yet challenging time because of three things: the amazing professional community that accepted me in both Connecticut and New England, a college extension program based in Hartford that provided great educational content for nonprofit leaders at an incredibly affordable price, and a six-year educational journey with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Organization Management (IOM). It wasn’t my college degree that prepared me to serve and lead; instead, it was the professional community and additional education opportunities I sought out after college that saw me through.

Learning continues to fuel me in whatever form that might be. I feel fortunate to have completed the IOM program along with receiving the Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) and Certified Association Executive (CAE) credentials. No matter what the program and curriculum may be, the exchange of ideas with colleagues is invaluable. I think I will know when it is time to stop working when I am no longer interested or willing to invest in learning and continuing to hone my skills.


In both Connecticut and North Carolina, I had the opportunity to be a member of Rotary International. Rotary’s highest honor recognizes Rotarians who demonstrate Rotary’s motto, “Service Above Self,” by volunteering their time and talents to help others.

Rotary is one place that I really had the opportunity to practice service above self and it played an important role in helping me imagine how I wanted to serve members in my professional roles. It does not matter what problem or question we are tackling, large or small, I always want our members to be at the center of our decision making.

To this day when I am facing a difficult decision, I will still turn to the Rotary four-way test to guide my decisions and my actions:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build good will and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


There is nothing quite as unique as the relationship you share with your volunteer chair. I have been fortunate to partner with more than 25 individuals in six different organizations. No matter who is serving in the role at the time, there is always something to learn. You really get a chance to understand someone’s leadership style and preferences and adjust your approach accordingly. It is all about the relationship and the communication and like anything else, there will be some partnerships that just seem to work with very little effort and some that are a bit more of a challenge.

Here are a few very simple things that I think are essential to a great partnership with your chair:

  • Talk about your respective roles to ensure you have a common understanding no matter how long they have been volunteering for the organization.
  • No surprises – neither of you can be surprised in a meeting by the other.
  • Work out any differences in private and present a united front.
  • If there is a potential issue or concern, always try to make sure they hear about it from you.
  • Spend time getting to know each other and not just talking about work – it’s about the journey as much as it is the destination.
let people know where you want to go


It has always been hard for me to ask for help, but I have learned when I do ask for help some amazing things can happen.

I have had so many incredible and very interesting professional experiences during my career and for that I could not be more grateful. There were also many unique and memorable projects along the way. I worked on a team that led our region to be recognized as an All-America City by the National Civic League, I played an important role in recruiting the U.S. headquarters for Lenovo, the largest PC maker in the world, bringing a $100 million investment and more than 2,000 jobs to our community, and helped my association reposition our relationship with our 90 chapters and clubs. What makes every accomplishment possible is the team that makes it happen.

Whether it is a personal or a professional goal, when you tell people where you want to go, they will go out of their way to be supportive and help you make it happen.


One of the best decisions I have made throughout my career was to continuously invest my time and energy in my professional community. I have had the opportunity to live in three distinct regions of the country and engaging with your peers makes any life or professional transition easier. I can’t overstate the value of being able to discuss either a concern or an opportunity with colleagues who truly understand what you do. It is a true blessing to have the opportunity to cheer each other on or have a hand reach out when you need to be lifted up.


There are so many opportunities that a career in association management can provide. I hope that we, as a profession, will elevate our work to educate students and graduates about the many possibilities about what they can do with and through associations and the rewards of a very fulfilling career. I see a future where fewer people join our profession by chance and more by choice.

As one small example, I love to travel. Association work has given me the opportunity to travel to almost every state and at least seven countries for work related trips. Association management can truly take you anywhere.


My family is amazing and incredibly supportive even if they have trouble explaining exactly what I do. I married my husband Joey in 2012 after moving to Texas in 2009, and between us we have five kids – three boys and two girls. They are doing so great navigating all that has come at them the past few years and we could not be prouder of the young adults they are becoming. Having five kids and a large, blended family has its challenges, but the rewards are even greater. Mason recently completed all of his firefighter and EMS certifications; Hannah is studying accounting, finance and eventually law at Baylor; and Mitchell is studying business at Texas Tech. They both just started their second year of college. Gigi is starting her senior year in high school and Merritt is starting his sophomore year. I can’t wait to see where their paths take them next – raising these kids has been my greatest joy in life. Never miss the important milestones and relish in the moments.


After all we have been through in the past few years, I could not be more excited for the year ahead, and as I look forward to working with all of you to move TSAE forward and make all of us better in the process.

I am so thankful for our dedicated board and staff, all of our committed and enthusiastic volunteers, and every single member who makes the decision to be engaged in their profession through TSAE.

I am grateful for the tremendous leaders who have made the time to serve TSAE throughout the years. I have benefited from your leadership and am better for knowing you.

Your TSAE Board of Directors just kicked off the new volunteer year with a strategic planning session to not only look to the year ahead but to also determine the most important priorities for TSAE to address in the next few years. We look forward to sharing the results of strategic planning with you soon so we can all get excited about our shared vision.

Cheers to a great year ahead for TSAE, for each of us individually and for the organizations and members we serve. We are definitely Better Together!

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