"There's sort of a road we travel from learning our craft to mastering our craft to really having wisdom," mused Gary A. LaBranche, president and chief executive officer of the Association Forum of Chicagoland, as he talked with JAVMA about retiring AVMA executive vice president, Dr. Bruce W. Little.
"What I've found with Bruce is not merely somebody who is very smart—and Bruce is certainly very smart—or somebody who can read a financial statement or master the technical details of leadership and governance. But Bruce is wise."
The Association Forum is the "association of associations" for more than 1,500 business, charitable, civic, and professional organizations.
LaBranche continued, ""(Bruce) provides me personally and the Forum organizationally—and, I think, the profession in general—with deep wisdom and sage advice, and that's something that doesn't happen overnight. It is a reflection of his long experience and his thoughtful reflection on what it means to be an association professional and his working day-in and day-out over a course of many years in a variety of situations. That kind of sage advice and strategic insight is incredibly valuable."
This year, the Forum presented its highest award for outstanding service and accomplishments by an association CEO to Dr. Little.
Dr. Little received the Samuel B. Shapiro Award for Chief Executive Officer Achievement at the Forum Honors Gala, June 21 at Chicago's Field Museum.
"I am enjoying my 'night at the museum,'" he quipped, exploiting the title of a recent movie. "I didn't set out to be an association professional. My lifelong dream was to become a veterinarian. Tonight, I can honestly state that I became both."
Presenting the award, Janet Jackson, chair of the Forum board, said, "One day, Bruce accepted the call for service to his professional society, and he embarked upon a new career in association management. He mentored younger professionals and served as a role model and became active in association management. Those who know him value his wise advice, his commitment to professional excellence, and his legacy to leadership.
"While he might never have factored himself as an association professional, he has emerged as the very mark of what an association professional can aspire to be."
At the outset of his career, Dr. Little had intended to practice clinical veterinary medicine and later shift to a second career, likely in teaching.
He told his counterparts and guests at the gala that after a wonderful and rewarding career as a clinical veterinarian, he began reviewing opportunities that would allow him to share his knowledge and skills in veterinary medicine with others. His search took him "to the unfamiliar territory of association management."
As a new member of the AVMA staff in 1985, one of the first things Dr. Little had done was join the Chicago Society of Association Executives—the precursor to the Association Forum of Chicagoland.
Association Forum members teach and mentor each other, sharing their knowledge and experiences. Dr. Little has served on the Forum board of directors and on committees and working groups ranging from technology and diversity to public policy and finance.
"I believe it is my experience with the Association Forum that has provided AVMA members with one of their greatest member benefits," Dr. Little said. "The interaction that the entire AVMA staff has with other Forum members has expanded the horizons of our member veterinarians to the world outside the realm of scientific veterinary education.
"We take this knowledge and understanding we gain as members of the Association Forum back to our staff, our members, and the communities they serve."
Dr. Little added, "I can now say I was blessed to have not one career but two careers that combined my great love of veterinary medicine and my deep love and respect for education. I guess I did go into teaching after all."
In particular, Dr. Little thanked Gary LaBranche for his part in helping him grow as an association leader.
According to LaBranche, the chief staff executive plays a critical leadership role, not only in advising and assisting in the formulation of policy and direction, but more important, as a leader and manager of the professional staff. "We've certainly valued his leadership and advice and counsel here at the Forum, and he has made a difference in the association management profession," LaBranche said.
"I know that his retirement will be active and he will, I'm sure, continue to contribute to the veterinary medical profession, and I hope, to the profession of association management."