Executive Interview: Q&A with David Seckman

David Seckman, Executive Director and CEO of the Natural Products Association from May 15, 2000 to July 31, 2009, took that association, and the industry, to a whole new level in a number of ways. His acumen on Capitol Hill in particular has been invaluable. Because of his reluctance to blow his own horn, or let anyone else do it for him, most people have no idea of the ways in which we have all benefited from David’s talents, experience and hard work. He will be a difficult act to follow, and we will miss him very much. So on behalf of the industry - David, thank you!

1) Just a few of the accomplishments by NPA during your 9+ years tenure include: Increasing membership, moving the association to Washington DC, buying a building for its headquarters, name change to more accurately reflect the membership, HBA seal program, launching the Coalition, blocking potentially problematic legislation and passing some beneficial legislation. What do you think you will remember as the most satisfying accomplishment?

A: All of what you have listed above with the addition of the following: 1) opening an office in China to both open up the Chinese marketplace for US products and to enter into the first ever trade association agreement with USP to test raw ingredients before they are sent to the US. Also, NPA was the first ever association to apply for and receive a grant from the US government in support of the work we are doing in China (NPA is the only trade assn to have an office in China and we even opened up our office there years before the FDA opened up their office in China; 2) finding a way to reduce the dues which allowed more retailers to become members – we are at an all-time high in retail members which greatly helps our advocacy efforts; 3) creating a consumer website for advocacy that has resulted in millions of consumers having a “voice” in supporting our advocacy efforts; 4) expanding our “Natural Food Day” on the Hill where we are now recognized by members of Congress and their staff as “the leading voice of our industry”; 5) bringing back the focus of our association to what the founders originally envisioned via the adoption of a new mission statement and the creation of a new vision statement for the association; 6) helping to re-structure our regions to make them more efficient and effective; 7) being the first industry trade association to create a Political Action Committee so we can actually contribute to and support members of Congress and candidates who are supportive of the industry, and, 8) and probably the most important of all is outlining a series of goals, objectives and a vision and not just succeeding in a couple of them but all that we as a team (members and staff) set out to accomplish – in orders words, being successful in so many critical and important issues that the industry deals with.

2) Launching the Natural Products Foundation was a long-term goal of yours from very early in your tenure. Is it fulfilling your hopes? What kind of a future do you see for it?

A: The Foundation is another vision that is critical to the association and industry that we set out to put in place several years ago. The Foundation can and does accomplish a whole host of functions and activities that the association can’t or shouldn’t be tackling. As with any Foundation that is associated with a trade association it takes time for a foundation to get started, find the right voluntary board members, and fund themselves to the degree they should be funded. The Natural Products Foundation is off to a great start with a defined plan and the right leadership and is headed in the right direction. I continue to see the Foundation as a very important and integral part of what industry wants and needs to accomplish and see it working “hand-in-hand” with the association.

3) Anything you had hoped to accomplish that remains undone? Any regrets or missed opportunities during your time in industry?

A: None. I was blessed to have worked with five truly great Presidents, wonderful Boards, and the “very best staff” a person could ask for. I have realized all the goals that I had originally set forth when I came into the industry nine years ago – all because of their hard work, their professionalism, dedication and their never-ending willingness to step up and take the association, and hence the industry, to another level. I was proud of, privileged and honored, to be a “member of their team”.

4) What is your parting advice for the industry? Anything you have wanted to say but couldn’t?

A: Step up and volunteer, get involved in your trade association, open your pocket books and make a financial contribution to the association, foundation and coalition. There is an old adage: “No money – no mission”. Companies, stores, individuals need to contribute. If the NPA, Foundation and Coalition are not appropriately funded we will not succeed and if those critical entities fail – then the industry fails. Way, way, way too many folks in the industry sit back and let others volunteer and contribute, and if this trend continues – especially in the advocacy arena – then the industry will only have themselves to blame for our own demise.

5) Any specific guidance for your immediate successor?

A: Stay true to the mission of the association, the industry and convictions and passion of the membership.

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