October 2011

In the Midst of Change… TMA’s Executive Director Offers Some Parting Thoughts

Last spring, Linda Delgadillo, executive director at the Turnaround Management Association announced her intention to retire at the end of this year. We asked Delgadillo to look back at her remarkable 11 years with the association and speculate on the direction it may take in the coming year.

Last year for its Annual Turnaround Management issue, ABF Journal sat down with Linda Delgadillo and Lisa Poulin, in their respective roles as the Turnaround Management Association’s executive director and president to discuss the state of the association and its plans for 2011. Since then, Delgadillo announced her intention to retire at the end of this year. In light of this announcement, we thought we would give Delgadillo a chance to “fly solo” and speak to the association’s accomplishments as well as reflect on her 11-year tenure at the TMA.

We begin with the association’s key accomplishments. Delgadillo notes many and elaborates on two. “We focused on two things, and they are actually interlinked. As we looked at the association’s future and the industry, we realized while we have a mostly older, Baby Boomer membership, we hadn’t done a great deal to attract the next generation of members. So we launched a program this year called Next Gen in which we work very closely with the chapters to engage the younger generation to the Turnaround Management Association,” Delgadillo explains. She reports that the members resulting from the Next Gen initiative typically range in their mid-30s and receive a discounted membership for two years. “They get to try TMA on for size to see if the association is relevant to them as they progress in their careers in corporate restructuring. We launched the program July 1, and so far it’s taking off very nicely,” Delgadillo adds.

The second important accomplishment is also aimed at attracting the next generation of TMA members. “We took a look to see what education material we can put online to help the Next Gen learn more about the industry. We’ve put our body of knowledge materials for the certification process online just this past summer. Anyone can access them whether or not they are interested in pursuing the CTP designation. These are our courses on management, finance, accounting and law … all basic principals and practices of corporate restructuring.” In the future, Delgadillo says, the association may look to package its seminar series to companies as a way to encourage younger staff members’ participation.

As for 2012, Delgadillo expects the association will embark on a strategic planning process to assess how it best can serve the needs and concerns of its members. “We haven’t conducted a strategic planning process now since 2008 and these things are good to do every three years or so. And this would be well timed because we will have named a new executive director by then. Whomever that winds up being will be able to bring a fresh perspective to the association as he or she is learning about the industry and working closely with the association’s leadership,” she explains.

In times when the only constant is change, the turnaround management industry has proven to be no exception to that rule. “We know that this industry is changing, we hear it from our members all of the time,” Delgadillo says. “Some of the changes are subtle and some of them are not so subtle, but it’s important that the TMA goes back and revisits the mission statement, revisits the membership value proposition and, from that, determines whether or not the association needs to change. I think that’s the biggest thing that needs to happen — a strategic planning process. And when you go through a transition like this, it’s an ideal time to do it.”

It’s no surprise therefore that for Delgadillo, the most significant issue at hand lies in the value proposition for the individual members. She explains, “I think that’s the key question on the table. Is the value proposition the same as it was five to seven years ago or has it changed? In other words, what do members really want or expect to get from the TMA as the industry continues to morph? We need to get our arms around these issues now. We haven’t done a membership survey for a while and I think it’s time to go right to the heart of our audience and ask them if we’re meeting their needs and expectations. And if we’re not, they need to tell us that and give us ideas as to how we might meet those needs.”

Delgadillo’s instinct tells her that today’s members are looking for more opportunities to book business as a result of their affiliation with the association. “Networking has always been a top priority for our members and at the association, we’ve always said that networking and education are almost parallel in terms of importance. In fact, networking may be taking on more of a lead role these days,” she adds.

For Delgadillo, this goes beyond the traditional networking opportunities provided by most associations where members meet at conferences, exchange business cards and take it from there. “Today our members want to come to a TMA conference and be connected with people who can actually bring them business or professionals they can bring business to. They want to walk away knowing that there was something tangible that’s going to come out of the time they’ve spent attending.

“And that’s a major shift from what we’ve seen before … it takes networking to another level. We’ve provided that kind of advanced networking opportunity at our Distressed Investing Conference through the Turnaround Capital Forum. I think that’s been a step in the right direction and it’s been rather well received by our members. I think we need to consider providing more of those opportunities.”

These advanced networking opportunities go hand in hand in terms of what Delgadillo sees as the top concern facing the turnaround industry at the national level these days. She says, “What I’m hearing is traditional corporate restructuring and turnaround management work — the kind of work that was being done ten years ago — simply isn’t being done as much today. So, the top concern for these professionals: is where is the work going to come from? Some of our members are spending a good deal of time doing expert witness work and others are doing turnarounds through companies from the distressed investing side. Operational wind-downs as part of liquidations are also taking place. The nature of the business has changed quite a lot from everything I’m hearing.” And Delgadillo admits, aligning the needs of the members given today’s realities with the services the association provides isn’t a one-time achievement, but will require an ongoing dialogue with the association members and staff.

When it comes to the demand for traditional turnaround work, the international chapters are reporting a different reality. “What we’re hearing from our international members is that more traditional turnaround management work is being done, particularly in Europe,” she notes. And the differences between the international chapters and the U.S. chapters don’t stop there.

Delgadillo explains, “Right now, our international growth is progressing at a higher percentage than our North American growth. We have 16 chapters globally and we just approved the formation of TMA Hong Kong. This is our first chapter in the People’s Republic of China and we believe that we’ll have groups forming in Singapore and Beijing. This past year we did our first Asia Pacific Conference hosted by the TMA Taiwan chapter. We have a second conference scheduled and it will be hosted by TMA Australia in Sydney in September 2012. So, our brand is being strongly promoted in that part of the world … we couldn’t be more excited about that.

“In Europe, Romania is the latest chapter to be approved by the association. It is still waiting for approval in its country to establish the chapter as a not-for-profit entity and that approval should be happening at some point in October.” In June of this year, TMA Finland hosted the fourth European Regional Conference in Helsinki.

TMA also created a new entity called TMA Europe. “We set up that entity with the help of the UK chapter and it is registered in London at this point. TMA Europe is a way to unite the European chapters so they can all come together and still maintain their independent legal entities and chapters in their respective countries. Under the TMA Europe umbrella, they can start to collaborate and share practices more. We hired a secretariat who serves as this entity’s administrator. Again, I think it will only be a matter of time before something similar is put in place in Asia.”

In addition to expansion in Europe and the Asia Pacific region, Delgadillo anticipates Latin America will continue to grow beyond Brazil with new chapters forming in the not-so-distant future in Argentina and Chile.

As for association growth in North America, Delgadillo reports, “As we all know, some of the largest firms have had layoffs and there’s been a slowdown in the industry and that eventually translates into membership as well. I think that every association has experienced this to some degree, since what happens in the economy tends to show up 12 months later in the association that represents a particular industry.” Yet, she asserts, the TMA continues to be a vital professional association serving the diverse needs of the various constituencies represented in its membership in North America and beyond.

As Delgadillo prepares to vacate her post as the TMA’s executive director, I asked her to take a moment and reflect on her 11-year tenure with the association. It’s not surprising that the effects of change play a prominent part in her response. “Well, if I look back, it’s safe to say that nothing stays the same for very long anymore. That’s true in life in general. We’ve certainly seen that here at the association and in the industry. Things are changing much more quickly than I think anyone would have anticipated a few years ago.

As for me, I’ve had a wonderful 11 years here at the TMA. It’s been more than I could have ever expected. I’ve learned a lot from all of the leaders within TMA and have had wonderful opportunities to work closely with some of the very best thinkers in the corporate restructuring industry. These are individuals who deal with some of the most complicated business problems in the country and are successful at solving those problems in many cases. To be associated with people of that caliber has been an incredible experience … one I will always look upon with tremendous fondness. It’s just been wonderful for me both personally and professionally.”

As far as the search for the next executive director is concerned, Delgadillo firmly believes it’s a process best conducted without her involvement. She says, “It’s just my personal opinion, but I think it’s not the kind of thing the current executive director should be involved in. The association leadership should have the flexibility to seek the kind of person it thinks can move the TMA to the next level.”

Stuart P. Papavassiliou is senior editor of ABF Journal.