Game Changing Globalization

29th April 2020

ASIS International, the leading professional society for security professionals, was founded in 1955 and is headquartered in Virginia. The organization boasts over 34,000 members from around the globe, but as with any professional society, there’s always room for growth in terms of membership and certification. In addition to strengthening the delivery of products and services through its local chapter structure, ASIS set foot in Europe thanks to Brussels-based AMC Exempla, who supports its mission to advance security worldwide. Boardroom caught up with CEO Peter J. O'Neil, FASAE, CAE, who shares why it made sense for the organization to take this route—and why it may be beneficial for others to do the same.

Words Remi Deve

Globalization has had a powerful impact on professional societies of all varieties, requiring many associations to seek field information in foreign nations. For associations that are considering global expansion, it’s highly likely that market potential and market share will vary widely from country to country, or region to region.

As a way to tackle expansion, the ASIS Board of Directors adopted a new, highly ambitious strategic plan. The association is working through an intensive change process to reinvigorate itself for the digital age. One of the highlights? An updated value proposition for current and new members around the globe.

Challenges ahead

ASIS International has faced numerous and different challenges in recent years. Chief among them are financial challenges, challenges related to global brand protection, challenges with knitting together and communicating a strong strategic plan that resonates across and through regional specific cultures, and challenges with effectively managing and leading chapters and councils comprised of nearly 2,000 volunteers. “We’ve tackled all this by making sure we don’t sell a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model around the world because that never works, given the disparity in needs and resources of our members across regions,” explains Peter J. O’Neil, CEO of ASIS.

At the same time, it is impossible to develop a successful, sustainable long-term strategy without understanding the future in which your members will live and work. Whether you’re using strategic planning or value proposition design, research confirms that in order to be successful, associations must develop strategy based on the anticipated future of their industry or profession. Security professionals today are faced with an increasingly IoT-driven and rapidly changing business environment where the traditional divide between physical and cyber security disappears,” O’Neil explains. “It’s only by looking at the future, and where it lies, that an organization like ours will be successful.”

Being a U.S.-headquartered association with a global presence presents a variety of complications. “The U.S. presents unique challenges, given the strong feelings about our national leadership and the global positions taken abroad on behalf of the U.S.,” O’Neil points out. “With this comes assumptions about ASIS. Given the profession we represent—security—there are further assumptions that we are an extension of the U.S. CIA or another security-oriented organization—which is simply not the case.  In addition, geo-politics genuinely impacts ASIS on many levels, especially membership.”

Looking to Europe

In Europe, there is the additional challenge of a U.S.-headquartered organization creating a regional value proposition in an events market that a lot of people see as congested and competitive. By appointing Brussels-based AMC Exempla as its European representative, ASIS made it “much more convenient and cost-effective than hosting an independent regional office,” O’Neil says. “As ASIS expands in other parts of the world, we will likely follow a similar model.”

This piece is part of the exclusive partnership between Boardroom and the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), which comes as an innovative response to the increasing decentralization of international associations as they look to develop their activities globally.

Bénédicte Losseau, a partner at Exempla, explains that investing in a physical or staff presence in Brussels shows commitment to members in the region, since it’s a city where it’s natural to have a European or international outlook, and where a large majority of nationalities and languages are represented. 

The association ecosystem in Brussels is another added value. Associations like the European Society of Association Executives, FAIB (the federation of associations based in Brussels), and the Association Bureau at come together to form a strong support network. There is also a diverse workforce with association experience and transferable skills, as well as a large number of associations in Brussels that can serve as advisors for legal and tax issues. “It adds credibility, especially if you run any EU affairs or liaison activities,” Losseau explains. European staff can help interpret the European business culture and communication styles – and we know this can vary a lot across our little region.” 

Many associations see Brussels as the clear choice for a European headquarters, in addition to the city serving as a getaway for the Middle East and Africa. Primary drivers include everything from banking and IP laws and rules to access to top regional association talent. “Just like it’s the case in Washington D.C., we really feel like we’re a member of an association community that shares the same challenges and opportunities,” O’Neil says. “By having easy access to European institutions, and by meeting up with our peers, we can design solutions that will make our organization thrive.”

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