ESAE, AssociationExecutives.EU Award 2016

An interview with Michel Ballieu, 2016 Award winner
27th Oct, 2016

In recognition of contributions to our European society, AssociationExecutives.EU, and to celebrate a track record of professional integrity, the “ESAE, AssociationExecutives.EU Award” was given to Michel Ballieu, the now-former CEO of ECCO - the European CanCer Organisation. Judged by peer ESAE members, executives and leaders of European associations, the annual award was presented in June 2016 at our European Association Summit (EAS), held each year in Brussels. Interview by Philip SPRINGUEL, ESAE, AssociationExecutives.EU President

Michel has 45 years of professional experience. He has been an association leader and executive for non-profits, and a member of our European Society of Association Executives (ESAE, AssociationExecutives.EU) for many years. A strategic thinker and a mentor, he is now an independent association advisor focused on identifying and developing management skills for associations.

Michel BallieuCongratulations on winning this prestigious award. How does it feel to be so recognised by your own peers in the association management field?

I was surprised! I was not expecting this award and had not thought I was the most active long-time ESAE member! I was honoured of course, and in accepting the award at EAS, I used the opportunity to insist on the importance of education. Our associations need and deserve professionals who are experts in their job, and ESAE contributes greatly to this with its Peer2Peer workshops programme and by supporting the Solvay Executive Master in International Association Management.

You have been active in the European association management arena for nearly 20 years, how has the profession - as it is exercised in Europe - evolved over the years?

It has definitively evolved in a good way. Today’s associations are much more mature and professional. We have progressively been developing more sophisticated management, being confronted to increasing competition, impacted by new rules and regulations, and facing more complex revenue generation.

This evolution of our environment requires a lot of engagement from our volunteers and staff, but it is part of the beauty of our jobs. In parallel, our associations have significantly increased our credibility towards stakeholders: our members of course, but also the regional politicians, the EU, the industry and even the public.

How do you see AssociationExecutives.EU playing a role in the development and support of the next generation of association professionals?

Education is key. Learning by doing is no longer sufficient. We executives and our staff at all levels need to grasp all opportunities to progress faster in our professionalism. ESAE is an easily accessible, affordable and efficient resource.

You are known by your peers at ESAE to place a lot of emphasis on professional integrity. Could you describe what it means for you?

Integrity is important to establish the credibility and the success of an association.

Associations exist to serve a cause, and we as professionals are contributing to that cause. Of course, we all are working to earn a living, but working for a cause gives sense to our professional life: we know that we are helping the world to be better.

Integrity and respect should drive us in our relations with our volunteers, our sponsors and our service providers, but also with colleagues and staff.

Associations are based on values, integrity should always be on the top of the list.

What comes next for you?

Though I’ve reached so called retirement age, I have launched a consultancy because I am passionate about the world of associations. It has been for me a second career for half my professional life, and I have enjoyed it so much.

With all this experience, I have understood how important it is to rely on a strong and qualified staff. I have been very lucky to work with great people, but I also understood how difficult and how much work it was to find them. Recruiters in Brussels often confuse us with charities and so are rarely interested in a market that they consider unprofitable. That is why I offer help to associations in identifying qualified staff; a service I provide based on the lessons I have learned during my 18 years experience in association management and gained through the recruitment of 100 staff during my 45-year professional career.

Find Michel Ballieu at

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