David Sand: Unity is a Priority for International Associations
As the founder of Uwin Iwin (Pty) Ltd., a full-service incentive company based in South Africa, David Sand is a pioneer in the field of online reward fulfillment. He and his team are best known for developing the global account management system that is used by companies around the globe to manage their incentive programs.

These days, Sand is pulling double duty as the 2013 board of directors president of Site, a global network of meetings and event professionals dedicated to delivering business results. His appointment to the top position in January came after serving as president of the association’s South African chapter.

Sand recently spoke with Board Forward to discuss the challenges Site has faced in developing its brand on a global scale.

BOARD FORWARD: Mr. Sand, how has Site been able to build its brand to where it is now viewed as the global standard for the incentives industry?

DAVID SAND: First, it is important to note that we have been a strong brand that has developed over the last 40 years. Site has always been and remains a very member-centric association. We have a solid reputation for adding to the body of knowledge of our industry and dealing with key advocacy initiatives. Our international meetings are always well represented by a wide and diverse range of professionals who share, train and collaborate with each other. Second, we also have a very strong research foundation that is on the pulse of the latest trends and relevant information. Third, our chapters have always been led by really strong and inspirational local and international players. These people believe in giving back and contributing to the growth of our profession, as well as addressing the challenges that our industry faces.

BF: How have cultural differences been a challenge in growing Site internationally?

DS: Our cultural differences have actually enhanced our ability to grow. Yes, it always takes an extra effort to listen, adapt and design initiatives that can work for members in different regions. But I am really pleased at how our understanding has increased and how much more active we now are in countries like India and China. We have taken deliberate steps to include people from that part of the world on our international board, and they’re making big contributions to helping us grow.

BF: What has been the most challenging part of maintaining that brand integrity across so many diverse markets?

DS: That is a challenge. We have tried to create a strong organizational vision for where we are now and where we want to be, making sure that all of our leaders in the different corners of the world understand and are aligned. Designing a brand strategy and vision for the association was a primary challenge. Once you have that established, there must be a reliance on local leadership to be able to articulate and deliver — at a chapter level — activities that enhance the member experience and yet deliver on the local needs. Connecting the bigger brand with local requirements and then making sure things don’t get lost in translation is the challenge we face.

BF: Can you point to some international events that have been especially successful for Site?

DS: In 2012, our global conference in Beijing received great feedback from our members. We learned a lot from the interactions we had with the Chinese throughout the planning and execution phases of that project. Our hosts were very proud to showcase their destination, too, and everybody who attended from abroad got a new level of understanding of how to do business with the Chinese. The local delegates also got a huge amount of value-add from networking and coming into contact with senior leadership from all over the world.

This year, we had a European summit in Antwerp, Belgium. It was a phenomenal success for our members, especially with Europe having gone through such a tough economic ride. The event helped us come together to re-engage with each other and focus on the growth opportunities on the continent. The energy level was amazing, and the speakers were certainly inspirational. We focused a lot on engagement with local media. Media partners were critical in helping us build up to and subsequently cement the legacy of that event.

BF: What is your advice to other volunteer leaders in developing a global brand, especially those who are in the early stages of doing so?

DS: We’re very fortunate today in being linked into all of these phenomenal technology tools that can help connect us, market us and continually speak for an association. Association leadership must have the ability to resonate with and care for the membership. For me, that always needs to be upfront and personal. Are you connecting with the members? Are you caring for and are you meeting their requirements? Are you an association that goes beyond just education and meetings? Being personal is something that is certainly in the DNA of Site's leadership.

BF: How would you describe your leadership style, and how have you developed that style over the years?

DS: Leadership styles need to be adapted to the circumstances that one is in. For me, it’s about getting out in front of the pack. But it’s also about recognizing those moments when one has to be really supportive and roll up the sleeves with the team to get things done. So, I wouldn’t give myself one particular style. But I’m always looking for an innovative way of doing things to keep things fresh and fun.

BF: Do you recall a key piece of leadership advice earlier or even later in your career that has really stuck with you?

DS: I love learning new things, challenging the status quo and forming good friendships along the way. I learned early on that you become more and more reliant on people, and the strength of those relationships is what helps you get through.

Can you explain Site’s leadership structure?

DS: How it works is you come in as a president-elect, then you have your presidential year and then there is one year as past-president. What we have been able to successfully do is really create a streamlined approach so that each incoming president and president works well together. So you have that consistency of leadership, because a one-year term is really not long enough to effect massive change. It’s really become three leaders working together as one.

BF: With three leaders, one can imagine each having strong personalities. What tips would you have for other associations looking to make a similar succession work?

DS: The focus really needs to be on the business objectives of the association. To some extent, you have to put your own ego and your own charisma to good use for the association rather than have the association suit your own personal needs. That is where such three-year strategies come into play. By its nature, it is collaborative.

BF: With regards to Site, what is next on its calendar that has you excited?

DS: At the end of the year, we have our global conference in Orlando. We are in the process of re-shaping it to be quite inclusive of new entrants into our industry in terms of students and young leadership components. We’re certainly looking forward to that.

BF: Your passport must get a lot of use.

DS: Oh yeah. That’s one of the challenges, too. There’s a huge demand on everybody’s time to travel. It’s not possible for one person to be able to do that kind of traveling. When you go global, I think the structures have to change so that the expectations of your regional board members and their profiles and roles in the association become much more prevalent. Our European board members serve the European community and, likewise, the North American region, South America and Asia. At the end of the day, you have to share the leadership role.

BF: You are a family man, too, so how do you maintain that work-life balance?

DS: International travel has always been part of my career, and a lot of our members have that component to their careers, as well. It's really making sure that when you are home, you are present and not thinking about being somewhere else.


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