Greetings From Your 2012 NACM-National Chairman
MARSHALL KAHN, CCE
The Marshall Plan: Kahn Takes Chair at NACM
Marshall Kahn, CCE of Irvin Kahn & Son Inc. doesn’t like change…at least not in the sense of what he believes the word conjures up in reference to the National Association of Credit Management (NACM). Change is not something Marshall, at the onset of his term as NACM chairman, wants to see, hear or talk much about. The key word, and ethos for that matter, is evolution, not change:
“To me, change means something dramatic. Rather, what we need to be about is adding layers to the positive things already being done,” Marshall said. “I think NACM has to continue to evolve not just to be important to the credit profession, but to the entire business reporting chain.”
Evolving is something one in the credit management field needs to continually do, especially if said professional plans to stay in the game for some 40 years, like Marshall, who followed up earning a Bachelor’s Degree at Indiana University in 1971 by beginning his lengthy stint working for the company his grandfather (Irvin Kahn) started in Louisville. It’s also when Marshall started a career-long involvement with his local affiliate, now operating as NACM South Central, for which he served as chairman twice.
The credit and collection side of the family’s business wasn’t initially in the plan for Marshall’s career arc, but as new patterns of customer payment, or lack thereof, formed over the years, he evolved and obviously took to the credit side quite well. “When I started in 1971, we really didn’t have a credit department. Everyone still actually paid their bills,” he said with a laugh. “Someone had to collect the money and my dad didn’t want to do it, so I did it.”
As Marshall sought a position on the NACM-National Board of Directors a couple of years ago, he came in with a “lead-by-example” attitude and noted the importance of empowering leaders and members at both the national and affiliate level to use actions and subsequent word-of-mouth efforts to promote things like education and participation in events. He intimated that it’s now time to take word-of-mouth to another level and that National and affiliates alike need to toot their own horn more or employ “smack-in-the-face marketing,” so to speak. Otherwise, many of the newest offerings and nuances of NACM and the affiliates may not be known or fully understood by the members.
“Just talk about these things more when you get in front of people at events and conferences, like Credit Congress,” Marshall suggested, stressing not to assume the members already know. “Tell people in the audience exactly what we have to offer that they may not have known we even have. We need to be more aggressive at the national and affiliate levels so we can all benefit from getting more attention and thrive. We have to do a better job of getting information out on the evolution of NACM, like the developments within areas like MLBS [NACM’s Mechanic’s Lien and Bond Services] and FCIB, as well as the quality of National staff charged with developing and delivering services to all the members.”
Marshall has also long stressed the importance of being entrepreneurial as an association, not just to survive the rough economic patches but to set the foundation to thrive. These days, he sees an NACM that is becoming, in some ways, not just a business management firm, but also a business itself. It’s one of the reasons that developments within MLBS, in particular, have caught his eye.
“A lot of people are now wearing multiple hats,” said Marshall. “Not only are the lines blurred, they’re overlapping. Look at all the stuff we’re doing to generate revenue outside of dues. Look at the services, like MLBS, we offer members. They are on the cutting edge—MLBS really gets it.”
As for the singular big issue on which to focus for his 2012 tenure, Marshall is not yet willing to pick one. That’s because he sees the role of chairman as a bit of an observe-and-react situation based on current events and trends. He noted, for example, that past chairmen Phyllis Truitt, CCE and David Beckel, CCE focused largely on FCIB because of the significant transitions occurring within that business division during their tenures. In essence, what happens in the business and credit world in early 2012 may change the course of action for the year, or even years, to come and demands a leadership flexible enough to react.
Reflecting on FCIB, the incoming chairman raved about the strides it has made since changing its structure in 2010. One of the most notable things he sees is the new level of inclusiveness and interactivity that its longer-term members really seem to appreciate.
“Several people who came to the [FCIB’s 22nd Annual] Global Conference came up to me and said they used to feel on the outside,” Marshall said. “Now, decisions are being made by an international collection of members and advisors, not just three or four people who’ve known each other for years.”
Marshall noted that this interactive spirit of information and idea sharing helped give rise to the popular “Doing Business In…” series, which has drawn hundreds of credit professionals to live sessions at events like the Global Conference and NACM’s Credit Congress, as well as virtually via webcasts and teleconferences. The “Doing Business In…” series started with 90-minute or longer live sessions about best business/credit practices and advice for working with companies based in places including China, South Korea, Chile, Brazil and Canada. They’ve drawn rave reviews from the start and since then have grown into a regular inclusion among FCIB’s educational offerings.
“Right there is something coming from the opinions of members of the current board,” Marshall said. “Changes like that at FCIB have been extremely positive.”
Additionally, he stressed the need to continue to invest in technology, not just in key educational offerings such as online webinars and teleconferences, but in equipment at the National and affiliate offices. The association’s use of social media, blogs and other web tools to get the NACM message out should also continue to expand. It’s less of “if you build it they will come” to him and more of a “it has to be there, and be good,” for when the membership does come looking for it.
“Every person isn’t going to take advantage of everything NACM offers, but it’s good to have it there for them because, once they need it, they’ll get on it,” he said. “You have to continue to invest in technology, especially at the National office, so the people providing the services and products to the members have up-to-date technologies or are on the leading edge. We’ve got to keep investing so we don’t have to address things in one fell swoop.”