13 October 2022

Interview Luc & Jules Lejeune in DNA magazine: junior meets senior

"Wanting to be the solution to the problem"

(Interview translation in DNA VM Magazine edition September 2022)

Luc Lejeune has been an association advisor at Lejeune Association Management for over six months. Not entirely by chance. The agency was founded by his grandfather, Mans Lejeune, and is run by his father, Jules Lejeune. And even though he has known him all his life, Luc chose Jules for this interview. "Of course I wanted to do this with Jules. After all, he has worked at Lejeune Association Management for 32 years, 22 of which as a director. So when we talk about the question of which seat I would like to end up in, the answer to this is easy to fill in." Luc got his master's at Nyenrode University and studied strategy setting around sustainability. That is therefore his focus in advising associations, in addition to the usual activities for an association manager. He did not join Lejeune Association Management directly after his studies, yet a little faster than planned due to the effects of the Covid period and it is certainly not the first time he got to know the company inside out. "I also walked around there as a guppy doing odd jobs like sticking envelopes or cleaning up the mailroom, and because I had a six-month gap between my bachelor's and master's, I then did a project and created an online marketing plan for an association.”

Interview in VM magazine: Junior Luc meets senior Jules

Internationalisation

How has the profession developed over the past 30 years? Jules: "I started in 1990, so that was before the creation of the European single market. Europe has developed much further in that time, from 12 members to now 27. This also means that a lot of legislation comes from Brussels and associations have become much more Brussels-focused. A second development is consolidation. We are seeing fewer companies in different industries also operating more internationally. Associations were national and we met once a year internationally, now you have continuous international contact and mostly online."

Relationships and contact

"A third change is that there are many more managers sitting on committees and boards on behalf of members and less the entrepreneurs/owners. You used to see more mutual friendships developing, the association was also a personal network. This means you have to anticipate that personal drivers such as being able to network, sharing knowledge, ‘what's in it for me?’, make way for business motives such as advocacy, cooperation, professionalisation and compliance.

Luc: "I do find that recognisable. Sometimes you are dealing with 3 or 4 people on behalf of a member, depending on the topic." Jules: "Relationships remain important, but people are there for a shorter period. A fourth development is digitalisation, which has certainly accelerated in the past two years. We are going to meet more and more digitally and also with a higher intensity: shorter and functional." Luc: "Meeting more online is threshold lowering for contact, you also reach people online who otherwise would not participate, but it is threshold raising for physically attending events. And online works fine for a broadcast session, but for a discussion it's too slow, you miss the non-verbal communication, then it doesn't work."

What is the profession?

Jules: "We hear more and more that we need to change associations, develop into communities, organise flatter. How do you see the association as a newcomer?"

Luc: "I think associations have a social character. People come together in an association around a common interest and can join forces and share knowledge. As an association, you have to make sure you bring people together and you have to inform members and offer tools. An example is what we do at Kartoflex. There, we try to inform and help members on sustainability. Kartoflex has found a partner with whom they have created a software tool that helps members reduce their CO2 emissions."

So how do you explain to your friends what you do? Luc: "Our field is super broad, as an association professional you are general manager of everything that happens at an association: from office management, project management to strategy development and setting."  Jules: "Surely we should go more public with what we do, maybe then it will be easier to explain the profession."

Developing profession

Luc: "What are the main hurdles you have encountered?" Jules: "In the beginning, the biggest challenge was expectations. I arrived at associations that sometimes were still founded by my father, your grandpa and/or where he had made the first steps towards professionalisation; before that, they still worked with a rotating secretariat, for example. When I started, associations got their first websites, I could help them with that and that already made things easier for me. You want to continue this professionalisation and the challenge is then to keep the standard high and at the same time not to keep doing everything as 'we've always done it'. A second hurdle was professionalising as an association manager. My father was still really thinking mainly from the industry perspective. We discovered, partly through the launch of Peter Tack's propeller model and his first association management training, that association management is a profession by itself and that you can develop in it. I added the professionalism of the association manager to our company. And we therefore also housed the Dutch association for association professionals for a while (which has now merged into DNA, the Dutch institute for association management) and I was the secretary." 

Connecting generations

"A third hurdle is connecting current and new generations of young people. We see in associations that the older generation of mostly men is not being succeeded quickly enough by a younger, more diverse generation." So that hurdle remains to be taken. Luc: " I participate in the DNA talent programme.  There we are also working on this question, next year we will come up with an answer. What I see now: in terms of content, association management is a profession that young people would really like. It fits exactly with what young people are looking for. So we do not yet succeed enough in making clear what we are for. Indeed, we often have to deal with older directors and therefore a dusty image."

Ownership

A fourth hurdle, according to Jules, is that it is more difficult to find ‘owners’ of an issue or interest. Representing members by managers and pragmatism makes this more complicated. Luc recognises this. "For example in sustainability, ownership is important, in a conversation you do find out who you need to have in a company when it comes to sustainability, but then you still have to go to the management/the owners afterwards to be able to take a real step. So it's about having a long breath, the power of repetition, taking one step at a time and the long term. But at the same time, the urgency is high. If you wait until 2030, you are simply too late. What the Green Deal is really going to mean is starting to land now."

Future

Jules: "The key question for the older generation is: what drives a young generation to be active in an association." Luc: "Why I think associations suit young people and what you can therefore capitalise on is that my generation is curious, wants to be able to develop continuously, wants to do things together, wants to associate, borrow community and a sense of togetherness, and this generation is the engine behind the sustainability transition. The association of the future must be willing to face the big challenges. Sustainability, globalisation, these are not new questions. Associations must be part of the solution, not the problem. The big steps really need to come from the collective. Members look to the association when there is a crisis and tasks they cannot solve themselves, such as sustainability.

Source: DNA VM magazine - interview junior meets senior