Association Leadership Awards go to Sarasin, Taylor and Bass

Resilience. Innovation. Collaboration. Three executives to be honored by CEO Update have displayed these leadership strengths and more both throughout their careers and during this past year of unprecedented disruption and change.

The 2021 honorees are:
Trade Association CEO of the Year Leslie Sarasin, FMI—The Food Industry Association
Professional Society CEO of the Year Johnny C. Taylor Jr., Society for Human Resource Management Association
Lobbyist of the Year Kristin Bass, Pharmaceutical Care Management Association

CEO Update started the awards program in 2014, making this the eighth year that two CEOs and a lobbyist have been recognized. The three executives will receive their awards at an event to be held later this year.

Industry observers credit Sarasin for turning around a struggling Food Marketing Institute when she became CEO in 2008, stanching red ink and restoring relevancy. The group, rebranded as FMI—The Food Industry Association last year, reported revenue of $31 million in 2019 based on the latest tax records.

In 2016, Sarasin convinced her board to end the long-running, but steadily declining, FMI Connect show and to reinvest in other programs, including the FMI Emerge show catering to smaller companies. And she repositioned FMI in 2020, adding a supplier membership category and rebranding to establish the group as more than a grocery-store lobby. When the pandemic disrupted supply chains and supermarket shelves, Sarasin and her team connected with food retailers across the world and worked to make sure the food industry was included as part of the nation’s essential workforce.   

Previously, Sarasin had led the American Frozen Food Institute for nine years.  

Taylor arrived SHRM in 2017 determined to take the group and the HR profession to another level. He has worked to get HR executives a seat at the policy table, foster innovation and bring about social change. Last year SHRM launched the Together Forward @Work initiative, a call to action for racial equity in the workplace. SHRM’s venture capital and workplace innovation unit ParagonLabs announced in January the first-ever Better Workplaces Challenge Cup, a national competition in which startups vie to showcase products and services to improve the work environment.

Taylor testifies frequently before Congress on issues such as workforce readiness program funding, childcare tax incentives, tuition benefits and employer tax credits. He also pens a weekly “Ask HR” column in USA Today. The group reported $161 million in revenue in 2019.  

Before becoming CEO at SHRM, Taylor held a variety of senior leadership and chief executive roles in the private and nonprofit sectors. Most recently, he was CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents publicly supported historically black colleges and universities.

Bass, chief policy and external affairs officer at the $28 million-revenue Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, is credited with building a coalition of drugmakers, pharmacies and pharmacists, supermarkets, health insurance providers and others to release guiding principles for the distribution and allocation of COVID-19 vaccines. She has been a key advocate on Capitol Hill for pharmacy benefit managers—the companies which administer prescription drug plans—in the national debate over drug pricing.

Before joining PCMA in 2009, Bass was a health policy adviser on the Senate Finance Committee staff, senior vice president for policy at the Healthcare Leadership Council, and headed the federal affairs office for WellPoint.    

“The selection committee carefully considered a strong slate of candidates,” said Mark Graham, managing director of CEO Update. “This year’s honorees have demonstrated exceptional leadership, character and integrity in a year when the role associations play in society changed considerably.”  


CEO Update convened 17 people with deep backgrounds in associations—including current and former CEOs, recruiters and consultants—to select the honorees. The three winning executives were among those nominated for the award through a public submission process that began late last year.

Ivan Adler, president, Ivan Adler Associates
Steve Anderson, CEO, National Association of Chain Drug Stores
Julian Ha, associations practice leader, Heidrick & Struggles
Art Herold, partner, Webster, Chamberlain & Bean
Leslie Hortum, managing partner, Spencer Stuart
Kevin Keane, EVP of government and public affairs, American Beverage Association
Lorraine Lavet, sector leader for associations, Korn Ferry
Michelle Mason, CEO, Association Forum
Chris McEntee, former CEO, American Geophysical Union
Susan Neely, CEO, American Council of Life Insurers
Arlene Pietranton, CEO, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Susan Robertson, CEO, ASAE
Dawn Sweeney, former CEO, National Restaurant Association
Jay Timmons, CEO, National Association of Manufacturers
Stephanie Tomasso, associations practice leader, Russell Reynolds Associates
Conrad Woody, head of corporate and government affairs practice, Odgers Berndtson
Jim Zaniello, president, Vetted Solutions 

About us

The Association Leadership Awards is CEO Update's annual recognition program