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行业协会为什么重要

(2011-02-17 21:05:25)
标签:

卢克

行业协会

贸易协会

金融时报

英国出版商协会

杂谈

分类: 培训机构

为什么行业协会很重要?

作者:英国《金融时报》专栏作家 卢克•约翰逊

我要供认一个古怪的事实:我总是痴迷于行业协会。事实上,有一年我最喜爱的生日礼物,就是一本英国所有行业协会的名录。我承认这是个古怪的爱好,但请容我解释,为何我认为它们如此有趣——和重要。

事实上,称职的行业组织会对行业特性提出绝妙的见解。它们承载着某个商业群体的历史,要向外界解释其重要性。在它们举办的活动上,你可以见到这个领域的核心人物。我喜欢了解有关某个行业规模的关键统计数据,而贸易协会往往是一部部专业知识宝典。事实上,如果你是在从投资的角度研究某个行业,贸易协会应该是你联系的首站。

但除了我的特有好奇心之外,最好的行协还会执行各种各样有益的职能:它们倡导并分享最佳实践;它们会充当论坛,组织论战;它们向新手提供教育;它们还会充当贸易的游说者和拥护者。它们经常赞助行业的主要展览与期刊。一些协会还会向会员提供技术建议及采购折扣等亲和服务。

我猜测,大多数行业协会的组建,初衷都是出于保护目的,即阻止竞争、制定价格。不错,这种共谋如今是非法的。因此多年来,各种商业协会与联合会不得不寻找新的目标。一些协会比其它协会更为成功。在本质上,它们扮演着企业喉舌及职业情报网的角色。

过去二十年,我以代表或演讲人的身份,参加过诸多行业的年会与颁奖典礼,包括电视、股票经纪、餐饮业、酒吧、图书、剧院和报纸业等等。有时,这些聚会可能会让人感觉像是自我放纵,但大多数都是有价值的。有机会见到与你拥有共同的技能、激情与价值观的人,无疑是件好事。

最近,我在英国园艺中心联合会(Garden Centre Association)会议上发表了讲话。这是一次高质量的活动,展示了一个有活力的社团——有200多位进步成员,几乎都是私营企业。这是一个供业主学习、交际与表彰优秀的场合。最重要的是,他们都很友好。去年,我还以演讲人身份参加了一个更华丽的活动——英国出版商协会(Association of Publishing Agencies)年度集会。该协会的会员是一些合约出版商。这次活动同样令人难忘,我曾与之交谈的一些与会者认为,这是一次了解趋势、交谈、也许还有做生意、甚至斩获新工作的宝贵机会。

最好的行业协会会培育会员间互帮互助的精神。它们欢迎年轻的申请者,因为它们将会构成下一代会员。这进而也会促进从奖助学金到实习机会等各种慈善活动。这类协会不是封闭、秘密的会所,而是能够增长见识、热情、互助且博爱的组织。

当然,英国1000多家严肃的行业协会中也有经营不善者:被内讧搞得四分五裂,由平庸之辈执掌,观点僵化过时。它们往往收取的会员费过高,对会员的支持却微乎其微。对于这种差劲表现通常的解释是,整个机构已为主管们所俘获,而没有报酬的董事会则只是追求个人满足。

相比之下,有活力的行业协会的掌管者都是对协会使命深信不疑的人。他们在价值与效率方面以身作则,不惜一切代价避免官僚作风。

在当前艰难的环境下,行协应该提供企业家与经理人可以见面分享战争故事的场所,消除所有经营者都可能产生的(尤其是在经济低迷时期)强烈的孤军奋战感。对于那些被短暂的困境压得喘不过气的人而言,来自有着相同遭遇的其他人——哪怕是竞争对手——的友情与理解,可能会让他振作起来。

译者/何黎

I have an eccentric admission to make: I have always been fascinated by trade associations. Indeed, my favourite birthday present one year was a directory of all Britain’s trade bodies. I accept this is an odd hobby, but let me explain why I think they are so interesting – and important.

In essence, competent trade organisations offer a wonderful insight into the peculiarities of an industry. They carry the history of a business community, and try to explain its importance to the outside world. At their events, one can meet key players in their element. I love to learn the vital statistics about the scale of a sector, and trade bodies are often repositories of expert knowledge. Indeed, if you are researching an industry with a view to investing, the trade alliance should be your first port of call.

But beyond my specific curiosities, the best trade institutions carry out various useful functions: they promote and share best practice; they act as a forum for debate; they provide education for novices; and they work as lobbyists and champions for the trade. Frequently, they sponsor the main exhibitions and journals for an industry. Some provide members with technical advice and affinity services such as procurement discounts.

I suspect most trade associations came together originally for protectionist reasons, to keep out competition and set prices. Quite rightly, that sort of collusion is now illegal. So over the years the various commercial guilds and federations have had to find new purposes. Some have succeeded better than others. At heart, they act as a voice for business, and as an intelligence network for a profession.

During the past two decades I have attended as a delegate or speaker at annual conferences and award ceremonies for the television, stockbroking, catering, pub, book, theatre and newspaper industries, among others. Sometimes these gatherings can feel self-indulgent, but mostly they are worthwhile. Opportunities to meet others who share your skills, passion and values are surely a good thing.

I recently spoke at the Garden Centre Association conference. It was a high-quality event, and demonstrated a vibrant society, with more than 200 progressive members, nearly all independent. This was an occasion for owners to learn, network and celebrate excellence. Above all, they were a friendly bunch. I also gave a speech last year at a flashier affair, the annual convention for the Association of Publishing Agencies. It is the trade body for contract publishers. Again, it was impressively done, and attendees I spoke to felt it was a valuable chance to understand trends, converse and perhaps do deals – or even get a new job.

The finest trade associations cultivate a spirit of fellowship among members. They welcome young applicants, who will form the next generation. This in turn can foster charitable activities, from bursaries and grants to apprenticeships. Such entities are not closed, secretive chambers, but welcoming, informative, mutual and philanthropic.

Of course, there are poorly run associations among the 1,000 or so serious trade bodies in Britain. These are the ones riven with infighting, run by second-rate staff combined with an inflexible, old-fashioned outlook. They tend to charge too high subscriptions and offer too little back to members. The usual explanation for such weak performance is that the outfit has been captured by its executives, while the unpaid board are on an ego trip.

In contrast, dynamic trade bodies are governed by individuals who believe in the mission first and foremost. They set an example in terms of value and efficiency, and avoid bureaucracy at all costs.

In these tough times, trade bodies should provide a place where entrepreneurs and managers can meet to share war stories, and avoid the intense feeling of loneliness that any operator can suffer – especially during a downturn. The camaraderie and understanding from others facing the same problems – even if they are competitors – can be invigorating for those feeling overwhelmed by temporarily difficult circumstances.

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