Kevin Kline, PASS President 2007
It's approximately a month away from the big conference in Denver. I have a lot of mixed emotions about this upcoming event. On the one hand, I always look forward to the PASS Community Summit as the pinnacle of the year, both for education and for catching up with friends long parted. On the other hand, this is my last year as president of the organization, ending at December 31st, and which carries a strong dose of bittersweet.
I've been an officer of the organization since its inception in the summer of 1999. And I've seen PASS go through monumental change. When I'd first joined PASS as the VP of Marketing, it's safe to say that we didn't have a clue what we were doing. We did the best we could, attempting to emulate our predecessors and contemporaries from the other major database platforms, the IOUG and IDUG. One thing we knew that they did, better than anyone else in their respective fields, was to host a major conference for their user communities. That was our first goal.
With significant cash infusions offered by our founders, CA (originally Platinum Technologies prior to acquisition) and Microsoft, and the logistical help of our association management vendor, SmithBucklin, PASS had enough means to put together and launch our first event in the fall of 1999 in Chicago. As the then VP of Marketing, we didn't know much about marketing, but we had the help from some very significant friends - the newly launched SQL Server Magazine and top marketing talent from Microsoft and CA who were acting as liaisons at the time.
We did the very best we could to get the word out. Total attendance, including non-paying attendees like speakers and exhibitors, was a bit over 1200. It seems like a paltry number compared to our current events, which is nearing 3000 in total size. But it was a good enough start for us to survive the year. The year 2000 saw an organic and natural amount of growth in Summit attendance and marked the launch of many of our first local chapters.
In the year 2001, I moved into the position of EVP of Finance, which is PASS' executive vice president. Things seemed to be going in a very positive direction, such that my job looked to be nicely relaxed - then disaster struck in twofold form. First, the dot com boom was coming to an end. IT education of all sorts was seeing a dramatic decrease in revenue and attendance. Still, we moved forward with our plans for the annual conference to run the week of September 16th. And while the year probably wasn't going to be a good or bad year, it didn't appear to be an outright losing year until the second disaster of the year struck on September 11th. Because of the travel restrictions, we weren't even able to hold the conference, while a handful of Europeans who came to the conference a week early to enjoy Orlando had to stay an additional week or two before they could return home.
Normally, when cash flow is good, the Finance job is a pretty easy one. But 2001 through 2003 marked years of great austerity for the organization, especially since we weaned ourselves from major support from our founders at that time. (The founders continue to be major exhibitors at the event every year.) Being such a new organization, a start-up really, we had no significant cash reserves and relied directly on the income from the Summit to sustain almost all of our activities. Hard times, for sure, and the belt had to be tightened. However, PASS continued to grow - both in our events, our chapters, and our offerings - and our financial position continued to improve.
In 2004, I moved into the role of president, and focused my attention primarily on improving the internal operations of the organization. At that time, almost all of the internal processes of the organization were done ad hoc. This didn't sit well with my training and experiences many years at a Big 4 consultancy, which emphasized transparency of operations and strong institutional processes. I especially felt that, as a not-for-profit, PASS needed to visibly demonstrate good stewardship of the community resources we were entrusted with. It was at that time that PASS first publicly disclosed financial information at our annual event.
Since that time, PASS has grown to close to 100 chapters world-wide, an annual event approaching 3000 total attendees, and tens of thousands of members around the globe. I'm honored to be associated with this incredible organization through its startup years, and look forward to seeing future generations take PASS even further.
If you asked me why PASS has been successful despite so many difficulties, I'd say that it's due to our fantastic speakers and committed and passionate volunteers. Certainly, our session content is the most reliable indicator of how our big annual event and local chapter meetings will go. To each and every one of you who've spoken at an event, both local and the annual Summit, and to those of you who've worked hard as a volunteer to keep the local chapters and international organization running - Thank You!
For those of you who see opportunities for improvement, please don't sit back and grumble. Provide constructive criticism! The top level of leadership of PASS, the board of directors, is eager to improve your professional association. Your feedback (and, especially, your willingness to help implement that feedback as a volunteer) is our best means of taking the organization to bigger and better things.
Thanks and I look forward to seeing you at our upcoming annual Summit next month in Denver!