It was May 17, on the second half of the work day, when an email that crossed my inbox grabbed my attention. When I saw the subject link and who it was from, my thought was exactly what the sender shared, but that didn’t make the announcement any less impactful.
The email I am referring to is Susan Neely announcing that after 13 years as the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the American Beverage Association (ABA), she will be departing this summer to join the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) as its next CEO. In her message, Susan said that her decision to leave the ABA was based on two factors.
“Most importantly, I don’t think that ABA could be any stronger than it is right now and if there was ever a good time for me to go, now is the time,” she stated. “Secondly, I want one more professional challenge in my career, and I am at the stage in my life when now is the right time for me to embark on that journey.”
I wish Susan the best on her new journey with the ACLI, but also want to take a moment to reflect upon the amazing accomplishments that she has achieved during her time with the ABA.
When I began my tenure with Beverage Industry in 2010, the School Beverage Guidelines reached a monumental stage. Based on data compiled by Keybridge Research, which was published Aug. 16, 2012, in the American Journal of Public Health, the ABA and its members succeeded in reducing the beverage calories shipped to schools by 90 percent between 2004 and the 2009-2010 school year.
That same year, the ABA launched the Clear on Calories Initiative to support the Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign. This initiative added easy-to-read, front-of-pack calorie labels for every can and bottle produced.
Yet, the biggest initiative that Neely and the ABA are taking on is the Balance Calories Initiative (BCI), which brings together America’s largest beverage companies (The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group) to support consumers’ abilities to choose beverage products based on the guideline of balancing what you eat, drink and do on a daily basis. Ultimately, the BCI hopes to achieve 20 percent beverage calorie reduction for each person by 2025.
All of these initiatives exemplify how Susan’s leadership style is about being part of the solution when it comes to the health-and-wellness needs of today’s beverage consumers.
I have told many how much I believed that Susan was one of, if not the best, leaders among trade associations. Admittedly, I have a slight bias because of covering the beverage market and being fortunate to have interviewed Susan numerous times. However, when CEO Update named her the 2017 Trade Association CEO of the Year, I feel that my appreciation went beyond personal bias.
When the ABA names Susan’s replacement, I likely will be on maternity leave, so my good-bye to Susan will be this column. However, I will be eager to continue working with the ABA and its new leadership to share the accomplishments and concerns impacting the non-alcohol beverage market.
Once again, I want to send my best to Susan and ACLI — they found a wonderful leader for their next journey.