FAST COMPANY: How do you develop your customer base?
DAWN SWEENEY: Developing a client base, or in our case, a membership base, I think I've always looked at who's out there and said, "I want to get a 100 percent of them," and then anything short of that is usually higher than what we would have had otherwise, though I kind of like to chunk out the membership base in terms of in our case the top 50 restaurant chains, I want to have 100 percent of them engaged in our business. We as of about six months ago achieved that vision. 100 percent of the top 50 chains. Now we're off to a 100 percent of 51 through 100 chains and we've got about 87 percent of those, so that's our next goal. I think the idea really is to say, "We're not going to settle for anything less than 100 percent," which may not be achievable, but sure sets a good strong goal.
How do you develop your customer base?
As president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association, Dawn Sweeney
leads the chief business association for the restaurant industry. One of the nation's most powerful
trade organizations, the National Restaurant Association represents all types of restaurant and
foodservice concepts, including quickservice, fast casual, managed foodservice, casual and fine
dining, along with manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, for an industry of 960,000
restaurant and foodservice outlets and 12.8 million employees.
The organization's mission is to help its members -- the cornerstones of their communities --
build customer loyalty, rewarding careers and financial success. She also serves as the CEO of
the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation, a philanthropic foundation
dedicated to enhancing the industry's service to the public.
Immediately before taking the helm of the National Restaurant Association in October 2007,
Sweeney was president and CEO of AARP Services, the wholly owned taxable subsidiary of
AARP. She was responsible for growing annual revenues from $175 million to $785 million
during her tenure -- revenues used to support AARP's mission. Nearly 11 million AARP
members used AARP Services products. Sweeney's stewardship of AARP Services included the
launch of AARP Financial, which offers financial planning services and products such as AARP
Funds, a suite of mutual funds.
Sweeney previously was AARP's Group Executive Officer for Membership. In that role, she was
responsible for member recruitment and retention, which improved by over 30 percent during
her tenure, and brand development, including the launch of AARP's Hispanic membership
development initiatives, as well as AARP The Magazine, one of the nation's highest circulation
magazines with over 20 million readers.
Her 25 years of marketing, advocacy and policy experience include leadership positions at the
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a membership organization of consumer-
owned electric utilities serving more than 30 million individuals, and the International Dairy
Foods Association, the trade association for the nation's dairy foods industry.
Her leadership has generated national attention and several awards. She was recently named one
of the top association CEOs in the country, chosen from interviews with hundreds of CEOs,
Washington influentials and executive recruiters, as published in the July 2009 edition of CEO
Update. Factors for consideration included the individual's legislative success, leadership ability,
skill in raising their association's profile and managing in a crisis, history of building coalitions
and reaching consensus, and membership excellence in areas of meetings, education and
certification. Irish America magazine selected her in 2007 as one of its 100 honorees and she
was also recently inducted into the Honor Society of the American Culinary Federation's
American Academy of Chefs.
Sweeney serves on the board of Save the Children, a global organization committed to creating
lasting change in the lives of children in need. She is an active member of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce's Committee of 100, the International Women's Forum, and the Committee of 200, an
international network of female executives. A native of Maine, Sweeney has a master's degree in
business administration from The George Washington University and a bachelor of arts degree
in government from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. She resides in Northern Virginia with
her husband and their 11-year-old son.