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Garis (Gary) Distelhorst, CAE, Executive Vice President & CEO of the Marble Institute of America (MIA) since 2002, will retire December 31, 2012 after an accomplished 43-year career as a senior-level association executive.
Distelhorst is one of the most accomplished association leaders in America. Prior to joining MIA, he was CEO of the National Association of College Stores (NACS) for 17 years. Previously, he was a Senior Executive at Smith Bucklin, an association management firm in Washington, DC.
A Certified Association Executive, Distelhorst received the association industry's highest honor, the Key Award, in 1984 from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). He was Chairman of the ASAE Board of Directors from 1995 to 1996 and Chair of the Board of Directors of the ASAE Foundation from 1992 to 1993.
Distelhorst's 11-year leadership of MIA helped transform the association into the world's premier professional stone organization, and one of the most dynamic small associations in the nation. Among his initiatives and achievements are:
- Building MIA's membership from just over 600 in 2001 to nearly 1,500, by creating high-value benefits and services for stone professionals across the industry and around the world;
- Helping guide the transition of StonExpo into one of the largest stone shows in the U.S. and one of the most prestigious stone trade shows in the world, with a wide array of education programs;
- Establishing the first professional accreditation for stone fabricators and installers, a long-sought industry goal;
- Overseeing development of groundbreaking safety training programs;
- Creating awards programs to recognize stone excellence and craftsmanship;
- Dramatically expanding MIA's library of technical publications, videos and Web information resources for stone professionals and specifiers; MIA's bookstore offerings have grown by over 1,000% in the last 11 years;
- Developing a regional education program plus stone education at Coverings, KBIS, AIA and other shows;
- Spearheading comprehensive, multifaceted outreach to architects and designers who specify building materials, including developing a successful continuing education program in partnership with the American Institute of Architects, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and others;
- Pioneering the use of new technology tools in the stone industry, such as the creation of a robust association Web site, extensive use of social media and developing innovative iPad apps;
- Creating stone promotion campaigns and an array of consumer education materials;
- Helping to organize the Natural Stone Council, a federation of stone industry associations that work on common industry issues like sustainability.
Distelhorst's finest hour was his leadership of the industry's response to allegations about radon in granite that began in 2007. Faced with a barrage of negative national media coverage, he marshaled a massive effort funded by MIA members to defuse the crisis with scientific evidence and assure consumers of granite’s safety. Under his steady guidance, MIA turned a business-threatening challenge into a successful consumer education opportunity. The campaign produced millions of hits to MIA's Web site and thousands of views of MIA's "Truth About Granite" Web video.
Bob Stasswender, President of Southwest Marble & Granite, was a member of the search committee that hired Distelhorst in 2002. He says Distelhorst's association experience and preparation put him head and shoulders above other candidates. "Gary had done all his homework three times over. He knew more about the MIA than we did," Stasswender recalls. "It was all over with. We said, 'We've got to have this guy."
Stasswender believes that Distelhorst's leadership and member focus have transformed the MIA. "Gary made the MIA a professional organization," he said. "His first-and-foremost concern has always been, 'what value are we giving members in return for the dollars they spend?' [As a result], MIA has surpassed the other associations by membership, by dollars, by recognition, by global authority. Now everybody looks to the Marble Institute for guidance, education, and assistance."
"Gary brought a professionalism to the stone industry by the leadership he provided, and as a result, MIA is a totally different entity now than it was 10 years ago," said Tony Malisani, President of Malisani Inc. and secretary of the MIA Board. "Our industry now has an association group to advocate for the industry, where we weren't doing much of that before. He's done a great job of marshaling resources and taking on challenges.
"Seeing the association as a business was a new concept for the Marble Institute," Malisani continued. "Gary has made the association more professional, more recognizable and more functional. We have better strategic planning and a better organized staff. He has helped to develop a more business-minded industry and also given our members the resources to learn how to grow and develop their own businesses."
"It's been an extraordinary honor and privilege to lead MIA during this time of growth, challenge and change. I am deeply proud of all we've achieved and grateful to the Board, to MIA members, and to my staff for all the support I have received. I am also especially happy about the many friends I've made in this noble industry," Distelhorst said. "The Board has made a superb choice in selecting Jim Hieb to be Executive Vice President. He will be an excellent leader. I look forward to a successful transition and helping Jim take the reins of this wonderful organization."