Leadership Iowa: Connecting the State for 35 Years

October 13, 2017 | Manufacturing remains strong in Iowa Jessi Steward, Programs and Marketing Coordinator, ABI Foundation, jsteward@iowaabi.org

The year was 1982. President Ronald Reagan was serving his first term in the White House, the first issue of USA Today was published and Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” album was released. Among these memorable firsts of 1982, there was yet another notable historic beginning: the birth of Leadership Iowa.

It was during this time the Iowa Manufacturers Association (IMA) made the bold decision to broaden its scope of members to include all business types, as well as increase its services to those members. This resulted in the organization changing its name to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) and developing a statewide issues-awareness program called Leadership Iowa.

“When the program was formed, IMA leadership had tremendous foresight. They knew that if we wanted the state to continue to grow, then we needed to help motivate our emerging leaders to make a difference,” said John McCarroll, who was IMA’s director of communications at the time and the individual tasked with coordinating Leadership Iowa, which he did for the first eight years of the program. McCarroll now serves as executive director of university relations at Iowa State University.

Leadership Iowa was one of only four statewide leadership programs in the country at the time, and its initial structure was modeled off of a neighboring program, Leadership Kansas. Its mission was to bring together current and emerging Iowa leaders from a variety of industries to participate in a series of eight sessions that would focus on the issues faced in our state.

After Leadership Iowa’s rapid gain in popularity after the 1982-83 year, and the addition of another educational program for high school students called Business Horizons, ABI established the ABI Foundation to oversee and develop these state-wide programs.

“Out of all of my careers, this has been one of the most meaningful, largely because I still interact with people today who were part of the leadership classes I was involved with,” said McCarroll. “Yes, these sessions have great speakers and discussions, but it’s the lasting connections that truly make the experience. I’m glad that Leadership Iowa continues to serve such an enormous, powerful purpose for our state.”

Leadership Iowa has held true to its roots for 35 years, carrying with it a tradition and reputation as one of the nation’s most prominent statewide programs of its kind. The program now selects 40 participants from numerous applicants each year, and boasts over 1,000 graduates from across the state. The intent and purpose of the program remain the same, along with its top priority: creating a strong network of engaged Iowa leaders within our state.

“No other program in the state gives participants access to such a broad and diverse network of Iowa leaders,” said Deb Neyens, a 2010-11 Leadership Iowa graduate from Cedar Rapids who is serving as board chair of the Leadership Iowa Board of Governors this year.

“One of our focuses for the year will be Leadership Iowa’s 35th anniversary celebration,” said Neyens. “We intend to offer a variety of activities and events all year long (Leadership Iowa’s program year, October through June) that will give alumni the opportunity to reconnect with their classmates and grow their Leadership Iowa networks.”

The ABI Foundation and Leadership Iowa are teaming up with program alumni, statewide partners and its parent organization, ABI, to continue to strengthen this huge network and engage former program participants who, through their support, help to make Leadership Iowa the program it is today.

“It’s my hope that 35 years from now, Leadership Iowa is inspiring new generations of Iowa leaders and that participants are continuing to use their Leadership Iowa experiences and connections to address and solve the issues and challenges facing the state,” said Neyens.

Leadership Iowa kicks off its 35th year with an opening session Oct. 4-6 in Winterset. To learn more about Leadership Iowa, visit LeadershipIowa.com or IowaABIFoundation.org.