New IHRSA CEO Liz Clark: A Dynamic Voice at a Critical Time

The energetic new leader of the association is determined to help lead the industry to a brighter future.

  • September 27, 2021

Although Liz has only been on the job for a short time, she hit the ground running on her first day with exciting plans for IHRSA. Liz sat down with CBI to share a little bit about her commitment to fitness, her advice on how to get a seat at the table, and how she describes her management style.

CBI: Tell us about your lifelong commitment to fitness and why you thought this industry was a good fit for you.

LIZ CLARK: I’ve always believed an active lifestyle is important to a healthy, balanced life. And I’ve always been very active. I was skiing and swimming even as a little kid. I went on to be a cross-country runner, and I was a three-varsity-sport athlete in high school; I played tennis, basketball, and softball. I worked in a fitness center all through college and was on the collegiate crew team. I’m still very active.

In addition to running after my kids and working out, I’m also an avid golfer and kayaker. So, I think that when you consider my background—which includes 20 years of advocacy as well as international policy and commerce—when looking at this job, I really thought it was a great fit.

CBI: What do you think is the number-one challenge for associations today?

LIZ CLARK: We are in a difficult and unique time with the business climate being very uncertain, and, like everyone else, we’re all trying to navigate what that means. Our association is working overtime to help our members navigate all sorts of challenges. And those can come in the form of economic challenges, mergers, policy changes—the arrows can come at you from every direction.

As someone who has worked for an association for a long time, I know the challenge is communicating that the role of the association is to do for the industry what companies and brands can’t do for themselves. You need to communicate to your members that it’s a partnership, and, by being partners, we are stronger together.

CBI: You were able to achieve impressive results while working with the National Confectioners Association (NCA) when you had it deemed an essential service. How did that come about, and what steps will you take to make sure our industry will be heard in the nation’s capital?

LIZ CLARK: I think it’s about relationships and presence. As in any relationship, you can’t court somebody overnight. You need to establish a continuous and sustained relationship with somebody, so that when you need something, it’s not the first time that they’re hearing from you. And that’s true of lawmakers.

You also need to recognize that with lawmakers it’s often a two-way street. A lot of those folks have their own priority issues. And if you start to have a relationship with lawmakers, you can work together to figure out what the symmetries are with their legislative priorities. Then you can help your industry and support their agenda at the same time.

Liz Clarks First 30 Days With IHRSA SEO Image

CBI: How do you get a seat at the table?

CLARK: It’s about becoming a known entity. The way you do that is through repetition—being in front of folks time and time again. They have thousands of people who call them every day, and you need to set yourself apart from that. So, with a D.C. presence, you have the ability to get in front of these lawmakers in a more continuous way. Then, in turn, you can get them in front of your members, your boards, even the staff in your office, so that when a crisis comes up, they know who you are and what you do.

CBI: How would you describe your management style?

LIZ CLARK: I’ve been very fortunate. There are a lot of strong leaders who I’ve been able to learn from. I would say there are two characteristics to my leadership style: I’m results-oriented and I believe in empowering my team to lead. It’s important to me to create a collaborative and fun environment, where people want to come to work and represent such an amazing industry like we have.

I’m also a very curious person; I like to learn from everyone around me. With IHRSA, I want to learn from our members, I want to learn who could be new partners, and what could be our new priorities, so we can build something special together.

CBI: What sort of leaders do you admire?

LIZ CLARK: I think Colin Powell was an amazing leader. He was always cool under pressure, and people under his command felt heard and connected, and they accomplished tremendous things under his leadership. I actually really admire [Arizona Cardinals’ defensive end] J.J. Watt, who leveraged his stardom in order to raise tremendous amounts of funds for Houston after the tragedy there. I also admire John Boehner who, as the House speaker, had to herd cats and build consensus, and he did that in a very fair and transparent way.

I also learned a lot from my former boss, John Downs, the CEO of NCA. He helped the organization pivot from being a meetings- and events-focused organization to be an advocacy- and communications-focused organization. And he did so with vision, focus, and trust in his team.

CBI: It seems like the pandemic just doesn’t want to end and the disruptions are continuing. How does the industry better protect itself from these threats?

LIZ CLARK: To protect ourselves from threats, you have to evaluate industry priorities. And from my perspective, one of the first priorities is that we’re going to continue to provide white-glove service to our members. We are going to deliver a state-of-the-art trade show with flawless execution, but, ultimately, we will enhance and proceed with a robust policy agenda. So prioritizing things like the NHFA [National Health & Fitness Alliance] and the GYMS Act is undoubtedly where I plan to spend a lot of my energy.

CBI: IHRSA has recently made changes in creating more alliances with medical fitness groups and public health organizations. IHRSA has also opened up its membership options to include personal trainers and smaller studio facilities. How can IHRSA build on these changes to grow its presence?

LIZ CLARK: I am so excited about all of that, and hats off to Brent Darden for getting that off the ground. I think medical fitness and the public health crisis in this country are going to be among the biggest challenges that our country faces in the next five years. And I think our industry is a critical voice in that conversation. So, I am excited that we are getting to the table on that one.

As far as opening up IHRSA membership to personal trainers and studios, I’m glad that we finally have created an opportunity for those folks. Hopefully, we’ve created a home that can provide resources, value, and a community to those new sectors. And we’re going to be working really hard to grow the category and others around the world.

CBI: How can IHRSA and the industry better protect itself from disruptions?

LIZ CLARK: There are things that you can prepare for and things you can’t. Obviously, nobody saw a pandemic coming, but some associations were positioned stronger because they had made different choices on insurance policies or had a stronger reserve account and safety net, so that they were able to continue to serve their members when they needed it the most. The way we can prepare is by ensuring that we’re focusing on the right things, and that when IHRSA faces disruptive events in the future, we can continue to rely on and deliver on our promise to be the best advocate that we can be.

“As someone who has worked for an association for a long time, I know the challenge is communicating that the role of the association is to do for the industry what companies and brands can’t do for themselves. You need to communicate to your members that it’s a partnership, and, by being partners, we are stronger together.”

Liz Cark, CEO


CBI: Let’s talk about something a bit more enjoyable. Tell us a little about yourself, such as what you like to do when you have some down time.

LIZ CLARK: I just love all music. I’m inspired by music. I’m relaxed by music. I’m fired up by music—really all genres. So, I have it on all the time in my house and I love live music as well, especially attending concerts with my husband, who shares the same love of music.

I also love international travel. I’ve been to probably more than 40 countries. I try to go to a new country every year. I just love exploring and learning more about new countries and new cultures. And I’ve been to all 50 states. So, I’ve seen all of America, which is also pretty amazing.

I’m also a big sports fan. I’m a Nats [Washington Nationals] fan, and a Caps [Washington Capitals] fan. We’re really lucky because we’ve had some good years recently on that. I am a Dayton Flyer—I went to the University of Dayton in Ohio. So did my husband, and we’re very close to the university. My son attends there now, and I enjoy visiting my alma mater.

CBI: You’re very upbeat about the industry. What makes you optimistic about the future?

LIZ CLARK: We’re an industry of fighters, survivors, and climbers. We’ve proven that we could fight our way out of the pandemic. We survived by hustling, by being nimble, and being creative, and I believe because of the foundation that we’ve built, we’re going to climb to new heights we’ve never seen before.

People in this industry are strong; they show it every day. They inspire others to work hard, and you won’t find anyone more optimistic than me about the future of this industry.

About Liz Clark

She's only been on the job a short time, but Liz Clark has already connected to the industry with her passion and enthusiasm. The first woman to lead IHRSA in its 40-year history, Clark is a seasoned professional who has been successful in the difficult arena of public policy.

Her tenure at the National Confectioners Association (NCA), where she served for 10 years, resulted in the remarkable achievement of having confectionary manufacturing designated as an “essential” business by the federal government during the pandemic.

A self-described “Energizer bunny,” Clark is determined to roll up her sleeves and make her presence felt in Washington, D.C. An executive director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before her stint at the NCA, she is a well-regarded Beltway presence whose savvy people skills and indefatigable work ethic make her an ideal leader for the fitness industry at a critical time.

“I envision a future presence for IHRSA in Washington, D.C.,” says Clark. “I could see expanding the team in Washington to really help put us on the map.” She is especially excited to meet attendees in person at IHRSA 2021 in Dallas.

“I want to meet as many people as possible and really get to know the ins and outs of this industry,” she says.

Related Articles & Publications