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Longtime National Restaurant Association CEO Sweeney to retire

Credited with doubling organization revenue, Sweeney will step down after 12 years as CEO


May 16, 2019
By William Ehart

Dawn Sweeney, one of the most prominent and highest-paid CEOs in the association sector, is retiring at year end after leading the $123 million-revenue National Restaurant Association for 12 years, the group announced Thursday.

“Serving and leading the restaurant industry during this historic timeframe, when foodservice has grown to an $863 billion business employing over 15 million professionals, has been the most fulfilling experience of my career,” Sweeney said in a statement.

The group credited Sweeney with boosting membership by almost 50%, more than doubling revenue, and enhancing advocacy and food safety training and certification programs. Sweeney also led the sale of the National Restaurant Association Show and the creation of a partnership with buyer Winsight Media.

“Dawn has been an extraordinary leader for the restaurant and foodservice industry during a time of both challenge and opportunity,” said NRA board chair Joe Essa, CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide. “She has unified our industry, expanded our impact, heightened our effectiveness, and navigated a number of significant public policy challenges.

CEO Update honored Sweeney with its Trade Association CEO of the Year Award in 2018.

Sweeney previously had been president of AARP Services, the taxable subsidiary of AARP. Prior to that, she worked for almost a decade at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Sweeney began her career at the International Dairy Foods Association.

Sweeney’s take-home pay was more than $3.3 million in 2017, according to NRA’s most recent tax filing, making her the highest-paid current female association CEO and among the top 20 earners of all association CEOs.

Executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart is assisting in the search for Sweeney’s successor.