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Van Dongen announces retirement from NAW

Veteran of every major tax bill since 1981 was essential Washington, D.C., player; first joined Wholesaler-Distributors in 1960s

Van Dongen
Van Dongen

Feb. 28, 2020
By William Ehart

The $6.4 million-revenue National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors announced Feb. 28 that longtime CEO Dirk Van Dongen would retire on Nov. 30.

To call it the end of an era is an understatement. Van Dongen’s career at NAW has spanned several eras; he joined the group selling memberships in 1966, and has been CEO for 41 years.

Van Dongen, 76, said he and his board have been discussing a succession plan for three years.

“It will be the end of the presidential term, which is a logical transition point for the organization,” he told CEO Update. “Nov. 30 is the end of our current fiscal year. This is a planned soft landing. There’s plenty of time to go through a thorough and thoughtful process of identifying and selecting a successor.”

Van Dongen made himself an essential player in Washington, D.C., not just through the power of NAW’s small-business members in perhaps every U.S. congressional district, but as a fundraiser for presidential candidates, a tradition he is continuing this year for President Donald Trump.

With the tax code a primary concern for his members, Van Dongen has been closely involved in every major piece of tax legislation since President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981. However, while NAW worked hard on the 2017 Republican tax package, the group did not endorse the final plan because members were split based on their corporate filing status.

A lot has changed in the nation’s capital since rotary phones and snail-mail to members of Congress, but Van Dongen said the future of associations is bright: Groups just need to reinforce their value propositions more than in the past.

“The role associations play has become even more significant with the rise of big government, which tends to be more and more activist with each succeeding decade,” he said.

“That requires institutions that have the capability to deal with that complexity and to organize thoughtful responses on the part of their constituencies,” he said.

His future plans are still to be determined—Van Dongen said he wanted to keep his retirement under wraps—though there will be more time with his wife and their three grandchildren, and more use of the couple’s home in Manhattan.

“I’m not gonna go play golf five days a week,” Van Dongen said.

Van Dongen’s take-home pay was $598,366 in 2017, according to available tax records.

Leslie Hortum of Spencer Stuart is assisting the search for Van Dongen’s successor.