The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors has selected a new CEO to lead the 117-year old organization as it endeavors to implement a strategic plan to arrest a decline in its membership.

John Healy, president and CEO of the American Machine Tool Distributors Association replaces outgoing NAIFA chief David Woods, who will step down as CEO in early September at the upcoming NAIFA annual convention to be held in Washington. Healy brings to NAIFA more than 25 years of association management experience, though none to date within the life insurance and financial services businesses.

“John Healy is the first professional association executive in our organization in more than 50 years, which is a dramatic departure from the past,” said John Davidson, president of NAIFA, Falls Church, Va. “He’s a consummate pro. At AMTDA, he boosted membership significantly, which is one of the criteria we’re banking on as we sharpen our focus on the 250,000 licensed agents who have not yet made the decision to join NAIFA.”

Said Woods, “John’s track record is excellent. At AMTDA, he grew both revenue and membership. That’s what NAIFA needs right now–someone who can implement the [strategic] plan and make it work.”

Sources interviewed by National Underwriter said Healy will be charged with executing “NAIFA in the 21st Century,” a plan unveiled last February that calls on NAIFA to strengthen its legislative and regulatory advocacy, create new products and services, and deliver solutions to members “on demand” using wireless and computer technologies. The blueprint also envisions a marketing program to showcase NAIFA’s new products and services.

The plan will be put to a vote of NAIFA’s National Council in September at the annual convention.

A chief objective of the blueprint, NAIFA executives said, will be to reverse a continuing slide in the organization’s membership. According to a white paper issued in tandem with a January 22 release on the plan, NAIFA has “not kept pace” with changes in the life insurance industry, resulting in a 50%-plus drop in membership during the last 14 years. If NAIFA’s rolls continue to decline at a 2% annual clip, the organization (absent program or staff cutbacks) will have spent its reserves and be insolvent by 2011, according to the white paper.

Healy has served as AMTDA’s president since November 2005, when he joined the organization from 360Solutions Group, a logistics and supply chain firm that he led as CEO. In prior positions, Healy served as CEO of the National Pallet & Container Association in Arlington, Va.; as executive vice president and CEO of the Grain Elevator & Processing Society in Minneapolis, Minn.; and as vice president of business development for IFCO Systems N.V., a Munich-based global logistics, distribution and supply chain solutions provider.

Davidson said Healy was chosen for the top spot at NAIFA from among more than 200 candidates, including a “very impressive mix” of executives employed at life insurance and financial services firms, Washington lobbyists and executives working at other industry associations. NAIFA’s CEO selection committee tapped Healy, Davidson added, because he has the right blend of experience managing industry associations, overseeing legislative and advocacy initiatives and spearheading efforts aimed at boosting organizational membership and revenue.

NAIFA executives reject any suggestion that Healy’s lack of experience in insurance and financial services puts him at a disadvantage.

“John is a fast learner,” said NAIFA President-elect Jeffrey Taggart. “[Healy] doesn’t need to know the inner workings of life insurance policies as we do. He does need to know the value proposition of life insurance to the consumer.”

Mark Yavornitzki, executive vice president and CEO of AIFA-New York State, Albany, agreed, “It doesn’t bother me in the least that [Healy] doesn’t come from the insurance industry. He will learn the business rapidly. And he has the reputation at associations he’s worked for of helping them increase membership and revenue, both of which NAIFA needs right now.”

Joseph Chalom, past president of AIFA-Broward County, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., echoed Yavornitzki’s positive assessment, but noted that Healy’s success at NAIFA ultimately will hinge as much on an ability to work collaboratively with NAIFA leaders and volunteers who “will need to have serious input on the direction” of the organization.