NMA History

This historical painting shows the first 44-Year history of the National Management Association
Painted by Ren Briggs - 1969


The roots of NMA began in southwestern Ohio in the dark years following World War I. The national economy had fallen into a slump following the end of military spending and had not yet reached the false prosperity that produced “Black Friday” in 1929. Factories were dark, barn-like buildings were employees worked long hours for low pay… poor working conditions were everywhere, yet any working conditions were considered good working conditions by those lucky enough to have a job!

Businesses were run by technicians-owners-managers, many of whom had little or no grasp of basic management techniques and little notion of the significance of human relations. The prevailing notion was that “management” meant nothing more than the maximum movement of goods for maximum selling price and minimum cost. One outstanding exception was famed inventor and executive Charles F. Kettering who, at the time, operated the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company in Dayton, Ohio. You’ll recognize that name when we say that it eventually became DELCO, affiliated with General Motors.

One day “Boss” Kettering was approached by a young superintendent named Louis Ruthenberg. He had an idea – that “an individual foreman could become a skilled, effective manager of people through his own efforts and on his own time” if only given the opportunity. This was truly a new concept, for the foreman was characterized (rightfully so, most of the time) as a hard-boiled, blunt person who moved his employees by coercion, force, and threat of discharge.

However, Kettering saw the wisdom and the “win-win” for everyone in Ruthenberg’s idea, so he encouraged and supported the young man in his endeavors. The result? The area’s first class in Management was taught at the Dayton YMCA in November of 1919. Louis Ruthenberg was the instructor.

That idea spread like wildfire. These foremen immediately showed that they had a real hunger to become professionals, with the increase in stature and income that accompanied professionals. The period where there was a social stigma to being a foreman was coming to a close. Finally, foremen began to acquire skills as leaders – in addition to the technical requirements of their jobs.

By 1922, this initial band of workers became the Foreman’s Club of Dayton in order to provide “better structure” to the concept of continuing education. At the same time, other independent groups began to spring up elsewhere in Ohio so by 1924, at the National Cash Register Auditorium, representatives from five Ohio Communities created the Ohio Federation of Foremen’s Clubs under the leadership of Thomas Fordham, their first president.

Soon, similar clubs began to spring up in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. On October 8, 1925, 26 industrial supervisors from across the Midwest met, at Dayton’s YMCA, to form the organization that by year’s end would become The National Association of Foremen. Louis Ruthenberg was present and stated, “…that little group has grown, not only into a large, permanent organization of high ideals and remarkable potential, but also into a strong federation of such groups.”

Upon chartering, the Founders agreed with Ruthenberg and stated, “When foremen realize their opportunities, they will, of their own accord, take the necessary steps to measure up to them.”

NAF chapters sprung up across the nation in the 1930’s. A milestone was reached in 1945 when efforts were made nationally to unionize foremen and remove them from the ranks of management. The result? An unprecedented growth in membership between 1945 and 1950, as foremen reacted in a predictable manner to the potential loss of stature they had worked so hard to build. Top management gave increasing recognition to the professional standing of these valued foremen and promoted a new unity in management from top to bottom.

During the next few years, periodic surveys showed that the increasing effectiveness of the Association’s programs, techniques, and general philosophy was attracting members from a broader spectrum of management and supervisory levels. Thus, In 1956/57 the name was changed to The National Management Association. Downtown Dayton was the location of NMA’s national headquarters facility. Ground was broken in 1969 for the current NMA Headquarters – dedicated forty years later on July 18, 2009, as The Fritz Hauf Memorial Building.

NMA’s early history, however, is not complete as is printed above. Why? Because history shows us that in the 1920’s, another organization, “IMC” was also in its infancy, just a few miles away.

Yes, NMA and IMC started about the same time and for all intents and purposes, were doing the same thing. The only MAJOR difference is that IMC was "connected" in various ways over the years with the YMCA while NMA was independent. But the parallels between the organizations are amazing. As leaders were putting the two organizations together in 2002/2003, more than one person was overheard saying, "Wow, I wonder which one had the 'mole' in the other organization?"

Similarly, at the turn of the last century, YMCA's in other parts of the Midwest were also offering courses in what they called "foremanship". Those classes began to turn into "clubs". In June of 1934, five of these met together and decided to form a National Council of Foremen's Clubs. So NCFC was officially chartered on February 15, 1935.

In 1948, the National Council of Foremen's Clubs changed ITS name to the National Council of Industrial Management Clubs Affiliated with the YMCA...or NCIMC. After ten years of struggling with its own identity issue, the National Association of Foremen became The National Management Association in 1956. Over time, IMC concentrated exclusively on community-based, multiple participant chapters while NMA eventually evolved into primarily (but NOT exclusively, at all) single company chapters.

In 1970, the National Council of Industrial Management Clubs restructured completely and renamed itself The International Management Council. In the late 90's the relationship between IMC and the YMCA began to dissolve and IMC became an independent organization, although some chapters were still able to partner, in various ways, with some of their local Y's.

About 2001, NMA and IMC began to look at combining forces and a merger agreement was signed in late 2003 and went into effect January 1, 2004. Today at NMA national meetings, you will see two very visible pieces of IMC "heritage" - the Wilbur McFeely Award has become part of the NMA Recognition Program and is awarded every other year to renowned authors and leaders while the Dot Shorey Auction has become a major fundraiser for the NMA's Leadership Speech Contest Scholarship Program.

In 2005, NMA, while legally remaining The National Management Association, re-branded itself as "NMA...THE Leadership Development Organization" to once again respond to the realities of a changing workforce and a customer base that was focusing on not only management development but leadership development in a global economy.

If you would like to contribute to NMA's Wikipedia page, you can do so here at the National Management Association wikipedia page.