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Tue, Nov 10, 2009

Difficulties Continue -- More EAA Board Resignations Expected

Longtime Board Member Reportedly Ready To Resign, Others Expected

ANN is monitoring reports, this day, of another possible high-profile resignation from the EAA Board. David Pasahow, who had been directing the search for EAA President Tom Poberezny's successor, is reportedly considering his resignation over a number of issues, not the least of which was treatment he is reported to have received from other board members after the alleged approval of GAMA's Pete Bunce, to succeed Tom, was thwarted by "internal politics." 

Pasahow's potential resignation, the second in about as many weeks, follows the resignation of high-profile Board member and aviation entrepreneur Vern Raburn. Pasahow is a very highly regarded executive search expert with Blue Line Advisors. Pasahow formed Blue Line Advisors in January 2004 to provide executive search and leadership services to the aerospace, transportation and other selected sectors, and had been a member of the EAA Board for over two decades.

ANN first learned that something was reported to be seriously amiss last summer when former L-3 Avionics Systems President, Adrienne Stevens, was reportedly the top choice as successor to Poberezny -- an offer in the making which was thereafter retracted and ultimately offered to GAMA President, Pete Bunce -- who took himself out of consideration when he found he couldn't get the Board support he thought necessary to make a successful go at the job.

There are a number of issues at play which make up much of the current turmoil among the board members at EAA. In an October letter to the EAA Board, Vern Raburn's resignation from the BoD laid out some of his many concerns -- concerns which are becoming more visible and prevalent among those who believe that current EAA leadership has taken a 'wrong turn.'

Raburn cited three reasons for his resignation from the board, a position he had held for more than 17 years.

Raburn reported that, "First, the Board decided early this year that it must embark upon a search for a new President and CEO in order to assure EAA's continued success. The Executive Committee was tapped to be the de facto search committee for the new President. Because it was unlikely that Ex Com would reach a unanimous decision on one candidate, we decided that the choice would be made by a majority vote of Ex Com members. That choice then was to have been ratified by the full Board prior to Oshkosh AirVenture 2009 so that the new President could be introduced at the event. Based largely on a rigorous selection process undertaken by seasoned executive search professional David Pasahow and extensive interviews by Ex Com members a candidate was approved by the majority of the Ex Com a week before AirVenture. The candidate was without any question very qualified and well suited to take over the leadership role at the EAA.

However, after committing to support the Ex Com choice Tom reneged on that commitment. Not only did he renege but he recruited minority members of the Ex Com to work diligently with him to over turn the recommendation made by a majority of Ex Com members. Numerous reasons such as the process was flawed to the candidate was "not one of us" were stated for the abrupt reversal by Tom, Louie and Alan.

From my perspective, the only "flaw" in the selection process was the vigorous, highly inappropriate, albeit effective, sabotaging of the democratic process. The simple explanation is that Tom decided he could not give up the office of President, particularly to an extremely well qualified candidate.

Now, the EAA must begin a new executive search. The new search will certainly cost the EAA over a $100,000 and further the delay of a much needed change in leadership. Additionally I believe the corruption of the selection process has tainted, if not poisoned, EAA's reputation, making it far more difficult to find a candidate of the needed qualifications who would be willing to join and lead the organization.

Second, it became abundantly clear at the July 27, 2009 Board meeting that any choice of a subsequent new candidate for the President and CEO position would have to be personally endorsed and ratified by both the EAA's current President and the Founder. This action emasculated the Board with respect to its essential independence from the President and Founder and flew in the face of the EAA's own rules set out in the bylaws. The Board in taking this step also chose to ignore Tom's failure to abide by his own commitment to the process that he was part of. The Board thus abdicated its fiduciary role, its core obligation to protect and promote the best interests of EAA without outside influence. Plainly put, EAA should be an organization whose sole purpose is to serve its members, not prop up a façade for a family-run business.

However, that is precisely the course charted by the Board on July 27, 2009. As Mike Dale put it was time for the Board to "grow up and start having the CEO work for the Board". I cannot be part of a rubber stamp Board whose prime loyalty is to the Founder and President rather than EAA members. 

Third, I strongly believe that constructive dissent and vigorous debate are essential to examining issues that confront the Board. But, once a majority has spoken then the Board and its members should support that decision. Any attempt to uproot and overturn this time-honored democratic process must be rebuffed. I can not support the people who successfully sabotaged the democratic process of the Ex Com. And I can not continue to support the majority of the Board that chose to work for Tom. Thus I have no recourse other than to resign from the Board and let the Board continue on its chosen course.

Supporters of the current EAA President point to the continuing and growing success of AirVenture as evidence of the efficacy of his leadership. It's been estimated that almost three-quarters of EAA's revenue now comes from AirVenture, either directly or indirectly. Such attendance and revenue growth are important to EAA's future, but AirVenture, as a once-per-year event, isn't sufficient to justify many EAA members continued involvement in the EAA. Additionally the significant reliance on AirVenture for funding puts the EAA in a precarious position if AirVenture were to experience a decline.

We owe much, much more to our members and to America's youth. We cannot allow EAA, as an organization, to become increasingly irrelevant to EAA members and young people. Ominously, EAA membership has continued to decline for most of the past decade and the average EAA member is much older, perhaps older than any other aviation organization constituency outside of Quiet Birdmen. This in spite of the fact that thousands of new members join the EAA every year. But then the vast majority of those new members don't renew after the first year.

Today, EAA is far more out of touch with its Chapters than at almost any point in its history. Its highly touted outreach programs, such as Young Eagles, are not producing a significant number of new certificated pilots, new aerospace professionals, new engineers or even long-term new members. Young Eagles, with few exceptions, produces mostly one time flights. And the majority of EAA chapters are neither active nor loyal to EAA headquarters.

Lastly I must make a point about general Board behavior. One significant concern that I heard from virtually every Board member was how disappointed and unhappy they were over not knowing enough about the President/CEO selection process. To be very blunt you have no one to blame but yourselves. The majority of Board members sit on their hands and says nothing during discussion and then later complains about not being part of the discussion. If you are not getting the information that you feel you both deserve and need to fulfill your director responsibilities then ask for it. I must observe that Louie Andrew as the head of the Ex Com chose not to inform you of the process. Yet the Board supported his recommendations and supports the status quo in leadership.

It's time for EAA to grow up, to change, to chart a course that will assure its future viability, relevance and success as a strong, healthy membership-based organization whose core mission is to support all facets of general aviation. To do that, the EAA Board must find a capable new leader who will find ways to expand its membership base, to support and grow its Chapters in the field. In other words to actually deliver on a year round basis, not just for 7 days in July, the "passion of flight."

I will truly miss many of you and the work that we attempted to perform as a Board. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that it is inevitable that organizations, especially ones started by a very strong person are doomed to fail when a succession process is attempted. At present, though, EAA is morphing mainly into a family-run business that annually stages the US National Air Show, called AirVenture, and little else. That's not why I joined EAA nearly 40 years ago and have invested over 17 years serving on the Board."

More developments in this matter are expected over the next few days and as always, ANN will report them when adequate facts and details are verified and made available.

FMI: www.eaa.org

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