EAA’s New Leader Is Already Here

I lost track of how many times people at Oshkosh asked me when EAA is going to select a new president. The answer is that nobody knows. And more importantly, the answer is the new leaders are already here. And have been since last October.

I don’t blame people for wondering when a single figurehead for the association will appear. After all, in its 60 year history there had always been one very high profile person at the helm.

Founder Paul Poberezny led EAA for decades until his son, Tom, moved into the president and chairman’s position. When it became time for Tom to contemplate retirement Rod Hightower was hired as president. There were no gaps as the president title moved from Paul, to Tom and then to Rod.

Given EAA history it’s natural for people to expect the past management structure to continue. But that isn’t going to happen because EAA’s Board of Directors has now fully assumed its statutory position as leader of the association.

EAA has always had directors, and the board has always had the authority under the articles of incorporation to make final decisions about how the association operates. But in the presence of strong and charismatic leadership—and a founding family—the directors seldom asserted themselves or took public positions on issues affecting the association.

When Rod was hired he had only one EAA management role model to follow, the trail blazed by the Pobereznys. Rod certainly had a different management style than Tom, but Rod was still the public face of EAA and the man everyone looked to for decisions.

With Rod’s departure the EAA management mold was broken. The directors decided to manage the association themselves. They created a new chairman position with a three-year term with the option of no more than one subsequent term. The chairman and board committee chairs now directly manage EAA and are the people members should look to for direction and decisions.

We are all very fortunate that Jack Pelton was available and so well qualified to be the first chairman in the new role. Jack is unquestionably EAA’s leader, but he is elected by the directors and is the leader of the board. When Jack speaks or reveals decisions and policies he has the support of the directors who made those decisions.

I tell people that to understand how EAA is going forward simply translate the name Poberezny into Board of Directors in your mind. What you expected from the Pobereznys during their long tenure now comes from the board. EAA is not awaiting the appearance of a new leader, the leader is here and it’s the board and the board’s chairman.

Dan Schwinn, who chairs the governance and human resources committee of the board, has said a senior manager may be added to the staff at sometime in the future. If that happens, whatever the title of that new position may be, I am certain it will not be a return to the past management style. The directors have been elected to lead, all are volunteers, and all are pilots and very involved in aviation. EAA will not be guided by a president or by group think, but by a consensus of very experienced people who are dedicated to helping EAA achieve its goal of helping aviation to grow.

In the celebrated play Waiting for Godot the characters are paralyzed into complete inactivity as they await the appearance of the man who can resolve all of their problems. EAA’s directors are not waiting for Godot, and in fact know that no such magical person exists. EAA is well along on its new course and has been since Rod left last October. Forget about a powerful president taking the stage and you’ll understand that the board is setting objectives, meeting goals and firmly guiding EAA forward.

This entry was posted in Mac Clellan's Left Seat Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to EAA’s New Leader Is Already Here

  1. Jim Butler says:

    I certainly wish for and need EAA to be successful. But I am typically less than impressed with management by committee.

  2. Wayne says:

    “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” [Proverbs 11: 14]

  3. Steve Carter says:


    When are you going to blog the situation with FAA and FEES? Seems like you don’t want to go there with the membership. This is a hot button issue that needs to be addressed and let the results roll in where they may. You game? No time like the present.


  4. Doug Belbin says:

    I think this is a top solution. No different to the management of so many successful companies.
    I agree that it is fortunate for EAA that Jack was available (and willing).
    The fact that EAA has continued post Poberezny leadership is a tribute to the board AND every member.
    Most successful organizations need a King (sometimes Dictator) to get up and go. The vision and drive to that vision need a one eyed driver. Once something is invented though, many others can contribute more to progress than one entity.
    The Kings have departed, long live the parliament.

  5. Cary Alburn says:

    Of course, there’s the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. :)

    Seriously, I wish the BOD and Jack the best of luck–EAA is an important voice of aviation, and its success will benefit all of us.


  6. Rob MacInnis says:

    Wow Mac, Are you Rod’s new publicist? Tom contemplated retirement? (Not!) That’s a pretty fluffy account of what went down. As a 21 year volunteer at Airventure, I agree that Mr. Pelton has been a great interim leader and I would have no objection to him being confirmed in the President’s position. As for management by committee, some problems there.

    Firstly as a not-for-profit executive I am trained in and conversant with the Carver model of policy governance. It is the single most widely accepted model in the N-F-P sector. Simply put, the board manages by making policy and the Executive Director/CEO (read executive employee) runs the organization within that policy framework. The Board is not to interfere in the day to day operations of the organization… period. Management of this year’s convention by committee was far too evident in the lack of (50% less) portolets and dumpsters. Who made the decision (some bean counter with too much authority) to do this? The carver model would be quite appropriate for EAA in my humble opinion.

    Cheers, Rob MacInnis

  7. David Flinn says:

    I tend to agree, based on my own experience with NFPs, that the Carver model is the way to go (although I wasn’t familiar with the name until today). EAA can use a “benevolent dictator”, but one who is subject to the policies set by the board.

  8. John Rybski says:

    (Bonafides: Spent a lifetime running and consulting with successful for profit and not for profit organizations in the USA and overseas)

    1. Management by committee (i.e., a Board) rarely works. Management with the support of a committee(s) can outperform an individual.
    2. The most difficult task faced by board of directors is disciplining itself.
    3. The role of a board is perpetuation of the organization (includes fiduciary responsibility), definition of mission (why we exist and what we do), confirmation of vision (how we will be seen/what we will accomplish in next 3-5 years), policy (what we do for whom to what standards and why), and hiring, firing, evaluation, and compensation of the chief executive.
    3. The chief executive (aka, president, executive director, general manager) is responsible for carrying out the mission, vision, and policies of the board. To do so the executive director is responsible for day-to-day management, planning and executing plans to carry out the mission and vision of the organization, developing budgets for approval by the board, managing to an adopted budget, hiring, evaluating, and terminating staff, and entrepreneuring for the organization. All activities of the chief executive are carried out within the framework of board adopted policies.
    4. The Board reports to the Membership. The Chairman of the Board reports to the Board or an Executive Committee of the Board. The chief executive reports to the Chairman of the Board. The Board must speak publicly with one voice to its chief executive and the world around it. In not-for-profit organizations board members may volunteer to lead or participate in projects of the organization, but in this role they become a volunteer staff person reporting to the chief executive or his designee.
    5. As determined by the Board, the Chairman of the Board or the Chief Executive may be the spokesperson for the organization.
    6. Successful corporations (for profit or non-profit) are not democracies.
    7. Board members are usually successful doers and leaders. They often find it excruciatingly difficult restrain themselves from attempting to directly manage staff and operations. It takes discipline to stay out of the cockpit.
    8. Organizations evolving from their start up phase (usually led by a charismatic leader/entrepreneur) to a mature phase universally confront new, critical governance and leadership challenges. The board itself and the management it hires must also evolve, assume different roles, and adapt.

    If you think management by committee works, consider the performance of the Soviet Union. It was run by a committee (the Politburo) dominated by a series of autocratic leaders.

    These are simply observations: food for thought. Their applicability is subject to the specific history of the organization, current operational challenges, and the composition of the Board.

    When confronted with a short term challenge outside of your core competence, it is often best to bring in temporary, outside competence. In this instance an organization with a track record of assisting high performance, not-for-profit organizations make a successful transition from its start-up to ongoing growth would seem appropriate. There are many.

    Good luck,

    John Rybski
    Silver Creek Farm
    Algoma, WI

  9. Larry M says:

    Like everyone else I hope this works. Pelton is refreshing after Hightower and the last Poberezny. Any remaining board member who approved of Hightower not moving to Osh should resign. Not making him move shortly after taking the job is management negligence. Hightower’s not moving and his arrogant style were huge signs that he was not going to work out.

  10. Greg W says:

    “8. Organizations evolving from their start up phase (usually led by a charismatic leader/entrepreneur) to a mature phase universally confront new, critical governance and leadership challenges.” The key now is how to make more money, home builders be %*$%, that is obvious from the way AirVenture is run and promoted, it was the national fly-in convention for the organization, not a venue for rock bands,movies and the latest turbine aircraft. The best thing the board could do is sell the whole thing to the Chinese, EAA would get that much more from Chin Inc. then, such as Continental, Cirrus, Enstrom, and every other Co. that sold because it was the “good business decision”, ie made a bunch of cash for the board.

  11. Andy Schmidt says:

    Interesting, using Waitng for Godot as a metaphor for two men, paralyzed, looking for a leader. There are many different interpretations of this play, and even Becket, the author, did not have a decisive interpretation. But Mac’s metaphor is valid, but I wonder why he chose it, if you follow the logic. Godot appears to counter Mac’s thesis that a board can run an organization without a leader. The other way of looking at the Godot metaphor is that an organization can aimlessly wander, as did the main characters in the play, without a leader, thus implying the EAA needs a leader, not the other way around, as Mac proposed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>