IBMA Search Drags On

IBMA at the CrossroadsAs the search for IBMA’s new executive director extends into the summer, it is increasingly likely that the position will not be filled before the association’s signature annual event – the World of Bluegrass business conference and FanFest in late September.

The top job at IBMA has been open since March 1, when Dan Hays departed, but the board knew he was leaving for a couple of months before that. The original goal was to have someone in place a few weeks before Hays left so there would be some overlap. We were told the field had been narrowed and a selection would soon follow.

But now festival season is well underway, the final WOB in Nashville is just over three months away and the search appears to have widened, not narrowed.

In an interview late last week, IBMA President Stan Zdonik acknowledged that Hays’ permanent replacement might not be hired before the annual event that provides most of the association’s revenues and accounts for the biggest share of its expenses.

“The board and the executive committee are working hard to produce the best possible results,” Zdonik said. “The timetable that you suggest is certainly a great goal, but we do not believe it is wise to be bound by artificial deadlines that could compromise those results.”

He went on to say that IBMA leaders had interviewed “a number of candidates” but suggested the executive committee and board still aren’t ready to act.

“Before making a selection,” he said, “it is crucial that we believe that we have been thorough and have not missed any potential candidates.”

IBMA is not leaderless, of course. Veteran staffer Nancy Cardwell is serving as interim executive director and things seem to be going smoothly. She’s been in charge during the preparations for WOB and for IBMA’s selection of Raleigh, N.C., as the future home of the annual conference and FanFest.

But continuing the search for such a crucial job far past the point of a normal hiring process, and saying little about it, invites speculation and second-guessing at a time when IBMA should be moving forward.

Among the questions prompted by the drawn-out process:

  • Should the board have used a professional headhunting firm to identify and screen candidates from the start?
  • Why is IBMA having difficulty attracting qualified candidates? And if the group has heard from qualified applicants, why does it continue to look for others?
  • Has the right candidate been right under IBMA’s nose the whole time? If Cardwell pulls off a successful conference and cuts losses, does she earn the permanent job? It certainly seems she’d have a leg up on outside candidates.
  • By continuing to look for other candidates, does IBMA risk alienating qualified applicants already in the running, or undercutting Cardwell?

As the search continues, some IBMA members are eagerly awaiting results of an independent audit. Zdonik has said the board will release findings when they are available. Late last week, he said IBMA officials should receive the final audit report soon.

IBMA will also get at least one new board member. Jim Roe is leaving the board, saying he needs to devote more time to his booking business.

We’ll continue following the search, the audit and other developments about the business side of the music business in the months ahead.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.