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.

  • Dennis Jones

    It points out in LOUD words the internal problems with the board and committees running what’s left of our IBMA. I think it serves as what maybe the final wake up call to the membership that it is NOT the ED, but the board. Board members are now leaving??? That’s not a good sign. Nancy is the perfect choice. Why wasn’t she selected ASAP? It’s a sad statement to the memership, the industry, the Bluegrass community and fans world wide. I’m deeply heartbroken by the whole thing.

    • Dick Beckley

      Can’t agree with you more!

  • Strong R. Bow

    Too man of the rank and file membership of the IBMA have been put off by the “INCIDENT” of a year or two ago whereby board membesr took it upon themselves to ban the display of the American flag. It was an assinine thing to do for a fan base (and performer base) that is largely rural and conservative. I mean, can you imagine traveling to Ireland to attend an Irish folk festival and then telling your hosts that the presence of the Irish tri-colour was offensive? You would be lucky to get out of the country alive. In sharp contrast, however, we see IBMA kow-towing to the far Left and some foreign fellow travelers in banning the American flag from IBMA programs. Dumb, dumb, dumb! I also firmly suspect that at the end the day, evidence of financial mismanagement will surface.

    • It wasn’t a display of the flag that caused an incident at the awards show a few years ago, but the performance of the various service anthems by the US Navy bluegrass band. That may not change your opinion about the incident, but those are the facts.

      Here are a couple of things we posted back in ’06:

      • Dick Beckley

        I’m very aware of the incident with the Navy Band. I wrote a letter to Bluegrass Now and my concerns on this, and Wayne Bledsoe printed it as a guest editorial in their next to last print issue. It received a rebuttal in the next issue but my concerns and context was not addressed to my satisfaction by the rebuttal. Wayne Taylor was deeply hurt by this incident at the time and attempts were made by some to take him to task thru his Navy superiors. Thankfully, it was not successful. Wayne is a first class gentleman and did nothing wrong. To her credit Rhonda Vincent also addressed this trend in an open letter to most of us and has stayed mostly away from IBMA activities since.
        We need not be ashamed of our flag, our armed forces or their display of patriotism, and IBMA would be best served by ignoring attempts to stifle patriotism at all of our functions. I say play the National Anthem and any patriotic song that is appropriate. In these days of a mass attack on our patriotic and religious heritage elsewhere, our organization , being predominantly conservative in membership, would do well by encouraging this.

  • Jon Weisberger

    Board members have been leaving each year at least as far back as when the Board ‘s decision to impose a limit on the number of terms one can serve took effect. And some members have been choosing not to stand for reelection from time to time for many years.

    The Executive Committee and the Board have, from the start of the process, wanted to be sure that we chose the very best available candidate to serve as our next ED, and we have undertaken an extensive search and deliberative process. Nancy Cardwell is eminently qualified for the job, and the Board demonstrated that it believed this to be the case when it appointed her as interim ED. Is there a compelling reason that Board members should let other work – related either to their IBMA responsibilities or to their own careers (this is, as bluegrass professionals know, the busiest time of the year) – slide or, on the other hand, that we should short-circuit the process?

    • Why so defensive, Jon? There was no suggestion in David’s piece that Jim Roe’s departure was anything other than what he had told us – wanting to focus on his business.

      • Jon Weisberger

        John, I was responding to Dennis Jones’ statement that the departure (not a resignation, by the way, but a decision not to stand for re-election at the end of a first term) a Board member “is not a good sign.”

        With respect to some other comments, I should point out that to say that we don’t have a leader more than 6 months after the previous ED resigned is incorrect; we’ve had an interim ED pretty much ever since the previous ED completed his employment with the IBMA. And the “replacement for Nancy’s former position,” Caroline Wright, was hired on a part-time and temporary basis, precisely in order to ensure that that work gets done while as many options as possible are kept open for as long as necessary.

        I’m pretty confident that I speak on behalf of the entire Board when I say that it would have been great had we been able to stick with our original timetable, and had a new “permanent” ED in place and working alongside Dan Hays for a time before the latter’s ultimate departure. But this is an important decision, and an important one to get right, and in my opinion, to make a “permanent” decision without a thorough and deliberate selection process would not be a good thing – and, with a strong interim ED in place (and a temporary appointment to take on some of the work she was previously assigned), I think we can afford to be thorough and deliberate. I expect the outcome will be a good one.

  • Dick Beckley

    I agree that board turnover is inevitable and occurs often, and should not be of concern. However, I submit , if Nancy Cardwell is eminently qualified ( and I believe she is), she should have been made the permanent Executive Director, not the Interim one. She knows more about the problems facing IBMA than anyone and I believe she is better equipped to deal with these problems than a new person would be.
    As for searching thru a head hunter, this would be a perfect way to obtain someone that has not a clue as to running a bluegrass organization. We are a music organization, not a ordinary business and the Executive Director should be someone well versed in bluegrass and it’s unique place in the music world.
    As a retired business owner and responsible for as many as 36 employees, I think it sets a bad example to not have a leader more than 6 months after the previous Director resigned. I also think that it will do IBMA further harm if Nancy is by-passed, as they very well might offend her and lose her in the process. Additionally , if I am correct on this , they hired a replacement for Nancy’s former position, which probably means that person is out of a job if Nancy returns to her former position .
    Also, I will eagerly await the release of the results of the audit of our financial status. Hopefully , everything will be as it should be and the decline in our treasury is no worse than bad business decisions and a dissatified and declining membership. Hopefully, new leadership, a new location in 2013, and the continued good work of President Stan will start to turn us around!

  • David Morris

    Indeed, as Jon Weisberger points out, this is “the busiest time of the year” in bluegrass, which is why I’m surprised that the search continues. Dan Hays announced in early November that he would leave at the end of February. Applications for the job were due Dec. 15 — six months ago. And the executive committee is STILL trying to make sure they identify the best possible candidates?

    I also chuckled at Jon’s comment about whether folks wanted to “short circuit the process.” How can you possibly short circuit the process six months after applications were due and more than seven months after IBMA announced Dan was leaving?

    I agree 100% with Dick Beckley. If Nancy Cardwell is, as Jon said, eminently qualified to lead IBMA during this vital run up to the World of Bluegrass and at a time when IBMA is, indeed, at a crossroads, then she deserves the job without the interim label.

    Finally, I saw Dick’s comment that IBMA is “a music organization, not an ordinary business.” True, but it IS a business and needs to be run like one, with a focus on the bottom line and being able to meet a budget. The executive director needs a grounding in business practices and running a non-profit organization as much as he or she needs a background in bluegrass. We’ll get a pretty good idea of how IBMA has done on the business front if and when the full audit report, and not just an executive summary, is released to the board and to the membership.

  • Jon Weisberger

    ” How can you possibly short circuit the process six months after applications were due and more than seven months after IBMA announced Dan was leaving?”

    By making a decision before considering all the available options – a job which can only be done decider’s timetable, not someone else’s.

  • janice brooks

    I had the chance to be around Nancy for a couple evenings back in April and from what I saw and have heard since that time, she deserves serious consideration