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What Might Better Look Like? - Leadership, Governance, Business Model
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The recent dismissal of Bahar Gidwani from the ACBL CEO position awaits definition and detail that will be forthcoming over many months. I cannot offer an opinion on the event because I know nothing about the details.  I also refuse to speculate.

What is very clear in broad strokes is that the current demographics and business vectors are discouraging to say the least.  The degree of innovation necessary to reverse current trends has not been demonstrated.  We appear to continue to do the same things we've always done hoping repetition will bring better results.  Well folks - it ain't working.  

One question that arises is, "Do we have the right Leadership, Governance, and Business Models?"

I offer this thought piece for discussion, hoping that some positive change in all three areas can be accomplished as the ACBL looks for a new CEO.  

The ACBL needs skill-based governance. The Fortune 15 Global Corporation I worked for has a Board of 13, each representing a business skill necessary for the success of the corporation. This allows the company to reach out for advice in key networks, keeping abreast of change and ahead of competition.Governance is regional for the ACBL. This means each District sends their Unit ballot winners regardless of the skills they possess, and with no view toward the skills required for business success. There is no consensus way to create the complementarity of skills (and personal networks owned by each board member) under the current system. We are burdened by a purely political process for governance purposes. Worse, there is no motivation to serve the ACBL – all directors serve their Districts. As long as the "What's in it for my region" mentality prevails we will have poor consensus and limited growth. 

Regional representation has hurt rather than helped the ability of the ACBL to innovate and grow. Petty disagreements lead to much effort spent on minor change. Almost as if people think that keeping things the way they worked 20-30 years ago will eventually lead to success if we keep repeating it often enough.

How many Board motions have we passed?  How many resulted in more members, more tables, more bridge classes, more income for club owners?  I thought so.  

A second factor contributing to our current state is lack of clarity for roles of the CEO and the Board of Directors.  CEOs have complete authority to run operations and to innovate for the sake of the business.  Boards should govern, ensuring talent and fiscal responsibility sufficient for growth goals, along with a healthy ecosystem to support them.  Can you show me how we have that today?  

For illustration only, let’s assume we can agree that a skills based board will serve the corporation better than a regionally based board. What skills might we want? Here's a pro forma list.  There's probably a better one you can build - 

  1. Bridge – a comprehensive understanding of the game and its Laws. What it takes to have fun and what it takes to succeed. Someone who can map the ecosystem and manipulate it to grow results.
  2. Finance – how a similarly sized non-profit can grow over time and expand its reach by becoming more efficient. What business models should we be exploring that we do not have in place today? Given the Out of Pocket costs for tournaments, how can the ACBL capture a greater share of the spend by each member. (If you go to the NABC and play for 10 days, the ACBL gets $500, compared to the Hotel $3000, Restaurants $1000, and Airlines $500-800. The ACBL’s share of total spend is less than 10%. This is a BAD business model. This role can be an employee of the corporation. 
  3. Marketing – how we can appeal to key target groups to increase membership, tables, classes, and revenue. How might we better reach each of these audiences and what should the message be. What businesses today reach these people and how to we connect with them. Who is interested in marketing to the 50-85 crowd? (Hint: Consumer goods). How do we coordinate an individual player’s lifecycle so that key needs are met with little waste effort?
  4. Gaming Industry – what appeals to what people, how are these benefits served today, and where should we create associations with potential members to improve trial and repurchase rates (memberships).
  5. Technology – How does personal technology change the landscape for Bridge? What Tech capability to we need that we don’t have, and who are good partners to help grow these capabilities.
  6. Relationship Management – The key product is membership experience. How do we better identify, recruit, serve, and retain members throughout their membership lifecycle? Do we even know what a membership lifecycle is?
  7. Professional Societies and Business Groups – how do we foster relationships with elite business leaders and encourage play, perhaps even competition at the table, among rival businesses? How do we capture sponsorship money for bigger and better tournaments?
  8. Field Operations – How do we manage logistics and reduce costs by better use of innovation? What business models should we emulate? Who has best in class performance for like kind businesses? How do we help our people (field operations) grow?
  9. Communication – how do we do a better job of Shockley’s concept “High Tech and High Touch” – keeping communication with members and key stakeholders (Teachers, Clubs, Units, Districts) open and productive, while competing in an ever more complex world?
  10. Teaching – not just bridge teaching, but a presence with educators in High Schools and Universities so that we can gain from best practices and ensure we are not depending on random success. Can we emulate bridge curricula successful in other countries? We can’t make progress here without leadership.
  11. Legal - Leadership to ensure the enterprise is protected and has appropriate safeguards in place as required by Law and Ethics.  This role can be an employee of the corporation.  

I had reported (Toronto BoD meeting, 2017) that Teachers and Club Managers see the current “eco-system”  is disjointed and inefficient, and as a result, ineffective. Go ahead, tell me how teachers, clubs, Units, and Districts are interdependent and create value for each other in ways that grow business through cooperation and shared resources. 

  • (A business ecosystem is the network of organizations — including suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies, and so on — involved in the delivery of a specific product or service through both competition and cooperation.)

How might informed leadership alter the business model to encourage growth for the clubs (the key source of new members) and teachers (ambassadors to fun). Today there’s lots of cheer-leading but little tangible support. If we are to depend on the grass roots clubs and teachers to spur growth, then we need to design the business model that incentivizes that behavior. Our volunteer demographics do not match the target audiences we are trying to relate to.  

Keep in mind that all current BoD members are a product of the current disjointed ecosystem where the ACBL runs NABCs and governs, the Districts run Regionals, the Units run sectionals, and clubs run themselves around all aforementioned tournament activity.  I am unclear if we have a Bridge Teacher (sole profession) on the current Board.  Contrast that to Corporations who purposefully recruit skilled outside directors to broaden access to expertise so that the enterprise stays ahead of change, not behind it.  One wonders whay we need 25 Directors for a $17 MM operation, when a $80B Corporation can do the job globally with 13.  FWIW, the F15 BoD stipend approaches $200K annually, which when prorated for business size ($17MM/80,000MM) is about $50 per person.  I am not suggesting that is appropriate compensation - simply talking scale and appropriate size.  

But I digress.

Were we to choose the 9-11 leaders in each of the business skill areas above we would have a very different Board of Directors. More than one skilled person from the same geography could lead, the entire group would be chartered and focused on the entire enterprise, and our 25 regionally-focused leaders can provide appropriate business advice about growth impacts in their respective regions. Importantly governance would be completely focused on the enterprise as a whole and the ecosystem that supports it. and not regional differences.  

Consider an alternative.

Were we to allocate the current Districts to 9-11 roughly equal geographies (by bridge member population, say) and have 9-11 Directors on the board, we could have an efficient board size, 3 year staggered terms and skill based (not region based) selection processes. Instead of 25 elections, there would be 9-11. The 25 current Board members would be merged to the Board of Governors and have a direct relationship with one (and only one) of the 9-11 Board Members each year. Board representation should rotate annually so that over 9 years each member will have represented the entire Zone. Given collaboration technology available today, we no longer need Board members living in the regions they represent.

The elections would be quite different from today. The Board itself would nominate several candidates for election to available seats in a given year.  All District and Unit Boards together would select two, possibly three, candidates for each skill position. (Consider this the primary election).  The voting and general election would be by general membership, with the Board able to vote any members votes who did not vote in the election (similar to the Board Proxy for Business governance). That's right - we all vote for all 9-11 Board members.  The winner serves a 3 year term. We can allow for 3 consecutive terms as long as they are reelected. An Election committee will vet the candidates for relevant skill areas to ensure proper skill sets are available to lead the non-profit. This approach allows the Board to change and grow its own skill set to lead the business.  

I might add that the role of Board Chairman is filled from the immediate past CEO, ensuring that the Chair is available to coach the new leader, and that true business acumen guides the governance process.  The tenure usually lasts for 3-5 years, the time frame necessary for strategic change. At that point, and 2-3 years before the CEO transitions, the CEO can hold both roles. The Board still attends to governance and major capital expense. Our current board president has 12 months and a travel schedule that makes leading change impossible. 


The current regional/Local focus has proven unable to grow the membership, unable to attract younger players, unable to appeal to business professionals,  unable to create a pace of innovation that keeps up with the changes in the environment, and unable to grow business results. This suggests the current Board is ill-equipped to do that.  

The larger a board is, the more ineffective it is. Consensus on BIG IDEAS is rare on the current Board in part because of its unwieldy size, leading to least common denominator agreements and rejection of substantive change.

The ACBL is running on a business model that is 30+ years old. How the ACBL chooses to lead itself has to change and so does its business model. 

How might the future be different if we had 9-11 young professional outside directors as leaders with tangible success in the key skill areas serving to guide the ACBL into the future? Do you really expect the same as we’ve had for the last 10, 20, 30 or more years? I don’t. It’s time to realize we need different governance to drive leadership that can innovate toward growth. 

I hope we achieve an epiphany soon. I have been 5 years younger than the median member age for the past 15 years.  Something to think about.  Absent breakthrough change, we will have more of the same overall performance. 

Let me know what you think - I prefer constructive ideas and approaches please.  

Sincerely, Steve Moese K082411 Unit 124 District 11

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