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Four Years . . . It Feels Like Four Months

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BOARD MEMBER’S CORNER

Four Years . . . It Feels Like Four Months

by Robert Goodman

Jan Nathan called me almost four years ago and asked me if I would serve on the board of what was then Publishers Marketing Association. It took me perhaps five seconds to say yes, four of which were spent getting my tongue back in the correct position for talking. To this day, I am still humbled that it was Jan who asked me. I feel especially blessed in hindsight, because Cevin (Bryerman), Kassahun (Checole), Maggie (Lichtenberg), and I were the last members to have been personally invited to join the board by Jan herself.

My first board meeting was later that year in New York, in August, during New York sauna season, when the weather squashes the entire world into a shell an inch or two away. The meeting room was a typical New York hotel room—cramped and in need of supersizing. When I walked in, most of my new board colleagues were already there, people I had known previously only by name and reputation. I felt like the new kid who was afraid he would have to prove himself. I found a left-hander’s corner seat and tried not to call attention to myself. That was hard to do.

I don’t remember many details from that first board meeting. I do remember feeling awestruck, however. I was surrounded by really sharp people who oozed competence and authority. This was truly a working board, and everyone in the room took their board responsibilities seriously. The more I listened, the more I felt an urgency to carry my own weight. If you’ve seen me, you know that’s not an insignificant challenge.

One person was there only by phone. Jan was ill and remained home in California. She also missed the next board meeting, in St. Louis. Late the following spring, we all knew that the founder of PMA would be with us only in spirit, just as she is today. Jan was too young to leave us, and she was supposed to be there forever. It’s easy to imagine that an organization has a life and an identity of its own. That was not true for PMA. Jan had been our center of gravity. She and PMA had been Smythe-sewn together.

Tackling a Hefty To-Do List

Whether we were ready for it or not, the board faced the impossible task of replacing the irreplaceable. Our first challenge was to ensure continuity. PMA provided many things that members expected us to keep on providing. Two of the most visible and important of these were Publishing University and the Benjamin Franklin Awards. We also needed to continue providing information and benefits for our members and affiliated groups.

Many of the ongoing tasks were self-evident . . . until they weren’t done. Fortunately, we could depend on Terry, Lisa, and the staff in Manhattan Beach to do the necessary things that kept PMA working. They are still the backbone of the organization today, and we are all richer as a result. I can’t begin to imagine the unhappy turns things would have taken had they not been there.

We also had to move ahead with plans and projects that had been started under Jan’s umbrella. One of these was completing the name change from Publishers Marketing Association to Independent Book Publishers Association. This was not our most popular decision, but the board had felt for years that the name should reflect the fact that we offer much more than marketing support and education and the fact that we serve far more than small and beginning publishers. Other activities already in motion—including the online university and programs for midsized, independent, and experienced publishers—needed our support too, and we chose to continue developing them.

Meanwhile, the publishing business didn’t do us the favor of slowing down to let us catch up. In fact, it speeded up. No one could have anticipated how quickly and thoroughly technology would change our world. No one could have anticipated how vital social networks, Twitter, Kindles, and other innovations would become to publishers. No one could have anticipated that the number of books published would almost double in three or four years. No one could have anticipated how quickly Amazon and Google would take the place of traditional publishing institutions. No one could have anticipated any of this, yet all these things became elephants in the room that we could not ignore.

I think we did a pretty good job. It’s not done yet. In fact, it will never be done. Much of what we set out to do remains unfinished business, a legacy for boards to come, who will have their own challenges to deal with. It’s the nature of the beast. All working boards like ours must face the same tests. Our particular challenge was to do it under circumstances that none of us saw coming and all of us wished had been different.

A Role with Rich Rewards

When I say “we” did a good job, I mean my fellow board members. I have never before been in the presence of such a dedicated group. This was a collection of people from different areas of the country and different parts of our industry. They all took valuable time away from their own businesses and gave their full attention to IBPA, both during board meetings and back in their offices. They all volunteered their time and effort. No one received any compensation except the satisfaction of giving something back to a profession and an organization that has been and continues to be so valuable to all of us.

I will conclude on a personal note and say what every other departing board member has said: I got so much more out of being on the board than I put in. Often, winter board meetings conclude with choked-up and tearful farewells from even the most macho and stoic board members, because they are the last meetings for one third of the board. Perhaps I should feel relieved that this winter’s meeting, my final one, will be held by phone, and I can let my own tears flow in private. But I don’t. I will miss out on my last chance to celebrate the personal and professional relationships we have grown into over the last four years.

Most of all, I will miss participating and making a difference. I have had the ride of a lifetime. My time is up, and I step aside so someone else can have a turn. I know IBPA will be in good hands.

 

 

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