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Director’s Desk: What Your Board Is Up To

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PUBLISHED October 2015

by Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association

Angela Bole

In this month’s Director’s Desk, I’m going to pull the curtain on a recent IBPA board of directors meeting.

IBPA’s board of directors is a 14-person leadership team—13 voting members plus the chair—tasked with setting the association’s strategic direction and managing its cash reserves. The best description I’ve heard of what a board does in relation to what office staff does is this: “The board decides where to go. The staff describes how to get there.”

The board’s mandate is big, complex, and important. In order to collaborate effectively, all members work from a set of shared values, with the idea that real growth—in work and in life—comes when these values are put into action. They are:

  • We belong to a single human family.
  • We can cooperate, not just compete.
  • Everyone can make a difference for the better.
  • The essence of leadership is service.
  • The ends and the means are the same.

I invite you to consider the shared values that govern your leadership team—even if you’re a leadership team of one. As you’re making strategic decisions for your business, what glue binds you? Sometimes knowing this can help you thoughtfully resolve differences of opinion or competing ideas and keep everything pointed in a direction that serves the common good.

But I said I’d pull the curtain on a recent IBPA board meeting. Here we go.

The first board meeting of IBPA’s fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016) took place in August in California, and I’m pleased to report that almost every member of the board joined the IBPA staff for two days of face-to-face strategic planning. We covered a lot of ground. Here are some highlights.

Investing in a Strong Future

IBPA board chair, Peter Goodman of Stone Bridge Press (left), reviewing financial statements with IBPA board treasurer, Robert Price of Price World Publishing, during a break in the meeting.

First on the agenda was a report from IBPA’s treasurer, Robert Price of Price World Publishing. Rob presented final numbers for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2015. On the whole, IBPA’s financial picture remains strong. For the second year in a row, net income exceeded budget projections. Even better, net income for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, nearly doubled that of the previous year, increasing by 87.5 percent.

Rob suggested that the board now has the opportunity to invest, but that it first needs to decide how much money IBPA should keep in reserve for a rainy day. To address these two issues, he called for the formation of an Investment Committee charged with developing and enforcing an investment policy and ensuring that IBPA conscientiously meets its reserve targets.

Once reserve targets are met, the fun can begin. Revenue in excess of reserves can be spent on any number of member benefits, including:

  • grants and travel scholarships for Publishing University
  • website features that will improve online collaboration
  • events
  • additional support of affiliate associations
  • scholarships for BookExpo America, the ALA Annual Conference, and similar conventions
  • legal support for advocacy issues (e.g., freedom of speech)
  • [insert your idea here]

The Investment Committee, whose members are Rob Price, Peter Goodman of Stonebridge Press, Ian Lamont of i30 Media, and me, will present initial recommendations during the next board meeting.

Developing a Vision Statement

The IBPA board of directors working in small groups to brainstorm vision statements for the association.

One thing I’ve learned as IBPA’s executive director is that independent publishers run enterprising businesses. No one has time for fly-by-night management concepts and the corporate words that describe them. But there is one management concept I firmly believe all businesses—big or small (or very small)—can benefit from, the one that mandates developing a clearly defined and universally understood vision statement.

You start to understand the importance of a vision statement when you recall the inventor’s credo: You can’t create what you can’t imagine. This short declaration expresses the long-term change that should result from your company’s existence. In other words, the best vision statement is a clear and inspirational description of the overall benefit your company will bring to the world. Vision statements should be specific enough to say something about what you will do and also what you will not do.

For example, here are some vision statements from a few well-known nonprofits:

  • Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live
  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society: A world free of MS
  • NPR, with its network of independent member stations, is America’s preeminent news institution
  • Feeding America: A hunger-free America

IBPA’s board members spent several hours brainstorming and discussing possible vision statements for IBPA. It’s too early to say what the final statement will be, but it’s clear it will incorporate the board’s understanding of IBPA as a collaborative community committed to excellence and professionalism in independent publishing.

New Business

At the next IBPA board of directors meeting, in November 2015, board members will continue their vision statement discussion and consider a few concrete strategic objectives to take IBPA through the end of 2016. We’ll be looking for those “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs) as proposed by Jim Collins in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. I look forward to it.

Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Executive Director, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager. Angela also serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

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