Sunday, May 25, 2008

How to Be A Leader...

Alright, this post is really not about leadership... it is about my recent termination from The Community College Foundation as director of sales and marketing for TechEd, the Technology in Education International Conference & Exposition.

I think the leadership part comes from the central reason I was terminated... the new President of the Foundation, Rick Fowler, felt he could not control me, therefore I was not an effective member of his team.

Now, to be fair... I agree. If an employer says X, but I know the correct action to be Y... I am not going to do X. That's is simply stupid.

Many employers would disagree. I know. I've been one. Of course, in my case, I surrounded myself with people whose skill level was such that I would defer to their thoughts and expertise unless I was absolutely sure of my desired direction - based on my years of experience with the subject.

Mr. Fowler, on the other hand, has ZERO experience in the event, conference & entertainment industry. He comes from a background of military discipline having retired from the Air Force as a Colonel in charge of logistics and air cargo. After retiring he joined the organization where many retired military that have no immediate civilian skills end up... USAA.

From there he was recruited to lead a failing Community College Foundation... a little background here... The Community College Foundation was a thriving organization in December 2005 when I joined. Through 2006 things were going well, until the right hand of the original president, David Springett, left to follow her husband to DC. Then various factions in the Foundation decided to organize a coup to dethrone Dr Springett. The coup failed but not without long-term damage to the Foundation. The leader of the coup left, David was asked by the board to focus on an incredible project called ePassport (electronic vital record-keeping for foster youth), and an COO was brought in to run day-to-day operations... Dr. Lloyd Messersmith. As a contractor Lloyd was getting paid an enormous amount of money to keep the Foundation going strong.

But, under his "leadership" the Foundation lost a multi-million dollar contract with the County of Los Angeles... essentially crippling the Foundation. Why was the contract lost? Because Dr Messersmith didn't know a damned thing about the proper way to conduct a group or to develop proposals... he left it in the hands of someone in charge of that contract and she had her eyes set on joining a new group... the one that won the contract. The bottom line... her proposal sucked and Dr. Messersmith let it go through.

Through 2007 the only mission of the Foundation was to stay alive. Dr Springett resigned, the Board of Directors sold the building David Springett worked so hard to acquire, they closed the ePassport program, the only one of its kind with huge upsides to it, blamed David for mismanagement... and the list goes on and on. All Lloyd did during his tenure was take a paycheck and keep saying "I am truly working the hardest I ever have to keep the Foundation alive".

In the meantime, TechEd, a division of the Foundation, was thriving, having increased attendance each year and increased revenue from both attendance and exhibit hall sales. Both of which I managed.

We had only a skeletal team... my boss, William Neece, director of operations Maureen Julian, an incredible sales associate Jill Noordzij and me - later Adrian Rutherford joined us in the sales dept.

My average day? No less that 10 hours. Even if I came in as late as 8:30, I would easily be there until 6:30. As we got through 2007 William resigned in a beautifully orchestrated move right after a quarterly Board meeting. Lloyd made Maureen the department head because he disliked William and I reminded him too much of William.

Of course, Maureen, while a great individual and a good administrator is not a Conference Director... though she is getting better.

Okay, this long and drawn out blog was supposed to be about Rick Fowler.

Rick has a reputation in Sacramento Circles as a bit of a hot-head and a political wannabe. He once told me that while his values align more with Tom McClintock, he is supporting Doug Ose because he thinks he can win (4th Congressional district race to replace the retiring John Doolittle)

In that one statement he told me everything I needed to know about him and his LACK of values.

But why did I get fired? We held TechEd 2008, our 13th Annual in Ontario, So Cal, on April 13 - 16. During that time, Rick's first, no less than three times did Rick counter a decision I made and do so publicly. Not just coming over to me and saying... "hey, I know you want to do X, but I really would like to do Y".

No, he yelled across a room in one case... embarrassing members of our planning committee who had agreed with the decision... in another, he derided me in front of a sponsor... embarrassing the sponsor to the point that the sponsor apologized to me.

What were these decisions? Life threatening choices? Make or break moments? NO. In the latter case, Mr. Fowler wanted to have a meeting at 6:45 instead of 7:30 as scheduled on our master plan. Walking by me he said... it looks like things are ending early lets do our debrief now... my response? Not Yet. To which he stopped, came back and insisted that we do it now. After telling him I had other things to do before the meeting, he told me to follow him NOW! (this was in front of the sponsor).

Needless to say, I did not follow him. I continued with my duties and we had the normal meeting at 7:30 that evening.

Of course, the consequence was that Rick with the help of a highly ineffective HR director Tara Martinez, built a case to fire me... and I was terminated on May 5, upon my return from two weeks of Navy Reserve Annual Training. Maureen, my direct boss, was strangely absent from my termination meeting.

So, is this how you lead? Probably not. Am I a model employee? Definitely not. In my meeting with Rick he cited his inability to control me as part of the reason... I replied with "yes, if you want to control me and micromanage, then NO I am not going to be an effective member of your team."

Of course... as one final note... I am the ONLY member of the Foundation that kept graphs of EVERY product I produced since day one - graphs that they would not return to me. I am therefore the ONLY member of the Foundation that can prove consistently that I increased my product each year directly and facilitating my team of exhibit sales to bring in the rest of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from TechEd.

I wish everyone at the Foundation the best and hope TechEd continues to provide incredible opportunities for educators everywhere to learn the latest in Technology in Education.

OKAY... I've ranted enough on this one.... whew!


Liz said...

I'm trying to do a project on the former ePassport program and I was wondering if you knew where I could find any information on it or who I could contact about it. If you know any place I could go for more information please contact me at

Matsonian said...

Follow up to this post... TechEd 2009 (held one year after I was fired) was to be the last TechEd ever to be held. Shortly after the event, the TechEd Department, the only PROFITABLE department of The Community College Foundation during my tenure (and thanks to the constant vigilance and oversight of Maureen Julian), was complete dissolved. Just another feather in the cap of Rick Fowler... or is it better to say a skull full of feathers?