Newsmaker of the year: Staff Changes at NBAA

 - November 6, 2006, 4:51 AM

Two years ago the NBAA board of directors decided not to extend the contract of Jack Olcott, who had been the face of the business aviation organization for more than a decade, launching the association into a tumult that seems finally to be playing itself out.

In a nine-month span–from early July 2003 until April 1 last year–Shelley Longmuir came and went as Olcott’s successor, taking with her Robert Warren, whom she had hired as executive vice president. But before she departed, Bob Blouin resigned as senior vice president of operations, then rescinded his resignation after Longmuir’s departure. Cassandra Bosco, who previously decided to leave her post as director of public relations, also changed her mind upon Longmuir’s exit.

Board chairman Don Baldwin then assumed the post of interim president and CEO and briefly flirted with the idea of tossing his hat in the ring to take over the job permanently. The board formed a search committee to find a new president and CEO, eventually settling on then-General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Ed Bolen. Bolen told AIN that he was happy at his old job at GAMA and had not actively sought the NBAA presidency.

Before Bolen assumed control of NBAA in early September, however, there were additional staff changes at the organization. Blouin resubmitted his resignation, followed shortly by Pete West, who resigned as senior vice president of government and public affairs as of November 1, and Joe Ponte, who retired from NBAA as of November 30. All said they endorsed the selection of Bolen to head NBAA.

Bolen told AIN shortly after taking office that he will be personally involved to a large degree in NBAA’s lobbying efforts, which he called a priority for the association to move forward. Kansas native Bolen’s general aviation roots extend back more than a decade to his days as a Capitol Hill staffer.

Ironically, it was Longmuir’s stellar reputation as a lobbying superstar for United Airlines that prompted the board to select her from a list of 100 potential successors to Olcott. As United’s top drumbeater, she carried an impressive portfolio of credentials that included overseeing a team of more than 50 attorneys, economists and lobbyists responsible for implementing the airline’s regulatory and governmental agendas. She had also held posts in the executive branch of the federal government and had ties with the Bush White House.

From the outset, however, she came under fire for her lack of business aviation acumen and her decision to become a commuter president by maintaining her primary residence in Chicago. Then she hired Warren, also an airline industry alum, as her second-in-command.

Whenever Longmuir was unavailable, NBAA staffers found themselves reporting to Warren as chief operating officer. That did not sit well with a small staff used to dealing directly with Olcott. Friction also arose between Longmuir and the board of directors over what direction NBAA should take.

Initially, both Longmuir and NBAA claimed the resignations of Longmuir and Warren were amicable. But Warren e-mailed several hundred NBAA members two weeks later saying he resigned in protest of the board’s treatment of Longmuir.

Since Bolen took over at NBAA, he has moved quickly to bolster and realign NBAA’s senior staff. He hired Steve Brown away from the FAA as NBAA senior v-p of operations, replacing Bob Blouin, and selected aviation lobbyist Lisa Piccione as senior v-p of government affairs, replacing West. Finally, he named NBAA staffers David Almy and Kathleen Blouin senior v-p of marketing and communications, and senior v-p of conventions and seminars, respectively. The two will split Ponte’s duties.

“At the end of the day,” Bolen told AIN, “this is a community that deserves world-class representation, and we’re going to find a way to make that a reality.”