Upheaval at NBAA leads to much finger-pointing

 - March 22, 2007, 7:11 AM

When NBAA hired Shelley Longmuir less than a year ago, the board of directors said the new president would raise the association to a new level. Apparently there was disagreement between Longmuir and the board on just what that next level should be.

On April 1, the board accepted Longmuir’s resignation following a regularly scheduled three-day meeting in Washington. At the same time, Robert Warren, who Longmuir had brought on board as chief operating officer and corporate secretary, also resigned.

Although NBAA board chairman Donald Baldwin maintained that the board meeting was not contentious, it followed within days of senior vice president of operations Robert Blouin’s resignation and the previously announced departure of public-relations director Cassandra Bosco. With the resignations of Longmuir and Warren, NBAA said that both Blouin and Bosco would continue in their positions at the organization.

After Longmuir’s resignation, Baldwin, who headed the selection committee that chose her to succeed Jack Olcott, assumed the positions of interim president and CEO. In a letter to NBAA member representatives on April 5, Baldwin said the board decided to seek new leadership following “several days of intense deliberations.”
“This obviously was not an easy or simple decision, but a bold one in my view, consistent with the board’s responsibility to manage the affairs of the association in the best interest of the membership,” he wrote.
In the April 1 announcement of the staff changes, NBAA said that vice chairman Ken Emerick would head a search committee to find Longmuir’s replacement. He vowed to conduct a thorough search. On April 7, Emerick took the unusual step of requesting member “advice and counsel” regarding the association’s search for a new president and CEO. Pursuing what he called an “accelerated, open process,” he said the search committee needs to fully understand members’ hopes for this role. Additionally, each of the NBAA’s 16 standing committees will be requested to provide separate recommendations.
It was no secret that many within and outside NBAA questioned the hiring of Longmuir, who had no previous experience with business aviation. There also was some concern that she planned to keep her residence in Chicago, in essence commuting to NBAA headquarters. But she had impressive credentials garnered as senior vice president of international, regulatory and governmental affairs for United Airlines. In addition, before joining United, she worked in the Transportation Department for then-DOT secretary Andrew Card, who is now President Bush’s chief of staff.
Initially, both NBAA and Longmuir insisted that the parting of ways was an entirely amicable divorce. “Shelley’s contributions will be missed,” said Baldwin, “but we must remain as focused as ever on the increasingly complex business aviation issues faced by our members.” He maintained that under Longmuir’s leadership, NBAA has been a “dynamic force advocating for the business aviation community in Washington.”
Both sides claimed the separation was a “mutual decision,” with NBAA saying Longmuir and the board “differed on the future direction of the association.” In her own statement, Longmuir cited “difference in vision for leadership” of NBAA. She said she was able to establish a “sound financial footing” for the association, boost its effectiveness to match the operational expertise and international reach of its members and spearhead legislative initiatives on federal and local levels.
Longmuir also cited development and execution of a legislative policy agenda so that NBAA’s membership voice was heard on Capitol Hill and in the most senior levels of the Bush Administration. She also claimed credit for the secure access initiative, calling it her signature issue.
‘He Said, She Said’
At this point, what actually transpired might have remained behind closed doors. But it soon degenerated into a classic case of “he said, she said” when Warren sent an e-mail letter to several hundred NBAA member representatives on April 15, saying he resigned in protest over the NBAA board’s actions in causing Longmuir to leave.
That was followed the next day by a letter from Baldwin, which said Warren’s version of events “contains wholesale misrepresentations of role, fact and emphasis.” Previous NBAA president Jack Olcott followed with a letter on April 18 (see box below). Baldwin called Warren’s letter an aggressive campaign to portray NBAA and the board of directors in a false light. Longmuir declined to be interviewed for this story.
Warren said he viewed the board’s decision to replace Longmuir as “locking in place an ineffective ‘business as usual’ approach to the extraordinary circumstances the industry now faces and foreclosing NBAA from advancing a meaningful political agenda.” Professing a great admiration for the business aviation industry, he said he refused to accept any post-resignation payments from NBAA “so that I can openly share my concerns for the future of the association and its members.”
Longmuir hired Warren last September in a move supported by the board. In fact, Baldwin told AIN that the board had been discussing hiring a COO well before Longmuir was hired. Warren is a lawyer by training and had most recently been a senior vice president at the Air Transport Association.
According to Warren, Longmuir’s highest priority upon arriving at NBAA was to address the twin issues of security and access.

Warren said Longmuir was “dismayed” to find that NBAA’s security program–the Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (TSAAC)–was being represented as a realistic path to gain access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) when her Washington sources told her otherwise. “Furthermore,” he charged, “TSAAC, as developed before Longmuir’s arrival, did not even address temporary flight restrictions.”

He said she redesigned the “narrowly focused, inadequate” TSAAC program and developed in its place the Secure Access program, which was announced on March 16 in testimony before the House aviation subcommittee at DCA. At the same time, she issued an economic report showing that since 9/11, DCA’s closure to general aviation and the 2,800 TFRs nationwide have cost the economy $1.3 billion, or more than $43 million per month.

Warren also alleged that Blouin’s resignation was complicated by the fact that his wife, Kathleen, is vice president of conventions and seminars, saying the board expressed its concern to Longmuir that the conventions department head would leave as well. “Confronted with these concerns,” he wrote, “the board apparently believed that it had to choose between placing a priority on the convention and the money it makes or the development of a robust political agenda.”

He accused the board of rescinding staff changes that Longmuir had made to advance the “vital political and economic needs” of the members. “The board made this choice notwithstanding the fact that NBAA has $18 million in reserve–2.5 times the net revenues of the NBAA Convention,” he continued, “and that in survey after survey NBAA members want as their number-one priority effective government representation.”

Warren told AIN that he had planned to resign in January unless the board moved forward with changes, which he said it did following a meeting in early February that neither he nor Longmuir attended. This had followed a telephone board meeting in January during which Longmuir laid out her plans, including salary and personnel moves.

According to Warren, Baldwin “personally came and visited within the next day to let me know they were prepared to move forward, and giving me assurances that they would do that.” The next day he decided to stay.

With Longmuir’s departure, Warren said, her efforts to address “troubling management issues”–including imprudent financial management, inappropriate staff travel and excess staff and board expenditures–are now left in doubt.

Baldwin countered that Longmuir and Warren failed to follow through on several issues they raised, despite receiving the board’s approval and repeated urging to implement those changes over many months.

“Their failure to act eventually reached an unacceptable level,” he wrote. “The action taken by the board on April 1 embraces change and reform, and moves the organization in a positive direction.”