Bruce Gordon Resigns from NAACP Citing Clashes With the Board
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 3/6/2007
WASHINGTON (NNPA) ?NAACP President and CEO Bruce Gordon, who resigned last week, citing a clash with the organization¡¯s 64-member board, apparently was unable to reconcile his corporate conciliatory style with the board''''s veteran civil rights advocates.
¡°I saw myself as a change agent. I came to the association to be a transformational leader; not a maintenance of the status quo leader. And, rightly or wrongly, my approach to affecting change is not something that the board bought into,?Gordon says in an interview with the NNPA News Service.
¡°They thought they knew what they were getting. I thought I knew what I was getting into. And I certainly think that I misread it. What I found was not what I expected...At the end of the day, the CEO and the board must be aligned in order for the organization to be affective. And we are not aligned. There¡¯s a lot more to it and I have no desire to get into it. What matters is that we just weren¡¯t all on the same page.?
Well-placed sources close to the organization said trouble started brewing soon after Gordon, a former Verizon executive, was hired 19 months ago. One source said he tried to resign only six weeks after starting the job, but was talked into staying.
Board Chairman Julian Bond was candid in his assessment of the conflict.
¡°We had some disagreements about whether the NAACP should focus all of its energies on social justice or whether we should focus on social service. The board believes that we have been a social justice organization for 98 years. Although we very much appreciate and value social service, that¡¯s not what we do. And that¡¯s not what we¡¯re going to do,?Bond says. ¡°I think it was a gradual realization on both parts that we were not attuned and that I don¡¯t know whether he came to us with the attitude, ¡®I¡¯m going to show those 1960s Negroes where to go and where they need to be.¡¯¡±
Bond continues, ¡°Haven¡¯t you run into people like that who haven¡¯t been involved in the struggle for civil rights but think that they know so much more about it than people who have been and who think that, you know, that was good when Dr. King was alive, but, it¡¯s another day now??
Gordon hasn¡¯t been shy about his lack of traditional civil rights involvement. In an interview with NNPA shortly after taking the post, the retired Verizon executive, who won wide acclaim for his Black hiring efforts before his retirement nearly four years ago, acknowledged that he had not participated in traditional civil rights marches, but believed there were other ways to achieve justice.
Gordon believes social services such as a housing assistance program through the Bank of America was also necessary for the NAACP as well as increasing its membership and giving an accurate count.
Gordon says he also clashed with the board on his hiring practices.
¡°I think we need a whole lot of talent in our staff and I think there are multiple ways to get that talent. You can hire it or you can contract it. I was trying to tap all resources to get more skills at the table. That was not an approach that the board was comfortable with,?he said.
Gordon¡¯s conciliatory style was ultimately demonstrated last summer when President Bush broke his five-year boycott of the organization, embraced Gordon and spoke at the NAACP¡¯s summer conference, where he promised to support the renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
Despite the sudden resignation, Gordon calls his tenure a success.
¡°We¡¯ve got over 400,000 members and associates. I¡¯m very excited about that,?he says. ¡°We had membership below 300,000 when I started. I think that our profile in Washington in terms of our interface with this administration and all branches of government, I think we have a stronger profile than we¡¯ve ever had.?
Sources said he submitted the resignation formally on Feb. 17, but had agreed to work with the board on an agreeable time to announce his resignation and to leave. But, the day after the NAACP Image Award live television broadcast March 2, Gordon told reporters, catching board members, including Bond, off guard.
¡°He resigned. We didn¡¯t dismiss him. And although the relationship wasn¡¯t smooth, we were prepared to carry on with that,?Bond says.
Former NAACP Board Chair Myrlie Evers-Williams, who has been inactive over the past year because of knee surgery, says the size of the 64-member board with an elected membership consisting of veteran civil rights leaders and activists has frequently clashed with executive styles.
¡°The issue of the size of the 64-member board has been a major issue for a very long time,?she says. ¡°You have to know what your goals and purposes are and you have to be able to agree on that. ?The higher purpose is what is to be served.?
Bond is less inclined to blame the board structure for the controversy surrounding Gordon.
¡°[Former President and CEO] Kweisi Mfume stayed for 10 years, former [Executive Director] Ben Hooks stayed for 15 years. This guy stayed for 19 months. So, where¡¯s the problem seem to be??Bond questioned.
Mfume, a former congressman, who also left the NAACP amidst clashes with Bond, said he would have little to say publicly.
¡°I was sorry to hear of Bruce¡¯s decision to move on, but I respect his integrity of purpose and his believe that this was the best decision for him at this time,?Mfume said. ¡°We all want the NAACP to survive and get better. Let¡¯s hope that that happens sooner rather than later.?
Gordon succeeded Mfume, who later ran an unsuccessful race for a Democratic nomination to the U. S. Senate. Mfume says he¡¯s been on a speaking circuit the past six months and is now deciding between several career offers.
Bond says NAACP General Counsel Dennis Hayes will again serve as interim president until a new one is picked. An exit date for Gordon was not decided by NNPA deadline, but, Gordon says, ¡°I¡¯m sure we¡¯ll do it quickly.?
Mfume dismissed the question when asked if he would reapply for his old job. ¡°It hasn¡¯t crossed my mind,?he says.
But, it has apparently crossed the minds of others.
¡°The name has come up, but I don¡¯t think so. The question has come up. It¡¯s a question of having been there and we don¡¯t want to go back there and we want to move ahead. We are always think that with every step we take, it gets higher and higher and higher,?says Bond.
Evers-Williams, who was the chair when Mfume was hired, responded, ¡°I think the question is would he consider??
Despite the controversy, Bond concedes he wants someone like Gordon, but with more of a civil rights orientation.
¡°To be fair, I¡¯d like someone with some of Gordon¡¯s qualities, a familiarity with the corporate world, a way of doing business that is attentive to the bottom line. These are not always qualities that non-profit CEOs have. And he has them. But generally we want somebody who is rooted in the civil rights movement, who is comfortable around a wide variety of people and who is committed to fighting for the civil rights of his or her people,?Bond says.
Among the first people to respond to the Gordon resignation was National Urban League President Marc Morial.
¡°I was surprised and disappointed to learn about his decision to leave the NAACP,?says Morial. ¡°Bruce Gordon is a highly competent and experienced leader whose contributions and voice will be missed.?
It¡¯s not about who¡¯s right or who¡¯s wrong, says Gordon.
¡°I think it¡¯s more important to simply say that I¡¯ve got a different view of what will make the organization more effective than the board itself has.?