Leadership succession is the key to maintaining an association’s values and relevancy by Jon Hansen

Posted on June 18, 2015


I recently thought about a comment that was made by one of my numerous sources for the NIGP #CodeGate story, regarding how Lewis Spangler is probably turning in his grave as a result of the perceived avarice on the part of current NIGP Chief Executive Rick Grimm.

In explaining the reason for their comment, the individual said that during Spangler’s time with the association, there were many instances in which he reached into his own pocket to keep the NIGP afloat. While not suggesting that the financial challenges in and of themselves were a good thing, it was the sentiment behind the gesture that they were talking about. Specifically, the belief in the core values of the association and its responsibility to its members.

Somehow, and despite the successive years of profitability under the Grimm administration, it was suggested that the values and vision of Spangler had been lost in the desire to improve cash flow.

“When Lew took over the reigns of NIGP during the mid 1970s, he brought a unique leadership and vision that served the growing organization well. His countless contributions to the educational programs, conference events, and publications help make possible the thriving organization we see today in NIGP. He was also instrumental in the creation of the UPPCC. Lew passed away in 1999, but his impact to the procurement profession continues on.” – Who’s Lew, and Why is He a Role Model for Purchasers?, American City & County 

The above raises an interesting question . . . what role does succession planning play in the values and ongoing relevancy of associations?

Based on my recent conversation with IACCM’s CEO Tim Cummins, it plays a very important role.


Cummins, who founded IACCM with the support of British Telecom, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent Technologies, Marconi Communications, and Siemens, reflects the very attitude and values that Spangler demonstrated when he took the helm of the NIGP in the mid 1970s.

For example, and through my extensive research into procurement association finances, it was not until recently that Cummins’ personal income started to come in line with those who have similar duties at other non-profit organizations. In fact in the years since its founding in 1999, Cummins’ salary had been for the longest time well below the average for non-profit CEOs – in all industries, across all sectors. This is what made me think of the comment regarding Spangler.

It is also what led me to ask the inevitable question . . . could what is happening at the NIGP happen to IACCM when Cummins retires?

After all, extending an effective leader’s vision and values to subsequent generations, is a universal problem that transcends the world of non-profit associations. The challenge however becomes even more daunting when you take into account Cummin’s reference to a Warren Buffett comment regarding innovators, imitators and idiots.

The IACCM CEO was of course talking about the famous 2008 Interview Buffet gave shortly after the financial meltdown that rocked the world economy occurred.

When Buffet was asked the question “Should wise people have known better?” his answer was both insightful and to the point; “Of course, they should have, but there’s a “natural progression” to how good new ideas go wrong.”

Buffett then went on to explain what he called the “progression of the three I’s.”

First you have the “Innovators” who recognize opportunities that others either do not see or fail to act upon. Then comes the imitators, who attempt to copy – with varying degrees of success – “what the innovators have done.” Finally you have what Buffett referred to as being the Idiots, “whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to do to get rich.”

There’s that word again avarice.

While Cummins, in recalling the Buffett interview, was not making a direct reference to anyone’s actions in particular, I could not help draw the parallel between the progression of the three I’s concept and the Spangler lament relating to the NIGP. It would be hard not to.

Turning my attention to the NIGP scandal, I then asked the IACCM CEO what I considered to be the next obvious question . . . what about the membership – how could they sit by and do nothing?

He then provided me with the following data; only 5% of all members in an association are actively engaged on a regular basis, while 15% are somewhat involved. The remaining 80% are for the most part indifferent.

To me, this summed up perfectly how, since the Spangler era, the NIGP could have fallen as far as it has in terms of its perceived values and image.

Quite simply, you have the Buffett progression of the 3 I’s relating to leadership succession, coupled with the indifference of the majority of association members. It is a potentially lethal combination.

Going back to my original question to Cummins “could what is happening at the NIGP happen to IACCM” when he retires?

In his usually astute manner he replied, “I have no doubt that IACCM’s succession plan will preserve the integrity of the original vision.”  He then added, “but I could not have said that six months ago.”