Change of Leadership at NKBA

by WOHe

Two steps ahead . . . one step back. An encouraging, leap
forward . . . a toe-stubbing tumble to the ground.

That may be the most accurate way of describing the progress of
the National Kitchen & Bath Association, which had been making
admirable strides forward recently, but has apparently once again
taken a bit of a step backward on its march toward achieving its
goals.
How else can you react after hearing the news that Cecilia Balazs,
who helped lead the NKBA as its CEO for the past five years, has
resigned to accept a post with a Virginia-based cabinet
distributor?

There’s only one way to react, really, at least for the
moment.

And that’s to view Balazs’ departure last month as a setback and
a distraction at least temporarily for an association whose 40-year
history has been marked as much by internal churning, controversy
and periodic setbacks as it has by inspired leadership, lofty goals
and impressive achievements.

The fact that the NKBA is now forced to halt its forward
progress, even momentarily, is really a shame. That’s because the
association from an outsider’s perspective, anyway has been on a
real roll over the past few years.

Those years have seen solid initiatives in the areas of
education, certification, brand awareness and membership. They have
seen the NKBA literally revamp its entire strategic game plan, grow
membership significantly, improve retention rates, upgrade
benefits.

Over the same time span, the NKBA has managed to create an
organizational structure that improved communications between
chapters and association leaders. It has gotten its name out more
effectively among consumers, upgrading its image through a
first-class communications effort that included an ambitious
national TV campaign. It has also developed new levels of
professional certification and educational programs that provide a
foundation for new career paths in the industry.

Balazs, in particular, brought an interesting blend of talent to
the NKBA’s Hackettstown, NJ headquarters. A seasoned trade
association executive, she joined the NKBA at a time when the
organization sorely needed a steady hand at the wheel. During her
five years at NKBA, she provided astute leadership, and helped get
the association’s finances in order. She was also instrumental in
the care and feeding of K/BIS, which serves, far and away, as the
NKBA’s prime revenue source.

All of this isn’t to say that the association didn’t fall on its
face occasionally, or that it always functioned smoothly. Even
under Balazs’ watch as it has throughout its history the NKBA was
plagued by a troubling pattern of turnover among top-level staff
that has now apparently filtered right to the top.

And now, the association faces some degree of disruption at its
highest executive level, another dent in its credibility, another
job search and another critical appointment to say nothing of the
time and effort needed to get a new CEO up to speed and working
with a staff that he or she feels comfortable with.

All of which will only take time and attention away from the
myriad goals the association aspires to achieve.

Too bad.
The hard-working, well-meaning volunteers who populate the
association’s ranks deserve better. So does the association’s
dedicated support staff, which K&BDN has had the pleasure of
working with for the past four years.

Somehow, if it’s to truly move forward, the NKBA needs to find
some kind of formula for genuine continuity among its executive
staff. It needs to establish the kind of positive, sustained
momentum that can only be achieved through a staff that’s in tune
with volunteer leadership and resembles more than just a
merry-go-around. It also, quite frankly, needs to dispel the
troubling and cynical notion among many people in the industry that
the association is somehow almost destined to mark its progress in
nothing more than fits and starts.

The NKBA, while searching for a successor to Balazs, has named
director of marketing Larry Spangler to hold down the fort as
interim CEO. Based on his track record and aptitude, Spangler
should be strongly considered for the position on a permanent
basis, if he wants it.

But whichever way they go, it’s only hoped that association
leaders can replace Balazs soon, assist her successor through a
quick and seamless transition, and get back to the business of
moving the association in the direction it has been going, and in
the direction it needs to
go.

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