Welcoming our new ED

Welcome, John Shertzer!

Yes, OK, that’s a little early, as our new executive director’s first day in the office won’t be until Dec. 2.

But forgive me if I’m overly excited about this big hire for SPJ.

If you read the press release we put out last Friday, you already know a few key facts about John.

He’s currently the founding executive director of a group called Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, a student advisory group to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. The mayor tapped John for the job last year, recruiting him from Indy-based Kiwanis International. At Kiwanis, the international service group, John was ED of Kiwanis Youth Programs for seven years, and head of its Key Club International youth service arm.

John has also been a consultant and trainer for non-profits, a VP with the North American Interfraternity Conference, with time on two college campuses in leadership and residence life management. 

On the volunteer side, he puts in time for a K-5 charter school in Indianapolis he co-founded; serves as commissioner of the Zionsville Little League, where he and his family live; and serves on the board of his local Kiwanis club.

And yes, in case you missed it, he earned a BS in mass communication at Miami University, where I’ve been on faculty since 1998. (And no, I’d never met him before!) John also earned a master’s from Iowa State.

‘Right ED for right now’

In announcing his hiring last week, I called John “the right executive director for what SPJ needs right now.”

By which I mean:

  • He’s got solid ED credentials: At Kiwanis, he oversaw a budget of $6 million, a staff of 15 and a large cadre of boards and volunteer groups. In his current gig, he built the mayor’s group from the ground up, securing funding from Indianapolis’ Lilly Endowment.
  • He values journalism: As a mass comm major, John considered a career in broadcasting until campus leadership positions pulled him in that direction. He calls himself a news junkie. Asked for a comment for our press release he offered this: “The mission of SPJ to perpetuate a free press has never been more important.”
  • He’s a strong communicator: Throughout the interview process, he offered plentiful evidence of the kind of elevated verbal and written skill SPJ needs in an ED.
  • He knows membership: Throughout his career, John has worked with members of all ages, with particularly relevant engagement with younger members. I think we can all agree that is something SPJ sorely needs.

Search process

As you likely know, our last ED resigned in April. Very quickly, the board decided to bring on a search firm to help us move forward. By late spring, we hired Talbott Talent of Indianapolis to lead the search and provide assessment services. By June 1, we had a Search Committee from SPJ leadership. The assessment of HQ operations began very shortly thereafter. On the search side, Talbott then surveyed the staff and members of the SPJ board and its foundation board to create a job description. We officially kicked off the search at the beginning of August.

Between then and the end of October – with a little pause for EIJ19 in San Antonio! — Talbott put the job in front of about 300 candidates; conducted an initial screening interview with 95 candidates; a second interview with 70; and a third interview with 15. Of those, the Search Committee conducted online interviews with three candidates. We interviewed two finalists twice more — once online and once in person. After the in-person interviews, the Search Committee voted 6-0 to recommend John to the full board. (The committee included seven members, but one could not attend the in-person interviews.) John’s Nov. 3 call with the full board was his ninth conversation with us. 

Back in June, the 2018-19 board voted for three candidates to be interviewed by the full board. On Oct. 19 the newly seated board reversed that decision, 7-2, with at-large members Lauren Bartlett and Mike Reilley casting the dissenting votes. On Nov. 3, the vote to offer John a contract was also 7-2, with the same split. Lauren and Mike made clear that they objected to the process, not the candidate. 

Concerns raised

Lauren considered the hiring process flawed:

“There is no way for SPJ board members to know if we truly had the best candidates for the position because the board only was given information about one candidate. 

I still believe the right process is the one the previous board approved – having the board interview three finalist candidates via videoconference. While the search committee and outside consultant played important roles, it is the responsibility of the Society’s board of directors, which hires the executive director, to have direct involvement in the process to ensure we have the best possible executive director to help us lead the Society.

I also want to be crystal clear that my comments are about the process, not the person who we hired as executive director.”

Mike took a similar stance when he explained his vote of Nov. 3:

“The nay vote is not a reflection on the candidate. The person may very well turn out to be a fine executive director and will be great to work with. But we’ll never know if this is the best candidate because the search committee failed to follow protocol and bring the board to three candidates required by the motion passed by the SPJ board earlier this year.

Shame on you all for failing to do your jobs and putting the SPJ board in this position.” 

Some chapter leaders share Lauren and Mike’s concerns. More than a dozen – in leadership positions with chapters in Chicago, Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, San Antonio and Western Washington  – shared this note:

“The long-awaited announcement of what looks to be an effective and energetic leader to join our organization should also be a springboard to fix once and for all a breakdown in process on the board. Now that we have a leader who looks like he can take our organization to the next level and help restore its trust among members, we can turn our attention to internal processes. Long before any particular person was considered to become the next executive director, the board made what a group of local chapter boards and their leaders believes to be one of a series of missteps. Instead of the board adhering to the search process they agreed to just months earlier, the board over the objections of two members decided to not allow the entire board to get key details about the search process. 

We nonetheless have confidence that our new leader is going to do us all proud. And that John is the right candidate. We look forward to working with him and helping him in any possible way. We think that this board and future boards can better support John and the organization as a whole when they default to transparency and good process.”

Note of thanks

For the record, I support the process we employed to hire John. I believe it was robust and thorough. So while I understand and appreciate that not everyone agrees, I absolutely think we made a great hire – and could not be any more thrilled to be heading toward 2020 with John in place at 3909 N. Meridian.

Finally, sincere thanks to members of the Search Committee; members of the board; and our search consultants for their work. Heartfelt thanks, too, to our staff for keeping us moving forward through a challenging year. And thanks most especially to John Shertzer for accepting our offer to lead SPJ.

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