It is with high confidence that I have officially handed the reins of my job as Managing Director over to Stacie Smith. Stacie has been preparing for and doing the job for more than 18 months. The last few difficult months, with COVID, economic uncertainty, and stark reminders of racial inequities, have already tested her as an effective leader for CBI, even in times of crisis. I am honored and delighted that Stacie is assuming the mantle of co-leadership at CBI with David Fairman. I also step down with appreciation that David, my partner in management for almost 20 years, will continue as Managing Director, providing his experience, judgment, and continuity of leadership.
Why am I stepping down? There are several reasons, all interconnected, and yes, including the oft-used phrase and sometime euphemism: “ . . . to spend more time with my family.”
First, I believe no organization does well with the same leaders in charge for too long. Organizations need new ideas, perspectives, personalities and dynamics, and fresh mistakes to grow, adapt, and thrive. Though I am settled in my role and feel I know it well, including my many flaws, it’s time to bring a different perspective to the role. Stacie brings a great set of analytical chops; the ability to pursue and use data to make decisions; the capacity to focus on details and operations; a strong sense of fairness, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion; and perhaps most importantly, a great loyalty and commitment to CBI. In her 18-month “apprenticeship,” she often forced me to rethink assumptions I had held for some time and to think beyond, “Well, that’s the way we do things. I can’t quite remember why.”
Second, it is extraordinarily important, particularly in these times, that organizations like CBI provide opportunities for leadership and management for women and people of color. It’s time for me, a white male, to step aside and allow Stacie’s perspective to inform and shape the way CBI is managed, the way CBI chooses to be in the world, and the path CBI charts in the coming years. I took on my management role almost 20 years ago with great trepidation, but some nascent talent, and poured my soul into CBI. But the fact is, that path was open to me because of the thousands of ways this society provides opportunity for individuals of my race and gender to advance. It must do the same for others. I must do the same for others.
Third, I want to model what Larry Susskind did for me almost 20 years ago. David and I cannot quite remember when we managed to take over, in part, because Larry handled his leadership transition to us with care, respect, and patience. He has been a model for how to transfer the mantle of leadership. Stacie is far more seasoned to take on the role than I was when Larry handed over the reins. Despite the board’s great skepticism that David and I would succeed, Larry took the leap of faith, and we think it paid off for the organization. His is a great model for leaving, not just leading, when you are ahead (Tom Brady, I am talking to you!)
Fourth, the fact is, this job has taken a toll on my wife and daughter. Sleepless nights worrying about budgets and cash flow. Distractions due to difficult decisions about personnel and projects. Many, many days and weeks of travel, on planes, in cars, in meetings, when I could not be there for bedtime stories or much greater moments of need. My family has paid a price for my ambition and commitment to CBI. I would like to lessen that toll, just a bit at least, in the coming years.
I don’t step down without ambivalence. It’s not, as we say in my family of origin, something “Fields do.” I will miss the partnership with David, as good a partner in this role as I could have ever hoped for. I will miss the banter, debate, and camaraderie of my COO and friend, Ed Minor. I will miss having the luxury of making decisions small and large as opposed to having those decisions made for me.
But it is time to follow, not lead. It is time to make room for CBI to grow, flourish, change, and adapt. I am joining the warm embrace (well, maybe warmer now that I am not bugging them about billability) of my many senior colleagues as their co-worker and friend. CBI has a talented, committed bunch, who even better, are some of the most thoughtful, kind, and decent people I know. If only more people could be so professionally lucky.