BBG Watch Commentary
At December 18, 2013 open meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington, DC, its chairman Jeff Shell announced a new interim management team at BBG’s chief management and support unit, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), while the board tries to hire a permanent agency CEO. Jeff Trimble, who is acting IBB director, will be out of his current job in early January. He will be replaced by a three-person team, as announced by Jeff Shell who cited unanimous approval of the board for this move.
Shell said that Jeff Trimble will stay with the BBG and will take a yet undetermined journalistic job.
Shell also announced that the creation of a three-person IBB management team is a temporary move as the entire board is “extremely committed to hiring not only a CEO, but a great CEO for this organization.”
“We think it’s critical. This is a part-time board and we need a full-time CEO to manage the organization. This interim structure is an interim structure,” Shell said.
Trimble will be replaced by André Mendes, Director of IBB Office of Technology, Services and Innovation; Suzie Carroll, BBG’s Executive Director; and Robert Bole, Director of Innovation. Their respective interim titles would be Director of Global Operations (Mendes), Director of Global Strategy (Bole), and Director of Global Communications (Carroll), BBG Governor Armstrong announced. Shell announced that Armstrong would have an advisory liaison role with the interim IBB management team.
Shell said that André Mendes will focus on agency management issues, Robert Bole in addition to his normal duties will focus on strategic issues and oversee the work of the Office of Strategy and Development headed by Bruce Sherman and the Office of Performance Review. Suzie Carroll will expand her oversight of external and internal communications, Shell also announced.
Shell said that oversight congressional committees will be notified about these interim management structure changes.
Shell also said that Jeff Trimble “is important to the organization.”
“…for fifteen years, Jeff Trimble who is here at the table with us, has served this agency with distinction and success — and no, he’s not leaving, so before this sounds like [laughter in the room] he might want to; we’re not letting him. He’s been an editorial executive; he’s been a manager; he’s been a senior official. And Jeff and I have talked both in here and at his home for several hours about each step of the way he has gotten further and further away from his love, which is really journalism and the news. So, as opposed to having him as part of this management team here, I think what we’ve all agreed here as a board is to try to find Jeff something where we can use his incredible talents and experience in the organization to help us with the various challenges we have and at the same time get him closer to his love of journalism and … editorial … and the board … will discuss various potential roles for Jeff and I think we will announce something in the coming weeks. But I didn’t want to be any ambiguity about Jeff’s role. We very much value Jeff — the tremendous work you’ve done, you know, over the last fifteen years. I think we’re trying to find exactly the right place and I know you’ve been involved in these discussions.” — BBG Chairman Jeff Shell
Some longtime observers of U.S. international broadcasting see these announcements as a highly positive change and an indication that the new BBG board is working together and working well on reforming the agency. Under Shell’s leadership, the board seems to have started to assert much more its oversight role and its duty to provide strategic direction, but also to send a signal to employees that it is still serious about improving governance and morale throughout the agency.
After the retirement in November of former IBB Director Richard Lobo, the latest personnel changes seem to represent a major attempt by Shell and the new board to address longstanding, highly dysfunctional and employee-unfriendly culture within top ranks of IBB executives, as well as within the Voice of America (VOA), although no personnel changes at VOA were announced during today’s meeting.
Overall, it was probably the best and the most promising BBG meeting in recent history.
At the end of his comments about Jeff Trimble, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell alluded to Trimble’s mention of slightly improved employee morale ratings in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey:
“In the private sector, I’m in the media business too, and when you’re in communications and media business, what you really have is your people, and it’s true very much so at this organization as well. And I think the Board and the organization is very much committed to making it not just a better place to work but the best place to work and have employees who are excited to come here everyday and believe in the mission and in what they are trying to do and what we’re trying to get to.
So going from low, down in the ratings to low but a little bit better in the ratings is nothing to crow about and we’re not happy at all about where we are. And we have a lot of work to do, as Jeff [Trimble] said, but at least we’re moving a little bit in the right direction. So, my commendations to everybody who’s worked hard to start to turn this battleship around a little bit. There is nothing more important to this organization than making it a good place to work for our dedicated people. — BBG Chairman Jeff Shell
Well said, Mr. Shell. Good decision. Good analysis. Thank you.
BBG PRESS RELEASE
DECEMBER 18, 2013
The Broadcasting Board of Governors today announced an interim management structure, took an in-depth look at the Voice of America and hosted a rich discussion on technology and innovation with key industry leaders.
The Board agreed to divide the responsibilities of the recently retired IBB Director among three members of the senior management team in order to help pave the way for a future Chief Executive Officer. Under this interim structure, André Mendes will serve as Director of Global Operations, Robert Bole will be Director of Global Strategy, and Suzie Carroll will serve as Director of Global Communications. Together they will lead the agency in an arrangement that is expected to begin in January, pending congressional approval.
“These individuals were chosen because they are forward thinkers and change agents,” said Chair Jeff Shell. “We are extremely committed to bringing on board a CEO, and this interim management structure will prepare the organization for that reform.”
Mendes, Bole, and Carroll will provide, in their respective areas, oversight and direction to the Director of the Voice of America, the Director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and all other offices of the federal agency. The three will work together until a CEO is selected and hired. Governor Matt Armstrong will serve as the Board’s Management Liaison.
Jeff Trimble, IBB Deputy Director, will transition to a new role to be announced separately. Shell thanked Trimble for taking the helm of the IBB management team after IBB Director Dick Lobo’s retirement.
After the regular business meeting, including comments from the public, the Board held a 90-minute “deep dive” session focused on the Voice of America. Before a live studio audience, VOA Director David Ensor reviewed the network’s worldwide activities, distribution and effectiveness, illustrating his talk with numerous examples of excellent work by VOA journalists. Ensor also fielded questions from the Board concerning mission, allocation of resources, and audience engagement.
The technology and innovation panel opened with a discussion between Shell and Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, about the challenges of steering a large international media organization. Hastings was then joined by Macon Phillips, Coordinator of the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, and Tom Cochran, Chief Technology Officer of Atlantic Media, in a panel moderated by Bole. An engaging conversation followed between the panelists, governors, and assembled audience on topics including measuring impact, developing partnerships and revitalizing content strategies.
All three segments of the Board meeting were live streamed online and are available for viewing here.