Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I got to Craig's memorial service at the Lutheran Church in Sterling real early. I figured it would be SRO and I wanted a seat down front. As I pulled into the church's driveway, there walking across the parking lot was my ex-boss, Larry -- the guy who fired me four years ago. (Or, more accurately, sent his poor stooge, Dan, to do it.) I ducked into the church without having to make polite chit-chat with the guy.

It always surprised me that it took him a year to get rid of me. This will give you some idea of the quality of our relationship: I asked a lawyer about where the line was for slander.

When he first got hired as NWF's CEO he made his debut at the annual meeting in St. Louis. I was in charge of the meeting's logistics and script and also was head of NWF's communications department. Larry came to me the day before he was to deliver his big speech and asked me to review it. I did. It was horrible. Too long. Too technical (global warming, of course). No personal connections with the audience. Awful.

"Wayne, you are screwed," I said to myself. Brand new boss. Not the best history between us. So do I (A) shine it on or (B) give it to him straight? I picked "B." Larry went back to his room and completely rewrote his speech. He didn't let me see the revision. He never again asked me to review one of his speeches.

His new one was pretty good. Still too long, but he did connect with his audience -- NWF affiliate leaders, board of directors members, staff. He singled out three staff members by name for examples of the kind of behavior from us that he expected. I was one of them. He told the audience of my critical response the previous day to his draft speech. As the new CEO that was exactly the kind of directness and honesty he would expect from us. "Varnish is for floors, not for conversations between real people." He actually said that.

"Wayne, you are so screwed," I told myself.

A month or so later an unmarked envelope appeared on my desk at NWF. It held a copy of a 10,000-word keynote speech that Larry had delivered to an evangelical conference, unbeknownst to me or apparently anyone else at NWF. It was posted on the Internet. Now how on earth do you coordinate message and media if your CEO is freelancing? More to the point, how do you deal with statements made by your CEO that explain that he took the job because he was called by God. I could see how staff who didn't share his Christian faith and sanctimonious zeal could be offended.

In his rambling, autobiographical speech Larry described how he did not want to take the CEO job, but through prayer the Lord told him to apply for the job. Apparently, the Lord also rigged the search process: “I have to tell you that God is good. The search committee ended up being almost all Christians. There was one person on that committee that was not. The chairman of my board is a devout Christian, the incoming chair is a devout Christian, happens to be an African-American. He is just an incredible Christian, the next in line to be chair; so that three chairs are all Evangelical Christians. And this all happened while I was away from the National Wildlife Federation. So it has been really fun to go through that. So I get into this full board meeting, the full board knew I was an Evangelical Christian, there was no doubt about that and where I stood on that…”

I asked Larry about the speech. His answer: "They have interns transcribe the speeches. They made a lot of mistakes." The speech quietly disappeared from the Internet.

Six months into Larry's tenure as God's emissary the NWF executive committee retained a mortal to evaluate his job performance. The consultant asked everyone on the senior staff to respond to a detailed evaluation questionnaire about the boss. "Confidential." Of course.

Despite my apprehension I wrote an unvarnished critique, the way Larry said he wanted it. I spelled out his mediocre leadership, business management, communication skills, decision-making -- general stuff like that. And how did that work out, Wayne? you might be asking.

When the final day of my thirteen-year career at NWF ended I called my staff together, gave them the news, told them to support Jaime (NWF's Chief Operating Officer), and slipped out the door. I got a decent severance package. But I don't recall anyone saying "thank you."

One of my last emails was to Monty in Vermont: "It's over. It's good. I'm out of here." Monty, too, had been marginalized by the new boss who couldn't figure out how to use his talents and experience. So Monty chugged along in second gear. What a waste.

It took a couple more years but Monty eventually got canned. I visited him in Montpelier later in my trip. He now is the director of The Center for an Agricultural Economy (www.hardwickagriculture.org). It's a local consortium that is promoting local farmers and cheese makers. I loved Monty's enthusiasm in describing his work and the new publicity he has gotten for them. It had been a while since I'd seen him jazzed that way.

I once took Monty to see "The Full Monty" when it was playing in Ann Arbor. It was an odd date.

Not everyone at Craig's reception ducked Larry. One told me later, "Within thirty seconds my skin was crawling."

I don't know how the guy has survived all this time. But then, hey, who elected that moron Bush and his evil, control freak sidekick? Why should we expect any better from NWF's Board of Directors? But like those turkeys now gone from the White House, Larry's days are numbered. I suspect that if Congress passes a climate change law that Larry then will resign a hero, at least in his own mind.

Next: "Ask, I'll tell"

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