Leadership Boost for an Underperforming Organization


The board of directors (board) of the California Association of Flower Growers & Shippers (CalFlowers) had become a management committee where the board president, a volunteer member of the board, functioned as the de facto chief staff executive (CEO is the title they use in place of executive director).  The arrangement had been in effect for about eight years.  Shortly following the 2008 to 2010 recession the association had a revenue shortfall and decided to forego hiring a CEO to manage their staff and operations.

In 2012 the association had corrected their revenue challenges and realized they could afford to hire a CEO.  In that same year they also engaged an association expert to evaluate their association and future needs.  The consultant’s assessment was somewhat grave.  He concluded that the association did not reach the thresholds for even simple adequacy in any of the 10 performance areas he used.

In early 2013 the board hired a staff CEO, but soon realized that they did not hire the right individual.  The consultant recommended they consider the AMC model and specifically recommended Michael LoBue, principal at LoBue & Majdalany Association Management (L&M). CalFlowers soon realized that they did not need someone with floral industry experience.  Instead, they needed someone with deep association management and governance experience.  They retained executive management from L&M in October of 2013.

The Solution

LoBue’s solution was to split the CalFlowers’ CEO position description into two parts and provide two deeply experienced association executives.  Michael LoBue, CAE, served as chief executive officer and Chris Freed, CAE, served as chief operations officer.  As is typical of an AMC’s ability to right-size staffing assignments, this approach delivered a savings to the Association compared to directly hiring employees.  Harder to measure, but no less a factor in the effectiveness of the management team, was the benefit of having two perspectives to manage the big challenge to change and remake a 70-year old trade association.

Results Start Pouring in Quickly

It had been almost 20 years since the organization’s bylaws had been amended.  In less than four months, they were amended with one vote of the membership.

By the end of the ninth month of the engagement, L&M had completed a comprehensive strategic planning exercise with the assistance of AMMR Association Management Consultants.  With two exceptions on the following list, the problem areas were fixed within one year:

  1. Mission, Goals and Objectives
  2. Governing Body, Officers and Directors
  3. Organizational Structure and Documents
  4. Programs, Services and Activities
  5. Staff/Human Resources
  6. Financial Planning and Reporting
  7. Membership Development and Retention
  8. Communications
  9. Government Affairs/External Affairs
  10. Office Technology and Information Management

The two areas not addressed in the first year were Communications and Government Affairs (8 & 9) because they were not identified as being necessary to the association’s goals and priorities based on their 2014 strategic plan.  Governmental Affairs was addressed successfully a little later.  A comprehensive marketing and communications strategy was presented and adopted by the board in 2018.

Genesis of the Flower Summit

During the fall of 2014 Michael LoBue proposed and executed a plan to bring the eight stakeholder organizations in the U.S. floral market to a meeting to discuss how these associations could collaborate and leverage each organization’s scarce resources to benefit the entire floral market.  This group of industry associations included two international floral associations with significant market share in the U.S. market.  This group is now known as the Flower Summit.

The Flower Summit met at least annually until 2017, after which it has met at least twice per year.  Flower Summit organizations collaborated to fund and execute a number of projects that could not have been undertaken by any of the individual organizations.  Until September 2019, Michael LoBue was the recognized leader and facilitator of this initiative.

More Successes

Other successes delivered during L&M tenure as CalFlowers’ executive management team include:

  • Rebranding the organization from “Getting Flowers Faster and Fresher to Market” to “More Americans Enjoying More Flowers More Often”
  • Growing membership by 37%
  • Increasing revenue by 33%
  • Increasing reserves by 17%
  • Realigning staff resources to make available 25% of the Association’s revenue for re-investment in the floral industry in the form of grants and sponsorships:
    • Scholarships to support undergraduates pursuing careers in floriculture
    • Sponsored research to find solutions to Thrips and Botrytis (infestations in certain flower crops)
    • Sponsorships of state floral associations to support initiatives to train high school teachers to instruct high school students in floral design (e.g., Texas State Floral Assoc.)
    • Initial funding source for Life In Bloom, the first PBS series featuring flower care and design by J Schwanke
  • Instituting a governmental relations program that successfully stalled harmful legislation in California and significantly contributed to opposing a House of Representatives resolution that the board deemed harmful to the floral industry
  • Becoming an important benefactor to Memorial Day Flowers Foundation

Perhaps the most gratifying accomplishment during this engagement was the overall repositioning of the organization from a little-known west coast association known only for providing shipping discounts to an internationally recognized force within the $3.5B U.S. floral industry.

Posted in Case Study.

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