Thursday, November 19, 2009

ABA Shakes Up Its' Leadership

ABA shakeup ousts top staff members
by Lynne Marek, The National Law Journal, November 18, 2009

The resignation this week of Henry "Hank" White Jr., (pictured at right) the American Bar Association's executive director, follows other recent staff departures amid a reorganization set in motion by the ABA's new president, Carolyn Lamm (at left).

The chief financial officer, Kenneth Widelka, who was arguably the No. 2 staff official below White, left in September after just over a year in the job. Widelka was replaced this month by Kathryn Shaw, formerly vice president for Siemens Building Technologies.

White has been executive director since October 2006. R. Thomas Howell Jr., now the ABA's general counsel, will become interim executive director on Friday when White exits.

"We've lost some very good people," said Howell, who was hired by White and said he was sorry to see him leave. "On the other hand, the needs of the organization change."

Lamm, who became president in August, said the central thrust of the reorganization, which began in late August or early September, has been to winnow the number of people reporting to the executive director by about half in an effort to increase management impact. She said it was a change that the leadership of the 1,000-employee organization had been contemplating for years. "Now we're going to function even more effectively than we were," Lamm said.

The ABA, which has just under 400,000 members, has also grappled with a declining membership over the past few years. Lamm said the budget has been cut to adjust to income being down about 5-10%.

In the reorganization, duties in membership, marketing and media relations have been reshuffled, eliminating at least one leadership position and creating a new chief marketing officer slot that the ABA is still seeking to fill. Three candidates interviewed for the post in September weren't a good fit, Lamm said. A new media relations director job in the ABA's Washington office is also open.

White, a lawyer, brought an unusual background to the ABA's top staff post. He is a former Navy vice commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, where he had oversight of a multimillion-dollar budget, according to his ABA biography. Between the Navy and the ABA, he opened the New York office of Los Angeles-based Barger & Wolen in 1992 and served as president of the Institute of International Containers Lessors in the late 1990s. He earned $557,500 in the ABA post in 2007, according to an Internal Revenue Service filing.

Some ABA members said White's military background may have led him to demand more order than was achievable in a large organization with many offshoots. Lawrence Fox, a Drinker Biddle & Reath partner in Philadelphia who is active in the organization, remembered the time White brought out a slide of some 35 different ABA logos and suggested the organization seek more uniformity.

"I think he wanted to make a lot of things more orderly, and that put him into friction with some people," Fox said.

White declined to comment other than to forward an e-mail he had sent to colleagues on Monday, announcing that his last day would be Nov. 20.

"I was asked to join the ABA team to review internal processes, recommend changes and implement those that seemed appropriate despite any challenges that may arise," White said in the Nov. 16 e-mail. "During this time, we faced many challenges but overcame them with grace and determination — the result of working with a great group of colleagues."

Citing a confidentiality agreement, Lamm declined to comment on White's departure other than to say, "We're both moving on to good things." She also said she didn't know what White's future plans are. A six-person committee of elected ABA leaders, including Lamm, will search for his replacement.

Lynne Marek can be contacted at

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