After 19 months on the job, Bruce S. Gordon, a 61-year-old retired Verizon executive, resigned from his post as president of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The announcement, which came just two days after the organization’s annual Image Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, stunned many who saw Gordon’s strong business background as vital to help lead the venerable organization into the 21st century.
“At the end of the day, the board and I were not aligned in terms of how to operate the organization. I’m a businessperson who views a board’s role very differently than this board [does],” says Gordon, who was named BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Executive of the Year in 1998. According to Gordon, the 64-person board, wanted to micromanage the organization. “It’s not a right or wrong thing. Our approaches were just not compatible.” During his tenure, Booz Allen management consultant Reggie Van Lee volunteered to work with Gordon to develop a strategic three-year plan to help the organization operate more effectively. Although the full board gave the plan a standing ovation, the smaller executive board rejected the plan.
At the root of the differences between Gordon and the board was the NAACP’s mission. While not abandoning the organization’s roots of social justice, Gordon wanted to steer it toward social services; the board simply did not. “There are many organizations that do a fabulous job in providing social services to our community, but that’s not what we do,” says NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. “Our primary mission is social justice. That’s what we’ve done since 1909, that’s what we do today—that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.”
Bond defended the board’s role. “Mr. Gordon and his predecessor, Kweisi Mfume, did not report to the full board of directors. Each of them reported to a 17-person executive committee; that does not at all seem onerous to me,” says Bond, who also defended the board’s size. “There are larger boards,” he notes. “The American Civil Liberties Union board has almost 100 [people], and it operates effectively.”
Gordon’s resignation generated a column in the Chicago Defender about the possible ouster of Bond, but Bond dismissed the rumors. “I was just unanimously re-elected to my ninth term in February, and no board member mentioned the Chicago Defender piece at a recent meeting,” he says.
Further, because of Gordon’s deep corporate ties, the organization’s future corporate funding has also been debated. “We’ve engaged in a vigorous campaign to reach out to our corporate, foundation, and individual supporters, and the response we have gotten is that our supporters do not support a president—they support the organization’s mission,” says Bond.
The NAACP has launched its search for a new president and CEO. Yet, despite Bond’s optimism about the organization’s role and its future in the African American community, there is still grave concern about the type of leadership it needs as it carries out its mission in today’s world. “What Mr. Gordon brought to the NAACP was a new kind of leadership model, a corporate, bottom-line