Two steps ahead . . . one step back. An encouraging, leap forward . . . a toe-stubbing tumble to the ground.
That may be the most accurate way of describing the progress of
the National Kitchen & Bath Association, which had been making
admirable strides forward recently, but has apparently once again
taken a bit of a step backward on its march toward achieving its
How else can you react after hearing the news that Cecilia Balazs, who helped lead the NKBA as its CEO for the past five years, has resigned to accept a post with a Virginia-based cabinet distributor?
There's only one way to react, really, at least for the moment.
And that's to view Balazs' departure last month as a setback and a distraction at least temporarily for an association whose 40-year history has been marked as much by internal churning, controversy and periodic setbacks as it has by inspired leadership, lofty goals and impressive achievements.
The fact that the NKBA is now forced to halt its forward progress, even momentarily, is really a shame. That's because the association from an outsider's perspective, anyway has been on a real roll over the past few years.
Those years have seen solid initiatives in the areas of education, certification, brand awareness and membership. They have seen the NKBA literally revamp its entire strategic game plan, grow membership significantly, improve retention rates, upgrade benefits.
Over the same time span, the NKBA has managed to create an organizational structure that improved communications between chapters and association leaders. It has gotten its name out more effectively among consumers, upgrading its image through a first-class communications effort that included an ambitious national TV campaign. It has also developed new levels of professional certification and educational programs that provide a foundation for new career paths in the industry.
Balazs, in particular, brought an interesting blend of talent to the NKBA's Hackettstown, NJ headquarters. A seasoned trade association executive, she joined the NKBA at a time when the organization sorely needed a steady hand at the wheel. During her five years at NKBA, she provided astute leadership, and helped get the association's finances in order. She was also instrumental in the care and feeding of K/BIS, which serves, far and away, as the NKBA's prime revenue source.
All of this isn't to say that the association didn't fall on its face occasionally, or that it always functioned smoothly. Even under Balazs' watch as it has throughout its history the NKBA was plagued by a troubling pattern of turnover among top-level staff that has now apparently filtered right to the top.
And now, the association faces some degree of disruption at its highest executive level, another dent in its credibility, another job search and another critical appointment to say nothing of the time and effort needed to get a new CEO up to speed and working with a staff that he or she feels comfortable with.
All of which will only take time and attention away from the myriad goals the association aspires to achieve.
The hard-working, well-meaning volunteers who populate the association's ranks deserve better. So does the association's dedicated support staff, which K&BDN has had the pleasure of working with for the past four years.
Somehow, if it's to truly move forward, the NKBA needs to find some kind of formula for genuine continuity among its executive staff. It needs to establish the kind of positive, sustained momentum that can only be achieved through a staff that's in tune with volunteer leadership and resembles more than just a merry-go-around. It also, quite frankly, needs to dispel the troubling and cynical notion among many people in the industry that the association is somehow almost destined to mark its progress in nothing more than fits and starts.