PASS Board Appointments - Response to Feedback

The blog post below is written by James Rowland-Jones (JRJ) in response to feedback surrounding the recent board appointments. The post reflects his personal views.

In the Autumn of 2011 I started several journeys. One of them was to be invited to support and share my knowledge of the international community with PASS. As a Board Advisor I picked up roles for governance, chapters and steering sub-committees reporting into the “Global Growth” portfolio. This work didn’t just constrain itself to international endeavours either I also had to get to know PASS as an organisation. My role in the community to date has not been related to PASS at all. SQLBits has historically been my primary focus for community endeavour. Speaking of which I also had to play my part in the successful execution of SQLBits 9 and in parallel we also launched plans for SQLBits X. This has been no small undertaking. If you haven’t seen we have worked closely with the local Microsoft UK subsidiary and Microsoft Corp to secure SQLBits as the UK Technical Launch event for SQL Server 2012 – a feat that the whole organising committee can feel rightly proud of. 

Before I knew it the elections were upon us. I had a decision to make. It felt very close. We really needed to kick-start the Global Growth portfolio and I was still feeling my way into my position as Board Advisor. I don’t think we had fully bottomed out the scale of the task before us when the elections came around nor the significance of the changes. SQLBits was also taking up an inordinate amount of time and then that meddlesome day job was also getting in the way.

Therefore to summarise, I did not run for election because I simply would not have been able to do the process justice. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I was delighted though that Rob, a seasoned PASS veteran, ran from the pool of Board Advisors and I supported his submission. Raoul clearly could not run as it would have breached PASS bye-laws had he been successful. It was also wonderful to see the dramatic increase in interest in the PASS board elections. As has been pointed out elsewhere it was an outstanding success and I congratulate all who were involved in that process.

When Bill approached me he said that he wanted to recommend the appointment of a Director to manage the Global Growth portfolio. I thought he was making the right strategic choice. Here’s why and note this is not about me but it is all about the role.

PASS is investing in Global Growth. It’s a strategic bet. The interest in the SQL Server Community internationally has never been higher and PASS needs to make the most of this. PASS needs to change to embrace it’s wider responsibilities – it’s an evolutionary step. My role to date has been to advise the Global Growth Portfolio and its sub-committees on what that future shape might be. As time has gone on it has become clear to me that my fellow international advisors and I are doing a lot more than advising. We are shaping the international agenda for PASS. We are spending money on it. There will be budget exceptions and there will be change – significant change. Someone needs to be accountable for that. As a Board Advisor I am not accountable – I am a Teflon coated consultant. Something needed to change and I am glad that Bill spotted this.

I therefore wholeheartedly support Bill’s desire to have a board director owning the international agenda. There is a job to do. 

Now it is true to say that Bill could have appointed Rob, my fellow Board Advisor and now Director-at-large, to the portfolio of Global Growth. He was an elected official and had Global Growth experience. However, in my view, he chose instead to make another strategic choice. 24HOP is an international event – one that Rob has been committed to for a long time. It’s a sensible choice as it also aligns to Rob’s work to date with the International Events sub-committee within Global Growth. I am absolutely certain that Rob will be a huge success in this position and to me makes a very positive statement from the President about his commitment to the international community.

I’d like to close by commenting on why I decided to say yes and accept Bill’s nomination.

I believe that re-structuring PASS needs to start in 2012. I personally don’t believe it can wait for another election.  The scale of the task before us is really quite significant. I have already invested over three months of time and energy into the international role. I know a lot more about this process now than I did back in August / September when this journey started. By accepting this appointment there was an opportunity to cement the global growth portfolio at Board level and allow us to move forward with accountability this year.  Did I realise that there would be this need back when the election nominations first were announced? No – not in this timescale. You only need to look at the number of planned international SQL Saturday events to see that we cannot wait. The time to change is now. My personal view was that this is more of an extension of what I was already delivering for PASS at Board level. Adding someone else in would have in my view arrested our progress and also added cost – and waste - to the PASS organisation. Every Board member added, be it advisor or director, increases cost to the PASS organisation. In this instance we would have basically been doubling up. Remember the vacant slot I have been asked to fill is the Director for Global Growth. It is not a generic Director-at-large position. It was also at the Board’s discretion to fill the position or not. The Board did not have to fill them – they chose to. However, had someone else had been chosen to fill this role then this is what they would have been charged with doing.

That said, I do understand the concern amongst the community for appointing someone who did not go through the election process. Let me say that I think the concern is valid and with hindsight this process might have been easier had I stood for election in the first place. I don’t think anyone is doubting that. However, I have been vetted by your board for the last three months whilst doing the job of international Board Advisor. I can’t think of a more thorough interview. Therefore I do not believe that leaves either me or PASS either ethically or morally bankrupt and I certainly don’t believe that I have usurped anyone else’s right to be on the Board. Look at what has materially changed for me and for PASS. I now have a vote on the board and I am now directly accountable for the successful delivery of the Global Growth Portfolio. Costs to PASS are the same. My investment in PASS has increased. Accountability in place. Velocity protected. I therefore considered this to be a sound decision for all involved and I do not regret the decision to accept.

This year is an exciting year. In 2012 we have a new version of SQL Server containing some of the most exciting changes we’ve seen since 2005. We will also be making some strategic changes within PASS to help us scale this community organisation internationally.  I look forward to engaging with you throughout this process and my only ask would be that you support the effort PASS is making to scale it’s reach so we can help support the international SQL Server community.  You can help. If you want to have your say then do please feel free to contact me at JRJ@sqlpass.org. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you in the year ahead.

Cheers, JRJ