MPI Members Question Interim CEO Choice

Dallas -- Following Meeting Professionals International's announcement that chairman-elect Mark Andrew, general manager of the Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina in Vancouver, would serve as interim acting CEO after Colin Rorrie's sudden departure last month, several members of Meeting Professionals International have expressed concern over a potential conflict of interest for Andrew.

The members, planners and suppliers alike, raised their eyebrows over Andrew doing staff work for MPI while still employed by a supplier company. They also wondered if Andrew might be able to give Westin parent Starwood Hotels & Resorts some unfair advantages over other hoteliers by participating in MPI decisions concerning suppliers or by getting information from planner members.

"I will excuse myself from any discussion where there might be a conflict," Andrew pledged. "I will ensure that everything is very transparent."

Further, Andrew said he does not have designs on the full-time CEO post. In fact, he has taken only a four-month leave of absence from Starwood Hotels, and his term as MPI chairman starts on July 1. He is working at MPI most weeks Tuesday through Friday, and he expects MPI to tap a new CEO in time for the July 9 start of the association's World Education Congress in Dallas.

During a March 15 conference call with MPI's chapter presidents, Duffy said that if a permanent CEO is not appointed by July 1, then Andrew will step down from leading the staff office and become chairman as scheduled; MPI's board would have to appoint a new interim leader at that time.

Andrew has temporarily taken over MPI's reigns after CEO Colin Rorrie suddenly announced his departure in late March. He and MPI characterized it as a jointly agreed-upon resignation, but there was little doubt that the group's board took the lead role in deciding he was no longer the right person to lead the association.

Rorrie, who had six months left on his first three-year contract with MPI, acknowledged that he had no plans to step down when he went to the MPI board meeting where his departure was decided, a week before the resignation announcement.

The transitional period for MPI, the meetings industry's largest professional organization with 20,000-plus members, will not involve Rorrie, who departed almost immediately.

During a teleconference for industry media, Rorrie and MPI chairwoman Christine Duffy said he was leaving primarily because he had accomplished the goals that were set upon his arrival in September 2003, and that a different leader was now needed to move the association forward.

Rorrie -- a dignified, much-respected and long-experienced association executive who had a solid slate of accomplishments at MPI -- said it was clear from discussions at the board meeting that "someone with skills in the business arena would probably be best able to move the association forward." That is because, he said, MPI will be "adding a business framework that is much different from what we've seen in the association industry."

Said Duffy in an interview the week after Rorrie's resignation, "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Colin's thrilled with all this, but when he says it's mutual, he believes that. He was involved in the decision, and when we talked about it, he said he understood."

Listing the qualities that MPI will look for in a new CEO, Duffy said it would be "someone who has managed a large organization, preferably someone with experience in developing and launching new solutions in a rapid timeline."

The speed with which Rorrie moved ahead with MPI initiatives may have contributed to the board's decision. A well-connected industry source told MeetingNews that the board was not keen on Rorrie's deliberate style, including a delay in hiring a chief operating officer. The source also said that an issue with regard to the collection of membership dues played a part in Rorrie's departure.

The week after Rorrie's resignation, Duffy said the problem was not about the collection of monies but rather getting an accurate count of members, which then created a budget-setting problem. However, she declined to comment on whether that, or anything in particular, was a reason for Rorrie's departure.

Hugh Lee, Duffy's predecessor as chairman and still a board member, said about the speed of Rorrie's work, "We've been very pleased over the last few years with what we've rolled out. My perception was that wasn't an issue."

Lee, who is president of Fusion Productions in Webster, N.Y., a company that has produced the general sessions at MPI's conventions for many years and created the association's website, declined to comment on other possible reasons for the board's decision.

Lee's company did not win a new contract to produce the general sessions after this summer's convention in Dallas, but he said that had no bearing on his input at the board meeting on Rorrie's future. "Board discussions are not Fusion discussions," he said.

Other board members declined to comment on Rorrie's departure at all.

Moving Forward

It was not made fully clear what MPI's organizational plans are, but Duffy said the process of moving to a new operational structure will begin within two months.

MPI currently is organized in a "functional" way, Duffy said.

In other words, there are clearly delineated departments such as marketing, events and professional development. The plan is to move to a "matrix" structure, in which responsibilities would be organized on a per-project basis.

"Most organizations today are moving to more of a matrix, where there is very clear responsibility and authority based on a line of business or product or channel," Duffy said during the media conference. Every project will have someone who has complete responsibility for it, she said.

"This is not an overnight thing -- it will evolve over time in phases," she said.

Rorrie noted that MPI has been engaged since last summer in a new strategic thought process called Blue Ocean. The name apparently is borrowed from the title of a book published last year by Harvard Business School Press: "Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant." The general idea is to create entirely new opportunities, or expand existing ones, rather than compete within existing parameters, such as by winning business from competitors.

Crossed Signals?

Rorrie said in a March 8 letter to MPI members that his resignation would be effective "this week." That same day, during the media conference, he said no specific date for his departure had been decided. He said he planned to stick around at the discretion of Mark Andrew -- but when Andrew arrived at MPI headquarters two days later, Rorrie departed that afternoon.

Asked about the comment in the member letter that he would be leaving that week and whether he was leaving before his contract was up, Rorrie at first said he had an "evergreen contract" whereby either he or MPI could exit it at any time. When pressed further, he clarified that he was still under contract at the time of his resignation and that the evergreen provision applied only after the completion of the three-year contract term.

Asked why he was not staying until his contract was up, Rorrie said, "When decisions like this are made, it is probably not in the best interest of the organization for the incumbent CEO to sit around while business moves on."

Rorrie, 64, said, "I'm not retiring. I just don't know which industry I'll be in or exactly what I'll be doing." He said for the time being he will spend time with family and may do some volunteer work, adding, "I will take this time to sort out what I want to do."

As for the search for a replacement, Duffy said selecting someone with meetings industry experience is desirable but not mandatory. And, she said, "We won't rule out [another] association executive but will also consider qualified candidates from outside the association experience.

"Colin was well respected, but he was at the American College of Emergency Physicians for 28 years. We may look for someone with broader experience."