An unenviable position
An unenviable position
By Donna J. Jodhan
In these hard economic times it is not very difficult to find a CEO or president who has unwittingly found themselves in an unenviable position; because of either financial or lack luster performance problems on the part of their companies. No doubt about it! Times are hard and organizations and companies of all types and sizes are feeling the crunnch. From profit-making to not-for-profit and charitable entities it’s the same but for John Rafferty, the new CEO at the CNIB, it is even more difficult. This should not come as a shocker or shaker to any keen observer on matters pertaining to the CNIB.
In the general scheme of things, most CEOs often find themselves in trouble because of such things as mismanagement, poor company performance, or something along these lines but for John Rafferty the story is quite unique. This particular CEO was in trouble even before he started his first day in office and why? Because he is sighted and he was chosen to run an organization whose clients are blind and visually impaired. Something that he cannot change; he is sighted.
In early April, I went to Mr. Rafferty’s office at his invitation for an informal chat and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Now, before you start yelling and screaming at me please allow me to explain. Up until then, I had never had the pleasure of visiting the office of a CNIB CEO so imagine my surprise when I received a phone call inviting me to meet with MR. Rafferty. I did my best to leave my pre-conceived notions and speculations behind and I was glad that I had done so. As a brisk spring wind tapped continuously at MR. Rafferty’s office window, this very polished and polite gentleman listened, interjected, and asked many questions. He was eager to hear my opinions and was honest enough to tell me that in part, he had asked me in because of an editorial that I had written a few weeks previous in which I had clearly stated why there was so much anger being directed towards the CNIB and towards his appointment as the new CEO.
In turn, I was as honest as I could be with him and as I left the building about an hour and a half later, I could not help but have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt that MR. Rafferty despite his best intensions would find it almost impossible to bridge the gap between client and agency and on the other I prayed that somehow this new man could find a way to regain the trust and confidence of blind and visually impaired Canadians. To say that there has been a lot of bad blood between the CNIB and its clients is putting it a tad mildly. To say that the blind and visually impaired community would be willing to welcome MR. Rafferty with open arms would be an under statement and an insult to all. To say that MR. Rafferty would have an even chance of making believers out of non believers could be compared to saying that snow will fall in Toronto in the month of August.
Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said “You don’t have to be likable to be popular” and these days MR. Rafferty certainly seems to fit this bill. What can he do to move out of his tight corner? How can he throw this menacing monkey off his back and at the same time convince the blind and visually impaired community that despite not being blind, he is the right man for the job? What can he do in order to win over his detractors? I dare say that he will probably have to slip on his surgical gloves and use his skills and experience to perform major plastic surgery on this very damaged landscape.
This landscape along with its rights holders have been badly bruised and battered for too many years now and it is time for it to be repaired. For too long, the CNIB as an agency has failed to communicate effectively with those they call clients choosing instead to go about their business autonomously and often heavy handedly. The time has come to repair the bridge of communications in order to save the future of our kids; those innocent little ones who are already in our midst and those who will be born with some sort of a visual impairment in the future. They are the ones who stand to lose the most if we continue in this manner. They are innocent bystanders and their only crime is that they are victims of unfortunate circumstances. They are the ones who will suffer the most because they will be deprived of their rightful inheritance; their right to an equal future.
History will be the final judge of MR. Rafferty’s term in office; not us. He has been given the unenviable task of repairing a sinking ship and trying to raise its sails. He will have to retrain and reshape his crew to take on the challenges of a shifting landscape with rights holders who are no longer prepared to sit idly by; many of whom would be only too happy to see this ship sink for good to be replaced by a new one. One that they can help build. The problem here is that at the present time, this is the only ship visible in the harbour but it would not be surprising to see a brand new spanking one appear in the not too distant future. MR. Rafferty’s first few months have been busy ones with him traversing the country to meet with persons within and outside of his organization and this to me is an excellent start.
The road ahead will be a very long and challenging one for this new CEO and he can expect to be placed under close scrutiny as he attempts to walk the straight and narrow. He has started out with tremendous odds being placed against him for failure but anything and everything is possible. I am sure that he will get used to having all kinds of things written and said about him but that will be the least of his problems. For now, we have to accept that he is the new captain and only time will tell. Maybe and just maybe, Captain Rafferty might just be able to resurrect this sinking ship or we’ll wait to see what history has to say. MR. Rafferty can take solace in knowing that there is nothing against him personally; rather, the guns of malcontent are against an agency and its systemic difficulties.