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- Anthony N. DeMaria, MD, MACC, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology∗ ()
- ↵∗Address for correspondence to:
Dr. Anthony N. DeMaria, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 3655 Nobel Drive, Suite 630, San Diego, California 92112
My wife and I walked through the doors into the airport lobby, having just arrived from San Diego. As I looked for the driver who would take us to our hotel, we saw Bill and Shanna Parmley motioning to us with a smile. Forrest Adams was not far behind. We past presidents of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and the last 2 editors of the Journal, had come to Canada to attend an American College of Cardiology Board of Trustees meeting at Banff. The College has embarked on a major strategic planning project, and President John Harold invited all of the past presidents to participate in the process and contribute their ideas at the Board meeting. The act of keeping past presidents involved in its activities and drawing upon their experience struck me as being a distinctive tradition of the College, and one that was certainly a good topic for an Editor's Page.
Lori and I had very much looked forward to this meeting and enjoyed having the opportunity to catch up with old friends. Having served as president from 1988 to 1989 (I was very young), I had not seen many of the previous and subsequent presidents for years. Some had retired, and some had just closed that chapter of their life and moved on to other things. As is generally true, people who dedicate a significant portion of their effort over time to the same activity tend to develop bonds. The shared experience and decision making engenders a friendship that is very strong. This is particularly true of the ACC, because the Executive Committee typically makes consensus decisions, with the president drawing on the opinions of the individuals who came before and will come after. So, we welcomed the opportunity to share old “war stories,” reminisce about issues we confronted, and kibitz about the way the College had changed. The camaraderie among the past presidents has always been strong. The opportunity was especially great for me, because I got to catch up with Fran Klocke, who preceded me, and with Bill Nelligan, who was the chief executive officer during my tenure. I also spent some extended time with Bill Parmley, whose very large shoes I have tried to fill at the Journal.
The College has always had a tradition of keeping its past presidents active in the organization. The past president serves on the Executive Committee for an additional year, and then serves for several years on the Board. After leaving office, a past president is often asked to chair an ACC committee or to lead a special project. Mike Wolk, for example, is chairing the Strategic Planning Committee. In addition, a Past Presidents' Dinner is held at the beginning of every Annual Scientific Session and is generally extremely well attended. A genuine effort is made to keep the former presidents involved and to make them feel that their input is welcome. (Of course, one cannot deny that the fact that standing presidents are only 1 year away from being past presidents themselves may play a role in this custom.) It was this sense of welcome that I believe enabled Dr. Harold to gather 14 past presidents at this meeting, the greatest number of such individuals to ever attend a Board of Trustees meeting after leaving office.
The College's practice of keeping past executive officers involved in activities is far from universal among organizations. When a president of the United States leaves office, for example, they typically ceases to have any significant role in government. The same is true of many other professional societies. Generally, the last thing that a new chief executive officer of a major corporation, university president, or dean wants to happen is to have a predecessor looking over his or her shoulder or be constantly present to give advice. In addition, it can be argued that perpetuating a position for prior officers runs the risk of making an organization an “old boys club.” No one can deny that it is crucial to any organization to have a continuous infusion of new ideas and energy from those individuals who are “coming up the ladder.” So, in many groups, those who have served as president often have little input after their terms have expired.
John Harold and the rest of the ACC Executive Committee obviously did not feel this way. They felt that the experience and perspective of those who had served as president could make a valuable contribution to the plans of the College to move forward. Everyone knows the cliché that the penalty for ignoring history is to repeat it, and the past presidents are certainly the repository of the history of the society. In addition, past presidents are generally finished with career building and are thus relatively free of self-interest considerations. So, although I may be biased, it seems to me that prior executive officers represent an enormously valuable resource to any organization and can provide a perspective that is not available from other sources.
Given the above pros and cons of having a continuing role for presidents after their terms have expired, it is clear that this must be done in a very judicious manner. Organizations that become “inbred” with past officers typically lose vitality and can even become unimportant or extinct. So, it is incumbent upon past presidents to get out of the way and to let younger/newer individuals have their chance at leadership. However, it seems to me that it is equally important for the new leaders to recognize the contributions of past officers and to exploit the useful knowledge and counsel that they can provide. This is a sensitive interaction, the success of which clearly depends upon the individuals involved. In my opinion, the ACC has carried this off very well. Past presidents continue to make important contributions to the College, and they represent the continuity and tradition that is the bedrock of the organization. By the same token, the intimate involvement of past presidents in the ACC clearly fades over time, and there is the pathway for a constant change in leadership. A delicate balance must be struck, and the College seems to have done this very well thus far.
Admitting bias, I think John Harold made an excellent decision to invite the past presidents to participate in the Strategic Planning Project. There is no question that we were very grateful for the opportunity to have some input, to gather with old colleagues, and of course, to spend some time in a spectacularly beautiful part of the world. I'd like to think that we made a contribution, if only in representing the continuity and tradition of the College. It was clear that the ACC was in good hands with the talent of the latest group of leaders, and I did not sense any desire among the past presidents to revisit their previous office. The new leaders will themselves someday pass the baton to another generation and assume the role of senior advisers. This has always been the tradition of the College, and one that I believe has contributed importantly to making it one of the most successful professional societies that exist.
- American College of Cardiology Foundation