AirVenture 2010: The Vision Thing

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Before introducing EAA's new president, Rod Hightower, to a roomful of reporters on Monday, current president Tom Poberezny took a minute to talk about the weeks of torrential rain, topped off by a soaking storm, that preceded this week's event. "In the 35 years I've been at the helm, this was, I think, the most challenging year ever for AirVenture," he said. "But I think it will also be remembered as one of the best years." It's tough times, Poberezny said, that show the passion people have for aviation, for EAA, and for this annual gathering at Oshkosh; and it's that kind of passion that will be remembered, not the long days and hard work.

Poberezny is great at conveying that kind of passion and commitment, because he embodies it and lives it. His long reign at the helm of EAA hasn't been without controversy, but when he talks about growing aviation and taking it to the next generation, it's clear that's a concept that means more to him than just dollar signs, more than just maintaining a steady stream of consumers. It means more people to innovate, to have the opportunity to achieve astounding things, to carry forward the dream that aviation has represented to so many for so long.

In the short time we spent with Hightower today, that vision thing, that passion, that drive to create something from nothing, was hard to discern. He answered every question without hesitation, he hit on all the talking points, he seemed confident, friendly, easygoing. He flies a Stearman and he clearly enjoys it. He might make a good partner to Poberezny, in taking care of the day to day operations of EAA, as it expands into a global organization. But could he inspire hordes of volunteers to turn out, day after day, long into sleepless nights, to push thousands of airplanes through muddy fields and keep AirVenture going?

Maybe that's not his function -- when asked about his vision for the next 5 to 10 years of EAA, he said his intention is to carry out the strategic plans the board has mapped out, after a long and painstaking process. But if the goal is for him to take over Poberezny's role as the leader of EAA, will he also be able to buy into that plan, heart and soul, and carry it forward with energy and imagination? Can he take on the challenge of becoming not just a manager, but a leader, to grow the world's biggest aviation event and the EAA organization, to express the appeal of GA to the wider world?

Next time he's asked about the vision thing, it would be good to hear Hightower talk not about the road map he plans to follow, but the trail he's determined to blaze.

Comments (4)

I can't help but wonder if all of these strategic plans and goals are public, though I admit I haven't gone looking. It was only a few years ago that the question of whether the EAA exists to serve its members or if it expects its members to support it went unanswered. At the very least, having new blood could be a refreshing change. I actually resigned my membership over the direction that Tom was taking things, and was fired from my volunteer position at the show over internal political issues. I am reserving judgement for now as to joining up again till I see what this new guy is made of.

Posted by: Kerry Bedsworth | July 27, 2010 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Hey Mary, how about giving the new guy a chance before blasting away? Don't you think the Board of EAA spent time and effort deciding Mr. Hightower has the vision and capacity to lead EAA before they chose him? Let's presume the Board did it's job, and the new Prez will do his job as well until we have evidence they are not qualified.

Maybe you should spend your efforts improving aviation by working on the government related problems that seem to be hampering it, like excess regulations, medicals, demise of 100LL, ELT's, no fly zones, border crossing headaches, etc etc.

Posted by: peter vans | July 27, 2010 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Peter, you're right, it's early in the game, and things are always subject to change -- that's a good thing, since it keeps us busy here reporting the news.

As for all those other issues, I'm sure you've read plenty about all that here on AVweb and will continue to, I'm sure.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 27, 2010 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Considering the long family pedigree with this organization, maybe he was selected for his ability to implement orders, not blaze anything different against the established ways. EAA has done alot for aviation and I support it, but I would love to read just once a commentary from the Prez in Sport Aviation that doesn't endlessly toot its own horn with every sentence. Like Clara Peller of old, every month I look for the beef, but am always left with dressing. Here's hoping we get a little less enthusiasm and fluff and more incisive reality with the new chief, but I sense as long as the Family is in power, a compliant manager is more likely the new boss. I wish him all the best.

Posted by: David Miller | July 27, 2010 1:44 PM    Report this comment

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