Boy Scouts’s bumbling CEOs cause inertia, leadership vacuum


(UPDATE: This article was written before Roger Krone was appointed CEO. As BSA’s first CEO with leadership chops since 1979, Roger broke the mold. That happened because we finally bucked BSA’s defective commissioned-professional system by expanding the CEO candidate pool beyond former District Executives.)

Thanks to a defective career-advancement system and a promote-from-within culture, BSA’s CEO role is a reward for over-promoted, career-lifer, caretaker-style middle-managers.

This starves BSA of leadership talent where it is most needed. Causing a leadership vacuum, the system enables BSA’s rudder to be controlled by the hand of inertia and the hand of throw-back reactionaries.

This is why we have a specious, toxic, racist, and sexist coed ban, endemic brownface cosplay in the Order of the Arrow, careerist bureaucrats openly hostile to feedback, a bloated and contradictory corpus of public-facing documents, and several other forms of cultural rot.

Leadership is about positive change. For BSA to thrive in the next century, our next CEO must be a demonstrated leader who can guide this change. We needs someone with aptitudes that BSA’s career system does not value.

Important notes: First, this commentary is not about Roger Mosby, the current CEO. He was brought in as a specialist to help BSA navigate its bankruptcy. While his appointment departs from past practices, it was for an unusual circumstance. Without correction, the organization will resume rewarding long-tenured bureaucrats with the CEO title.

Second, the National Executive Board has a role in this. It is the corporate board of directors that sets the top-level direction and appoints the CEO. Even respecting the NEB’s role, the CEO remains hugely influential.

BSA’s defective career-advancement system

BSA’s career-advancement system is an enemy to leaders.

Informed by employees at many levels and by a few decades of personal experiences, BSA’s career-advancement system excessively values loyalty, compliance, and fealty to its bureaucracy. In other words, caretaker-style, middle-manager bureaucrats.

Hate change? Want a stable place for your career to die? Just want to avoid tipping apple carts? Then you’re who BSA’s career system is optimized for.

If you have different aptitudes and have made a career in BSA, my hat goes off to you! I know you’re out there, and I want you to succeed. But far too many of your colleagues have made a career by perfecting resistance to change. That is unacceptable, and they stymie your ability to help BSA succeed at its mission.

CEO is a reward to careerist caretakers

By under-valuing aptitudes aligned with leadership, BSA’s career-advancement system drives away leaders before they can rise to the top. Combined with a nearly ironclad promote-from-within culture, the CEO role is a mere reward to long-tenured bureaucrats who lack vision, who fear change, and who are not leaders.

This creates a leadership vacuum at the top. Cultural rot accumulates unchecked, leading to the current crisis: Our national office’s culture is so badly rotted, the national office itself is Scouting’s main existential threat.

How to fix

To excise rot, we need change. A crucial change: BSA’s next CEO must have demonstrated leadership aptitudes and a record of success at corporate cultural change. It is unlikely to find the right person from within.

This is especially important now. Reeling from historic membership and financial losses and facing a possible second bankruptcy, BSA is at its most fragile point ever. On top of this, throwback reactionaries have for decades used BSA as a pawn in their culture wars, causing immense reputational damage by forcing ridiculous membership controversies. As long as we keep allowing leadership vacuums with ineffective CEOs, throwback reactionaries will continue damaging the BSA to score their culture-war points.

The next CEO will have unprecedented influence on BSA’s next decades. Not only must this person navigate the organization out of its current crisis, the CEO will set the culture through how the national office is re-staffed. This role is so crucial, installing yet another over-promoted, careerist-bureaucrat middle manager into the CEO role may be tantamount to canceling the BSA.

Decades of bumbling CEOs

A halo product defines the maximum competence of a system:

  • A Tex Mex restaurant is no better than its cheese enchiladas.
  • General Motors’s Chevrolet division is no better than its Corvette.
  • A high school’s academics are no better than its valedictorian.

Smart institutions showcase their best with their halo products.

A corporation’s career-advancement system is no better than what it surfaces to its top role. BSA’s history of bumbling CEOs reveal a crap career-advancement system.

To repeat: The current CEO is not a subject of this commentary. He was brought in from the outside as a specialist to navigate the bankruptcy. But every other CEO except the first two–every CEO between 1948 and 2019–was surfaced internally. They are generally visionless, career-lifer bureaucrats who accomplished little.


number of BSA-surfaced CEOs who presided over membership growth in the past several decades

Below are a few decades’ worth of BSA CEOs. Thanks to their absent leadership, beneficial accomplishments were coincidental or impinged by tragic errors:

  • Michael Surbaugh (2015-2019, 10% membership decline, $1,118,903 salary): A career lifer, whose CEO position came after 32 years in other BSA roles. Kicking off with a namby-pamby vision, Michael presided over an invitation for girls in all programs. This could have been a clean achievement, but he screwed it up: He secretly handed the reins to throwback reactionaries, who slapped girls and families with a specious, sexist, racist, and toxic coed ban. Given that Michael gave a platform to misogyny, none of this should be surprising.
  • Wayne Brock (2012-2015, 16% membership decline, $1,061,595 salary): Another career lifer, whose CEO position came after 40 years in other BSA roles. In his mealy-mouthed kickoff interview, Wayne praised his predecessor’s folly (The Summit; more later), chose to recognize his predecessor’s “managerial courage” instead of leadership, and elevated a naïve and boneheaded theory of a national volunteer leader. His main achievement is riding saddle during record-setting membership declines. BSA’s announcement of his retirement says that nothing notable happened in his term. And that’s a lie: the end of the bigoted homosexual ban happened under his tenure. But that wasn’t because of Wayne’s leadership. He was merely the suit when this was forced on him by national volunteer leadership. Even then, BSA still managed to bungle it under Wayne’s leadership management with an incomplete repeal that allowed vestiges of bigotry to persist two more years.
  • Robert Mazzuca (2007-2012, 7% membership decline, $1,211,572 salary): Another career lifer, whose CEO position came after 28 years in other BSA roles. In an interview when he started as CEO, Robert shared no compelling vision other than a meaningless ambition to “drive to understand that world to the point where we could actually participate in the dialogue that happens [in the digital world]”. Huh? His farewell letter suggests little significant happened in his tenure other than The Summit Bechtel Reserve, a $439,000,000 camp that is far too expensive and that is in an area that does not have natural outdoor attractions worthy of its remoteness. The Summit saddled BSA with $275,000,000 of debt, of which $185,799,375 was still owed at the end of 2021. This camp’s colossal obligations may be a major factor in a possible second bankruptcy. Oh, also STEM Scouts. A silly distraction that BSA was never equipped to make work and is rumored to soon kill, STEM Scouts served no apparent purpose except to inflate membership numbers.
  • Roy Williams (2000-2007, 15% membership decline, $1,600,000 salary): Another career lifer, whose CEO position came after 28 years in other BSA roles. In an interview when he started as CEO, Roy Williams made clear he lacks ambition, having a vision undistinguished from caretaker who smiles and waves during severe membership declines. The most notable thing during his career may have been exorbitant compensation.
  • Jere Ratcliffe (1993-2000, 2% membership decline): Another career lifer, whose CEO position came after 34 years in other BSA roles. His most notable accomplishment was being arrested for attempting to bring a loaded handgun on to a plane.
  • Ben Love (1985-1993, 9% membership decline): Another career lifer, whose CEO position came after 30 years in other BSA roles. His most notable accomplishment was being an un-Love-ing asshole: “A homosexual is not the role model I would want as the leader of my son’s troop – and neither is an atheist.”
  • James Tarr (1979-1984): Another career lifer, whose CEO position came after 38 years in other BSA roles. The most notable accomplishment during his tenure is the author of this website joined Cub Scouts. (In other words, nothing notable happened.) I take that back. BSA’s headquarters moved from New Jersey to Irving, Texas under James’s tenure. A contractor who helped deeply during this move, providing valuable expertise over concerns that touched all parts of the national office, expressed shock at how BSA is so incompetently managed. In a response to a Texas Monthly reporter about challenges facing the organization, like his successors, James shared no coherent vision.

Curiously, the two CEOs before James may have demonstrated leadership:

  • Alden Barber (1967-1976): “Young men are interested in young women.” While he put that inelegantly, Alden spearheaded inclusion of girls by pulling them in Explorers in 1968. This was a part of a “Boypower 76” plan that was otherwise beset with crucial errors, including a shift away from outdoors. Facing consequences of these errors, Alden did the right thing: He resigned at 57.
  • Harvey L. Price (1976-1979): Harvey restored the outdoor focus of the Scouting program, some of which was lost under “Boypower 76”. He pulled William Harcourt out of retirement to rewrite the Boy Scout Handbook, restoring its focus on the outdoors.

No recent CEO was effective in his role. None showed a vision. None demonstrated leadership. None can claim credit for good changes. None presided over growth.

BSA’s career-advancement system has failed us for decades. All it surfaces are administrators who just smile and wave while riding saddle. Insanity is expecting a different result this time. Until the national office’s culture is fixed and BSA’s switches to a useful career-advancement system, it is crucial to go outside of BSA for our CEOs.

A note of grace

These CEOs were probably decent human beings. I have received firsthand reports of delightful relationships with some of them.

These CEOs had personal strengths. The problems is none of them brought a package of strengths aligned with leadership. While they all bear personal responsibility for accepting an executive role they were unsuited for, I’m willing to give them a scoop of grace: They spent their entire careers in a defective system that devalues leadership skills.

Next steps

BSA does not need yet another career lifer at the helm. Again, that would be tantamount to canceling the BSA. It is crucial for BSA to find its next CEO from the outside.

BSA’s career-advancement system needs to be blown up and reinvented. We need a new system, something that can do more than surface caretaker bureaucrats.

Terminology note

BSA uses Chief Scout Executive (CSE) for its CEO position. CSE is reserved for “commissioned” staff.

Commissioning in BSA is a secular equivalent of the ordination of ministers in churches. On one hand, it assures essential competence and commitment. On the other hand, it encourages aptitudes misaligned with leadership.

Coming from outside, the current CEO Roger Mosby started with only the CEO title. BSA’s National Executive Board, its national board of directors, declared Roger commissioned in 2021, enabling him to also also gain the CSE title.


6 responses to “Boy Scouts’s bumbling CEOs cause inertia, leadership vacuum”

  1. David McGrath Avatar
    David McGrath

    BSA’s problems are structural and cultural. Sure – the CEOs are ineffective. But let’s face it – y’all don’t want to divest of the excess baggage in the ol’ knapsack holding y’all back.

    I remember when I was a young Scoutmaster when The Worm – a young, eager and very small 12 year old Tenderfoot – showed up to hike the Devil’s Dune – a thousand foot staircase of sand spilling out of the Highlands with a backpack literally bigger and heavier than he was.

    “Scoutmaster – can you carry this mattress for me?”

    Boy did his eyes get big when I took that yuge bedroll and chucked it into the abyss.

    “Don’t worry, Worm. Well get it on the way back.”

    After the shock of seeing his woobie tumble down the mountain he finished the trudge up the mountain and had a great weekend – never once missing that yuge baggage that was holding him back.

    And y’all? How ’bout y’all divest yourselves of the ongoing discrimination and segregation with the girls, the vestiges of racist cultural appropriation tied up with the OA, stop the exclusion of the atheist kids and get back to the fun of scouting. Y’all don’t need the weight of that historical baggage.

    Move along now.


  2. James Preston Avatar
    James Preston

    And don’t forget to lose the still discrimination of LGBTQ youth and adults in reality if not on paper. And while at it, do some real soul searching for excellence in council CEO’s also.

  3. Well stated. The CEOs of BSA since 2000 all made the same mistakes. They neglected core values. They didn’t defend the brand. They sold-out the heart and spirit of Scouting to detractors and disinterested parties: groups and individuals who had no interest in joining, only interest in tearing down BSA. The Board is equally guilty in the dismantling of core Scouting values by way of their selection and compensation of these sell-out CEOs. Worse yet, the needs of Volunteers are roundly ignored by way of incompetent BSA IT staff. By my measure, the only time ‘professional scouters’ really pay attention to Volunteers is during FoS pleadings.

    1. Aren Cambre Avatar
      Aren Cambre

      I am going to defend the IT staff. They are understaffed, underprioritized, and under siege by bureaucratic bloat and I think by old-school, wasteful project management techniques. But otherwise, I think I agree with where you are going.

      The values of Scouting were sold out at the altar of appeasing throwback reactionaries. Instead of being kind, we sued so that we could attacked gays. Instead of being inclusive, we stalled on allowing girls.

      Throwback reactionary culture is a core problem in BSA.

      1. EVERY staff member and segment in Scouting is understaffed, underprioritized, and under siege… sometimes dealing with bureaucracy and ancient, ineffective systems but just as often by volunteers who demand change and improvement but refuse to either invest or help facilitate investment necessary to bring it.

        A big issue culturally in Scouting is the insistence on being a “volunteer-run” organization, especially when certain volunteers at local levels say they won’t allow FOS presentations or bad-mouth fundraising events and product sales. No, money doesn’t solve everything but it sure as hell helps – where do you think camp improvements and additional program and resources come from? The gap in leadership you describe certainly does exist, but it’s as equally influenced by the “incompetence” you perceive as it is the political necessity of trying to keep volunteers happy (whether at the national executive board level or the local unit Key 3).

        On the date you posted this, your “ban” of co-ed Cub Scout dens was changed by the rollout of family dens less than a month later (and since BSA doesn’t do anything on a whim, that means the plans to do so had long been in motion prior to the June 1 start date). I guess the leadership did something right there.

        Look, the national council hasn’t been a hotbed of innovation – no question. I just hope you’re helping your local council’s Scout Executive and their staff grow and build the program in your community. Because complaints like these are a dime a dozen to Scouting professionals… but folks willing to help are rare.

        As for OA ceremonies, changes started three years prior to this post:

        1. Aren Cambre Avatar
          Aren Cambre

          Thank you for this comment. A few thoughts:

          • You reap what you sow. Like the professional system, volunteer advancement is biased towards loyalty to the bureaucracy. That means we stack the whole system with people unsuited to leadership and who resist change. Most of this problem is self inflicted. Again, you reap what you sow.
          • Incompetence in the context of this article is mostly about BSA’s habit of confusing leadership and administration. If your skillset is heavy on administration and light on leadership, you are by definition incompetent for a leadership role. On top of that, by gating so much of its professional system so that only former DEs can fill so many roles, BSA starves itself diversity and heft of even administration talent! Whether one was a former DE is relevant to vanishingly few professional titles in BSA. Yet go browse resumes (LinkedIn), and it becomes obvious how pervasive the gating is. Are DEs important? Yes! But is the skillset of a DE the genesis of one’s relevance for most professional BSA titles? Not at all.
          • Saying the leadership “did something right” is big-time undeserved charity. It’s a half-hearted repeal of some of the separate-but-equal regime. This is after openly engaging in bureaucratic stalling tactics (survey and pilot program), and that was AFTER any secret bureaucratic stalling you alluded to! Where is the public apology from BSA for appeasing misogynists with a separate-but-equal regime for girls? Where are the consequences for those who crapped on families, Scouts, and communities so they could promote their toxic, sexist, and racist throwback reactionary views? Where’s the robust, verifiable commitment to cultural and practice change so that this never happens again? Show me those, then we can have a conversation about whether the national organization did the right thing.
          • On OA, that is just a baby step. The national OA Committee is being highly secretive, fiddling while the organization burns, declining to clarify its end game. BSA needs the camp service OA provides, so we need to be open about a morally straight future for OA if we want to preserve it. But what is clearly more important is appeasing those with emotional ties to racist caricatures of American Indians. Shameful.

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