Behind Rod Hightower’s Departure from EAA
When the EAA Board of Directors announced yesterday that Rod Hightower was resigning from the organization because of problems relocating his family all the way from St. Louis to Oshkosh, after two years at the helm at EAA, no one really believed that explanation, if indeed it were intended to be believable. The point was, the organization was moving on.
At an aviation event I attended in Texas on Monday night the question I got asked repeatedly by industry insiders was, “So, what really happened?” It was a question I didn’t really answer, that I couldn’t really answer. What it comes down to is this: separations are largely a private matter even when they involve very public figures. That is how it should be.
I won’t go into speculation about the reasons for the split, but they must have been compelling, one can deduce from the bare facts of the matter. Never in the history of corporate America has finding the right middle school been the reason for such a hasty departure; it was a matter of mere hours between the board meeting the night before and the announcement to EAA employees at One Poberezny Way that the organization had made a sudden change of direction. Even if you don’t know any of the details behind the events in Oshkosh on Monday — and very few people do know them — it’s not hard to figure out that there were big issues. That’s good enough for me.
The important thing was that EAA get a fresh start, and the board of directors should be applauded for accepting Hightower’s resignation so decisively. The board, under the new leadership of former Cessna CEO Jack Pelton, is on track now, and I can’t wait to see the great things the organization does.
As many of you know, I am a longtime supporter of EAA and count as my close friends many current and former employees of the association. I cut my teeth in sport aviation, flying, photographing and writing about sport airplanes, of which I’ve flown many, many types, from single-seat true ultralights to fast composite speedsters and everything between. I love the spirit of inventiveness and ingenuity that homebuilding represents, and I hold in high esteem the homebuilders and the people behind the companies that manufacture kits and who support this industry. I love the spirit of EAA and want desperately for it to succeed. I am an EAA’er at heart and have been since I was a kid.
I’m also a realist, and I recognize that there are corporate realities to any organization and EAA is in a tough spot demographically. Like it or not, the moves that Hightower had made to position the EAA as a more inclusive organization, one that represents more than just the homebuilders, experimenters and warbird flyers in the country, is a focus that will continue under whomever the Board selects to lead the way. The truth is that you can have an EAA that celebrates its roots, that cherishes its core founding constituents, that supports the efforts to keep homebuilding a vibrant movement, and still be an organization that embraces more of aviation too.
But there are deeper truths.
Any organization needs to conduct itself in a way that is respectful and honest toward the members, employees and partners it interacts with on a daily basis. I believe that this kind of respect is the foundation of everything we do in life; I have confidence that the EAA Board of Directors will find a new leader who believes this too. Then great things will happen.