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Riding High from the 2019 NBOA Annual Meeting: 3 Takeaways

By Jeffrey Shields posted 03-12-2019 01:14 PM


CEO Notebook |

In San Diego, we learned that bringing creativity, passion and play into a routine of discipline and focus pays off.

jeff shields
Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

I’m still coasting on the energy from the 2019 NBOA Annual Meeting last week in San Diego. Many thanks to the nearly 1,500 business officers, operations staff and business partners representing 47 states and territories, and 14 countries, who joined us last week. Whether you were there as an attendee, speaker, board member, exhibitor, sponsor or long-distance observer through the Twitterverse (#NBOA2019), I hope you learned as much as I did — and had as much fun.

Dr. Gary Krahn, head of school at La Jolla Country Day, said it best as he welcomed attendees on Monday morning: Business officers are the hardest working people in our independent schools. So it was also good to see you take it easy — if just a little — over four days. Throughout the general sessions ran a theme perfectly aligned with San Diego, that bringing creativity, passion and play into a routine of discipline and focus pays off. Here’s a little more of what I learned.

The opening reception featured a live band, surf board painter and networking with colleagues from around the world.

"How good you are when you start something is not a good indicator of how good you can be."

Retired astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain Mark Kelly offered many compelling lessons in his keynote address on Monday morning, but the quote above is my top takeaway. As I often tell my daughter, your first attempt at a big challenge is just the start. Work at it, and you will get better! The first time Kelly landed a plane on an aircraft carrier, he nearly crashed. Yet he went on to serve his country as a combat pilot during the Gulf War and in piloting four NASA Space Shuttle missions. When he invited to the stage his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, we were doubly inspired to see how incredible persistence helped her not only survive a devastating assassination attempt, but also to resume life as an advocate against gun violence and a model of courage. We at independent schools face our own challenges, and it’s helpful to remember that successful change takes persistence.

“Creativity without structure is like a river without banks.”

Graffiti artist Erik Wahl appeared to be all free-form in his electrifying presentation on Tuesday, as he painted three portraits while simultaneously talking and gyrating about the stage. And yet he himself has a business background (he’s also an independent-school parent). It wasn’t until a business he built from the ground up failed in the dot-com bust that he turned to art, where he rediscovered the power of creative thinking — within well-defined guardrails. “The best work happens in the space between the notes of conventional, traditional or even academic learning,” he said. Leveraging his creative perspective, he encouraged attendees to “brand your independent school as a category of one.” A big part of what makes our schools so wonderful is their traditions and missions, but we would do well to balance what has gotten us here with creative ideas for where we can go. During his standing ovation, he left us with one final comment: “Thank you for allowing me to do what I love!” What a role model!

fun run
Largest turnout ever for the NBOA Get Fit Fun Run, this year along the San Diego Marina.

 “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

I really enjoyed when Kevin Carroll asked attendees at the Business Officer Breakfast on Wednesday morning to share the games they loved as children. Mine was four-square. Smiles, gestures and animation rippled across the ballroom with contagious energy — everyone has a favorite game, and the memory of it still sparks joy! However, it’s easy for all of us to get caught up in work routines, fighting fires and solving problems, and to push aside that youthful spark that comes from spontaneous play. But ask any preschooler, Carroll said, and without hesitation, they will gladly tout and demonstrate their ability and joy in drawing, playing, exploring. We should all seek to tap this creative spirit, by finding time to relax with colleagues. You might be surprised by the conversations and innovative thinking you’ll come up with. Carroll’s organization of a 3,000-person tag game while he was working at Nike, for example, inspired the company’s ad firm to produce the world’s top commercial that year. 

If you’d like to revisit 2019 Annual Meeting sessions, handouts are available now at, and videos, recordings and executive summaries of selected sessions will be available in upcoming weeks. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that in May, we’ll be opening the call for programs for the 2020 NBOA Annual Meeting in Orlando, February 23-26, where we will be “Envisioning the Future.” I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you there!

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, March 12, 2019. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.


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