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Retirements: Trickle or Tsunami for Our Profession?

By Jeffrey Shields posted 07-12-2016 05:05 PM


CEO Notebook |

Our profession is experiencing a generational shift that is both exciting and troubling.

  • Spring brought an unusually high number of retirement announcements within the independent school business officer profession — not just typical year-end turnover, but some luminaries of our field. Among them: an NBOA founder and the first leader of our board of directors, several business officers who are leaders regionally and nationally, and several more recent recipients of NBOA awards, both the Will Hancock Unsung Hero Award and our highest honor, the Ken White Distinguished Business Officer Award.
  • Last week, NACUBO's National Profile of Higher Education Chief Business Officers reported that nearly half (44 percent) plan to retire in the next three years.
  • In late June, Business Officer Institute, NBOA's five-day intensive program for new business officers, set an attendance record with 77 attendees and a waitlist. Most years we accommodate no more than 50 participants.

That record-breaking BOI attendance is what one of your colleagues calls "a Champagne problem," and I agree. After all, the program's many pulls always include a strong national reputation, a stellar faculty of seasoned and experienced business officers, and a fantastic location — this year, the beautiful campus of Harpeth Hall in Nashville.

But I think the numbers behind those 77 attendees (many of them replacing retiring business officers), as well as the other retirement indicators, should in fact be sobering. Because while all business officers are deserving of their retirement plans, the loss of any one — the wisdom and knowledge gained only by years of rolling up one's sleeves over the course of a career — poses a challenge to the schools left behind. Moreover, the collective trend is a concern because it may represent the beginning of a tide within independent schools.

Consider this. The average age of NBOA members is 53.4 years old, according to the 2014 – 2015 Business Office Survey. That's a bit younger than the average age of higher-ed business officers (56), but we've been in our roles a little longer (our average tenure is 10.2 years, compared to 8 years for NACUBO members). More concerning is this: Our members have an average of 28.7 years of professional experience. Couple that number with the fact that we are largely a "mid-career" profession, and it's easy to surmise that a vast majority of our members will fuel a trajectory of mass retirements in the very near future.

Where is the next generation of business officers coming from? At a time when independent schools' financial health is top of mind for school leadership, this is a critical question to answer — and soon. Not to burst any celebratory bubbles, but the sound of those popping corks should also be setting off some alarm bells. How will your school be prepared? Please share your thoughts with me via email (, or Twitter (@shieldsNBOA).

From Bottomline, July 12, 2016.

#Leadership #Culture

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