Christian Retailing

Transition, a time to agree not argue Print Email
Written by Staff   
Monday, 07 December 2009 03:51 PM America/New_York

Transition is usually uncomfortable, but it's also a fact of life. There comes a point when a leader can go no further. We see that clearly in the Bible. When we reach that place we can be grateful for what they have done, but also be clear about what still needs to be achieved.

That does not diminish accomplishments, it just keeps them in their proper perspective. Such is the case with the recent departure of longtime CBA President and CEO Bill Anderson.

The Christian retail world is not going to be the same without him—and that's a reflection of both all he did helping to bring the industry to where it is, and all that yet needs to be done to lead it into the future.

For many, Anderson was the face of Christian retailing as long as they have been a part of the industry, if not longer. Through his near-25 years as president of CBA, he represented Christian retailing to the wider world with grace and skill.

He will be remembered and appreciated for his enduring passion for Christian retail, not because it was a business, but because it was about the business of the kingdom of God, which at one time he thought he might serve on the foreign mission field.

Instead he found himself serving the church through Christian publishing, first at Moody Press from where he joined CBA in 1978. Taking over the reins of the organization in 1985 from John Bass, he brought similar strong personal leadership to the role.

Anderson presided during the glory days of Christian retailing, as independents enjoyed their most fruitful years during the 1980s and 1990s. The association bloomed, too, at one time employing more than 50, and in 2000 moving into a grand new headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Many in the industry have spoken of their appreciation and gratitude for Anderson's commitment and loyalty to the distribution of Christian resources. But privately a good number have felt for some time that change at CBA was overdue.

The world is very different now than when Anderson took over. Consider, Ronald Reagan was then the other president of note, and the computer world was still in its infancy. Internet business was unknown, independent store owners were the dominant force in Christian retail, the chains were pretty much still in their infancy, and you'd be lucky to find more than the occasional Bible in a general market store.

CBA long acted as if it were the center of the Christian products universe, but, as we have noted before, the constellations have shifted. CBA is still in orbit, but not everything and everyone else revolves around it anymore.

There are a variety of factors for that change, including the rise of the buying groups that provide some of the services CBA used to handle. And while the organization's summer show was once on everyone's "must" list, that is no longer the case. Suppliers have seen the event as too expensive and found other ways to reach buyers. As a result, attendance has dwindled in recent years.

The last big industry-wide CBA initiative, launched to fanfare in 2007, was More From The Core, a three-year drive intended to invigorate core inventory, partnerships and staff. Not much has been heard of it since, and you'll be hard pressed even to find any reference to it at the CBA Web site.

Though our industry is more fragmented and diverse than it was, we still need a way in which we can come together and not just do business, but also unite around the business of the kingdom. CBA can still provide some of that, but it will need to be more from a place of equals than a lofty perch.

Whoever inherits Anderson's title will be taking on a different role in a different world. But we believe that the board is up to the challenge of repositioning CBA. And it's indicative of the changing times that helping to lead the process as chairman-elect is George Thomsen, director of a church bookstore—a part of the Christian retail community once viewed somewhat askance by many. Thomsen brings business excellence and a passion for the mission of Christian bookstores to the role.

Though many will welcome new leadership at CBA, change after such a long time is still unsettling. That behooves those steering the process to communicate clearly and well about what is happening, and the announcement of Anderson's departure had an unfortunate air of haste about it.

The news went out on a Friday evening, with no reason given for his departure and only a couple of sentences from Anderson himself in the official announcement. It was rather an abrupt end to a 31-year career.

While the CBA board may not want to go public with all its deliberations, members might be forgiven for wanting to know a bit more about what was behind it all.

Above all, such a significant time of change can drive people apart, arguing about the past, or draw them closer, agreeing on the future.

May it be a season that brings the industry together in a new way. Let's all pray for wisdom for all those involved in the process of better shaping CBA for its valuable role in the future of our industry.