Timing is everything—a principle not lost on AVMA Executive Vice President Bruce W. Little as he planned his retirement to the best advantage of the Association.
Dr. Little, who has served as the AVMA's chief administrative officer during the past decade of change and growth, recently announced his plan to retire Dec. 31, 2007.
His initial intention to retire at the close of 2005 changed when several board members approached him about staying on a while longer, until some complex issues and key organizational projects had progressed further. In setting his new retirement date, he has given the board a year and a half's notice to allow ample time to find his successor.
Executive Board Chair Robert E. "Bud" Hertzog accepted Dr. Little's letter of intent during the board's June 8-10 meeting.
"We are fortunate that, as a direct result of Dr. Little's effective leadership, AVMA is in a strong position," Dr. Hertzog said. "The thoughtful timing of Dr. Little's announcement provides us with a workable timetable that allows ample time to select the best possible successor and ensure a seamless transition."
Dr. Little joined the AVMA in 1985, was promoted to assistant executive vice president in 1986, and was named executive vice president in January 1996.
AVMA President Henry E. Childers said, "I am honored and privileged to have served on the Executive Board for eight years while Dr. Bruce Little was executive vice president. Dr. Little performed a tremendous service to the AVMA and the veterinary profession by providing outstanding leadership. He obviously has a great love for the AVMA and for our profession. I have the strongest respect and personal regard for him."
One way that Dr. Little has kept the AVMA in step with other associations has been by serving on the board of directors of the Association Forum of Chicagoland from 2002-2005. The forum is the "association of associations" for more than 1,500 business, charitable, civic, and professional organizations.
"Dr. Little has served the association community with integrity and vision," said Gary A. LaBranche, president and chief executive officer of Association Forum. "He mentored aspiring young professionals and earned the respect of veteran executives. We will miss his active leadership and wise counsel, but wish him and Nancy the best as they enjoy a well-deserved retirement."
The process for hiring the next executive vice president will include a broad-based search conducted by a search committee that will work with the AVMA's human resources director. A representative of the Executive Board will chair the committee, which will consist of a representative of the House of Delegates and three members selected at large. A position ad began running in this issue of JAVMA (see page 319).
Dr. Roger K. Mahr, who will become AVMA president July 18, said AVMA members should be proud of the Association's great accomplishments under Dr. Little's leadership. "Dr. Little's decision (to retire) creates the most critically important task to be addressed by the Executive Board during the coming year. The next executive vice president will assume profound responsibilities, and the right individual will lead the AVMA to even further greatness as the evolving 21st century challenges and opportunities for the veterinary profession are met."
The new executive vice president will take on an association with a $27 million budget, one that faces a host of complex issues and diverse initiatives. To enhance the incoming executive's ability to deal with these challenges, Dr. Little said, the AVMA must focus its strengths toward resolving issues and making progress on current projects.
Dr. Hertzog said, "What Dr. Little has accomplished while at the helm of the AVMA has been phenomenal. Over the past decade, he has overseen a continued increase in membership, strengthened the Association's finances, and developed a skilled and talented staff."
Under Dr. Little's leadership, AVMA membership has grown 27.6 percent—from 57,687 to 73,603 members. During that time, the AVMA experienced a 42 percent increase in staff, bringing the ratio of staff to members closer in line with that of other major, national associations.
The staff increase also reflected the expansion of AVMA activities in important domains such as legislative and regulatory advocacy, communications, animal welfare, continuing education, and human resources.
To ensure that the AVMA had sound, legally compliant personnel policies and practices, Dr. Little hired the first human resources director in 1996 as a resource for staff and AVMA members on employment law. Creation of the Human Resources Department accounted for a noteworthy increase in staff retention.
The Association needed a better way to communicate—including a shift to AVMA members as the primary audience and the public as a secondary audience; therefore, a Communications Division was established. Dr. Little has overseen the expansion of the division and fostered its heightened profile with the national and international media.
Also under his leadership, the AVMA created a stand-alone Scientific Activities Division to provide the best scientific information available in veterinary medicine and more recently, an Animal Welfare Division to address science-based questions involving animal welfare issues.
At a time when constituent veterinary associations were looking to the AVMA to help them counter the legal challenges they face, Dr. Little fostered the development of an AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department. Also, task forces were convened on issues such as the legal status of animals and diversity in the profession.
When it became evident there was a dire need to enhance the value of the Association's showcase—the AVMA Annual Convention—the convention staff was separated from the Business Division and elevated to a division. Continuing education hours at the convention were increased from 350 in 1997 to more than 1,100 in 2005, when the World Veterinary Congress was held in conjunction with the AVMA.
"No one individual can run an association of this magnitude by themselves," Dr. Little said. "I am perhaps most proud of being able to hire and retain an outstanding group of people who are recognized as the foremost leaders in their areas of expertise."
Dr. James E. Nave, AVMA past president and chair of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, said of Dr. Little, "The team he has assembled to do the work of the AVMA is the best. His vision in so many areas has helped prepare us for the future. His commitment to fiscal responsibility has resulted in the AVMA's sound financial position. His appreciation and understanding of the role of the AVMA as an umbrella organization has fostered unity and membership growth. I thank him for all he has done for me personally and for our profession."
To remedy adverse economic issues facing the profession, Dr. Little orchestrated a partnership with the American Animal Hospital Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to develop the NCVEI. He has served on the NCVEI board of directors since its inception in 2000. He is especially proud of his work with Dr. John W. Albers, executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association, in developing the charter and bylaws for the NCVEI, as well as playing a part in initiating the KPMG LLP megastudy. Since 1996, Dr. Little has also served on the American Veterinary Medical Foundation board of directors.
The AVMA's own assets have more than doubled since Dr. Little assumed the executive vice president position, growing from $19 million in 1996 to $41.6 million today. During his tenure, an average of $1.3 million was placed annually in the AVMA's reserve funds.
Many attribute the Association's ability to achieve financial stability without annual dues increases to Dr. Little's innovative methods of raising nondues income. He was instrumental in the profitable sale of the AVMA's original, single-story Schaumburg building and the subsequent purchase of the current, five-story headquarters building. This real estate transaction allowed the AVMA to triple its space for just $300,000 more than the sale price of its original building.
Also indicative of his foresight for growing potential income was his plan, still in effect today, to rent partial segments of the building parking lot, resulting in more than $40,000 of nondues income annually. Additionally, approximately 50 percent of the building not occupied by AVMA staff is rented to long-term, stable businesses, which generates annual income for the AVMA of more than $500,000.
AVMA visibility in Washington, D.C., has been dramatically heightened with the purchase and renovation of two adjoining townhouses in the heart of the nation's capital. The building houses the AVMA Governmental Relations Division and provides a meeting place for a wide variety of governmental, regulatory, and association leaders. It also signifies the AVMA's commitment to advocacy on the federal legislative and regulatory level.
Earning a real estate license gave Dr. Little the skills to critically evaluate property transactions. He obtained his license at the same time as his wife, Nancy. Mrs. Little, who received the AVMA President's Award in 2005 from Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver for her contributions to the profession, has accompanied him on visits to AVMA's industrial partners and vendors, helping build relationships within the veterinary family. Together with key AVMA staff, they have cultivated sponsorships and partnerships amounting to more than $1 million annually. This expansion of sponsorships and partnerships constitutes another important source of nondues revenue.
Globally, Dr. Little has fostered relationships as well. He and the AVMA president have represented the Association each year at the International Veterinary Officers Council meetings since they were first held in 1999. The event promotes ongoing dialogue among the chief elected and chief executive officers of several national veterinary organizations in an effort to harmonize policies, benchmark processes, and produce ideas that benefit the veterinary profession globally.
It was Dr. Little's recommendation to the Executive Board in January 2005 that resulted in the AVMA collaborating with Heifer International to raise $1 million for long-term development in the tsunami-ravaged countries of South and Southeast Asia. Combined with another million dollars from other Heifer donors, the funds will help 2,930 families in India, 1,500 in Indonesia, 1,220 in Sri Lanka, and 300 in Thailand. Dr. Little said, "It just goes to show you that when you do good things that touch people's hearts, they will respond in an amazing manner. I am very proud of our profession."