Advised Executive Board through volatile economy
When the gavel signaling the end of the AVMA Executive Board's second St. Louis meeting sounds July 19, Dr. Bret D. Marsh will be out of a job.
AVMA Bylaws limit persons elected to the office of treasurer to six consecutive yearlong terms, and Dr. Marsh's volunteer service on the Executive Board is almost up.
As the principal accounting and financial officer for the AVMA, Dr. Marsh has advised the board as budgets were put together and spending priorities identified. Twice a year he reported to the AVMA House of Delegates about the Association's financial shape. And he did so during one of the worst recessions in memory.
Dr. Marsh spoke to JAVMA News about his service as AVMA treasurer, how the Association weathered the financial storm, and what he thinks of his successor.
What personal philosophy guided you as AVMA treasurer?
Live within your means. The Executive Board and staff work very hard to make sure this goal is met. The board receives many recommendations very worthy of funding, but their task is to determine which recommendations fit the strategic goals of the AVMA. The board has effectively lived within its means during my tenure as treasurer, and they have made decisions based on what was right, not what was easy.
After six years as treasurer, how well do you think the Executive Board has managed the Association's finances?
The Executive Board and the AVMA staff have done an extraordinary job of managing the Association's finances. They take their fiscal responsibilities very seriously, and I have never experienced a time when I thought the money was being mismanaged. I am now, and forever will be, impressed with the dedication of the board and staff in providing the very best programs and services to our members.
Did your view of the AVMA treasurer position evolve?
Serving as treasurer, I have had an opportunity to see the Association at a level experienced by very few members. I leave this position with an even deeper appreciation for the value our members receive for their dues. The AVMA continues to successfully serve as the veterinary organization of the United States, and its influence globally is essential to the continuing success of the veterinary profession worldwide.
Although the treasurer doesn't get a vote, does that officer have a duty to tell the board when he or she thinks it isn't being fiscally responsible?
It is certainly the responsibility of the treasurer to advise the Executive Board on the fiscal consequences of an action. The board considers hundreds of recommendations during their meetings, and many of these recommendations have a fiscal impact. Based on my experience, the board is very deliberative in its evaluation of each recommendation, and they often call on the treasurer for input during these deliberations. Although individual Executive Board members may have different views on the merits of a particular expenditure, they have always based their decision on what they believed was best for the AVMA.
You saw the AVMA through one of the worst economic downturns in decades. How scary did it get?
The true measure of an organization's mettle is how it responds when times are difficult. Through the most challenging fiscal period in decades, the AVMA demonstrated its resolve to continue to provide quality programs and services for its members. Although there were some difficult choices made, the Executive Board and staff continued to focus on what was best for the long-term health of the Association. There will be other challenging times when difficult, and sometimes unpopular, choices must be made, but, based on my experience, the leadership of the AVMA will always place the good of the Association above all other competing interests.
What can you say about the AVMA's fiscal health now?
The AVMA is fiscally strong, and I believe it will continue to maintain a healthy fiscal position. In addition to the annual operating budget, the AVMA maintains reserves that can be used in challenging fiscal times. Reserves were used in 2007 and 2008 to maintain services to the members. The reserves have now been replenished, and the AVMA has regained its strong fiscal position.
It is important to note that the AVMA has another huge asset that should never be overlooked: its members. The AVMA enjoys unprecedented support from over 80,000 veterinarians, and the willingness of members to volunteer their time and talent to continue to improve the AVMA through participation on committees, councils, task forces, and the House of Delegates is priceless.
What's the high point of your term on the Executive Board?
The high point for me is actually more of an evolution than a specific point. The Executive Board has embraced a much more strategic approach to its assessment of programs and activities, and it, therefore, has become more strategic in its fiscal planning. This change has resulted in a much better budgeting process, which directs the fiscal resources of the Association toward the highest priority tasks.
Was it difficult to go before the HOD and justify membership dues increases?
I believed the Executive Board's decision to forgo a request for a dues increase for the 2010 Association year was the correct one, but I also knew that an increase was imminent. The board and the staff did a remarkable job of belt-tightening, just like our members had to do in their own businesses. It was only after we did our due diligence that the Executive Board felt comfortable taking a dues request to the House of Delegates. The dues increase that became effective with the 2011 Association year was essential to fulfilling the AVMA's mission of continuing to offer the best programs and services for our members. I am confident the new dues revenue will provide the fiscal means for the AVMA to not only meet but exceed the expectations of our members.
What are your thoughts on AVMA treasurer-elect, Dr. Barbara Schmidt?
I believe Dr. Schmidt will be a great asset to the AVMA as treasurer. She has already demonstrated leadership in the House of Delegates, as a delegate from Kentucky and as chair of the House Advisory Committee. She will bring a fresh perspective to the role of treasurer, and I am confident she will be a role model for future treasurers.
What will you do now with your free time?
I have had tremendous support from my wife, Polly, and our two children, Spencer and Lacey, during my tenure as treasurer, and I will be spending more time with them. I will always treasure the kindnesses extended to my family and me by the staff, Executive Board, and the membership.
I have also become increasingly busy as Indiana state veterinarian, and I am grateful to the staff of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health for all of their support.
Any parting thoughts?
Our Association is blessed with veterinarians who are passionate about their profession and who unselfishly give of themselves. I have witnessed unprecedented volunteerism by individuals who have made personal and professional sacrifices on behalf of the Association. Because of this enduring drive to make the profession better, there is a solid foundation for future generations of veterinarians.