March 15, 2016


 AVMA board chair not bound by tradition

​Dr. John de Jong works to increase AVMA member value

Posted March 2, 2016

Dr. John de Jong has flipped the script on standard operating procedures for the AVMA Board of Directors. Since his election as board chair last July, the small animal practitioner from Weston, Massachusetts, has sought to make the Board more collegial and strategy-minded and to increase communication between the board and House of Delegates. All of it, he says, is with an eye on increasing the AVMA’s value and relevance to its members. Recently, Dr. de Jong spoke to JAVMA News about his governance philosophy and ways the Association is becoming more responsive to member needs. 

Please share some of the more notable matters the Board of Directors has been addressing since your election as chair.

It was a great honor to be elected chair of the Board in Boston, my hometown, last July. As with the rollout of the new AVMA brand, I felt it was time that we also have a new AVMA. One of the first things I wanted to do as chair was make the Board more interactive. In my previous five years on the Board, we’d mostly listen to presentations and then have our business meeting. I wanted the Board to be more interactive, to start breaking up into small groups to either come up with our own action items or get us to thinking strategically. I think the new format has been successful and it seems to be well-received. Additionally, I strongly believe in increased transparency concerning Board actions. 

AVMA Board of Directors Chair John de Jong

What’s really great is that for the first time, the Board of Directors aligned our budget with our Strategy Management Process. The Board and executive staff began the SMP a couple of years ago to identify what our members wanted from the AVMA and how the AVMA could meet those member needs. Staff and some Board members were concerned about how we were going to pay to implement the strategic plan, but it all came together at the budget meeting in December. 

We presented the 2016 budget to the full Board this January, and they passed it. AVMA’s new chief financial officer, Joann Vocalino, discovered we had extra monies, and so, in keeping with the SMP, we were able to budget for 13 1/2 new positions to fill critical roles on staff.

The Board also realized its committee structure needs to be aligned with AVMA’s strategic business units—Advocacy and Public Policy, Accreditation and Certification, and Products and Services—and with the Marketing and Communications, and Finance and Shared Business Services divisions. We created a subcommittee to review our entire Board governance, and we will establish a new Board committee structure. I believe that by year’s end, we’ll have achieved that alignment. One committee that we created is the Strategy Management Committee, a committee comprising members of the Board and House of Delegates. Such integration brings the House and Board together so everyone’s on the same page, since we’re all part of one big family.

The goal of the ongoing Strategy Management Process is to make the AVMA more responsive to member needs and thereby increase the Association’s value for its members. When can they expect to see the benefits of the SMP, and what will they look like?

I would think it’s going to take a year, possibly a year and a half, for the impacts of the SMP to be evident. You can already see we’re trying new and different things. This past fall, for the first time ever, we created pilot advisory panels. Will we restructure our councils and committees? That remains to be seen. We’re going to have to sharpen our pencils, we’re going to have to identify which entities are relevant in terms of member needs and member value. That may mean sacrificing some of our sacred cows. To move forward and to be a strategic organization, sometimes that means starting new things and potentially letting old things go.

Historically, the AVMA has always tried to be everything to everybody, and we realized we can’t do everything. We have to be far more strategic about what we can deliver. Our focus has to be on providing what’s helpful to all our members and keeps us unified as a profession. Professional organizations like AVMA are facing unprecedented challenges, and we need to maintain our relevance to our members. We’re a small profession with lots of small, disparate groups with different interests, but it’s essential that we stick together.

We know financial issues are critically important to our members. We had a very effective veterinary economics summit in October, and we will be hosting the summit again this year. The Board decided to provide the four economic reports coming out in 2016 free to members; we feel it’s important to do so. We’re having a roundtable on veterinary wellness because those issues are important to our members. We’re also co-hosting a student debt symposium with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and Michigan State University this April. Without a doubt, educational debt is one of the biggest problems facing our profession, and the AVMA needs to do all it can to help reduce that debt burden. It’s a problem with no easy answers, but it’s something we clearly have to address. 

Dr. John de Jong chairs a January 2016 meeting of the AVMA Board of Directors.

Dr. Ron DeHaven is retiring this summer as AVMA’s executive vice president and CEO. What qualifications and leadership style is the Board looking for in the AVMA’s next CEO? 

I want to thank Ron for nearly a decade of great service. He’s helped steer us into this new SMP and the new AVMA brand. As for the next CEO, we’re looking for somebody we can hand on the current SMP to that we’ve put so much time, effort, and finances into making a road map for the next couple of years, and have that person come in and embrace it, refine it, and make it as best as it can be. That person must be respected, understand the AVMA and professional organizations in general, and be able to help our association embrace change. It’s important that this person is accessible, be a good listener, and have good ideas and skills at driving a team toward implementing a plan successfully.

Board member Michael Whitehair is chairing the CEO search committee. In the past, the AVMA has leaned on the experience of those who’ve come before us to select a new chief executive officer. With the Board of Governors’ blessing, I decided our search committee should be comprised of more forward-thinking members. To reflect that, we want the HOD and some emerging leaders involved. Our goal is to have a new CEO named and ready to hit the ground right after convention this August. 

Anything else you want to discuss?  

I’m very pleased with the improved communication and collegiality between the Board and the House of Delegates. I spent 12 years in the House, and I’ve always thought of myself as a man of the House. I pledged to myself that, as Board chair, I would work with the House Advisory Committee chair, Tim Montgomery, and the entire HAC to emphasize the fact that we are one organization, and we’re better united than divided. So far, I think we’re doing a good job of that.  

Personally, I have utilized and engaged the Board of Governors this year, not making unilateral decisions, but instead, utilizing the experience and knowledge of my formidable colleagues. I also want the membership to know how committed this Board of Directors is to the success of this organization. These dedicated individuals care deeply about our profession, and they give so much back through the AVMA. I feel extremely grateful to be surrounded by such an exceptional group of fellow Board members who, along with a superb and engaged staff, make chairing the Board a real pleasure.  

Related JAVMA content:

DeHaven to retire as AVMA CEO (March 1, 2016)  
Growing member value (March 1, 2015)