By MAYA KING
Drew Berry isn’t worried about the learning curve for his new job.
Named NABJ’s executive director on July 27, the media executive held the role in an interim capacity in 2010 and 2013—and as executive consultant from 2015-17.
This time, however, he will face a unique challenge: bringing stability to a position with a legacy of near-constant fluctuation.
Berry will have to maintain unity among a board of directors with a history of ousting unpopular staffers. He thinks his institutional knowledge will outlast any internal conflict.
“I don’t have any problem navigating any NABJ waters,” Berry said. “I know the players. I know the characters. So I really don’t have any major concerns.”
Berry, founder and CEO of Berry & Associates LLC, will work with the president and board of directors to run the organization’s day-to-day operations in the role of executive director. His other responsibilities will include fundraising, planning programming and maintaining relationships among fundraisers and stakeholders. He said he will leave Berry & Associates to work with NABJ full-time.
Sharon Toomer, whom the board hired in September 2017, resigned June 18. In a five-page email sent to select board members, founders and donors, Toomer described the sordid relationship between NABJ’s staff and leadership. It was driven, she said, by board members who “poison the well” by meddling with staff concerns.
Berry said his love for NABJ is what drove his decision to accept the board of directors’ recent offer for him to serve as executive director. Doing so, he said, is a “matter of finishing the job we set out to do.”
“It’s common for family to have disagreements, but when a family member calls another back to the table, it lets me know they are ready to make further improvements,” Berry continued. “I wouldn’t have taken the job if I did not believe we were headed in the same direction, which is the right direction.”
Vanessa Williams, a former NABJ president, questioned that direction. Citing a lack of technological training at conferences and a need for more attention on NABJ’s youngest members, she said decisions made by the board can get in the way of progress. This, she warned, could create problems for anyone who steps in as executive director, regardless of their relationship with the board.
“I don’t think any executive director hired in the current [leadership] structure will have an easy go of it,” she said, adding that NABJ has largely operated “the same way” it did when it was founded nearly 45 years ago. “I believe NABJ needs a total and complete overhaul and reimagining of its management structure.”
Roland Martin, vice president/digital, says board members “have to understand what their role and responsibility is,” and allow the executive director to execute their vision.
“It is not our job to run the organization; that’s why you hire a staff to actually do that,” Martin said.
NABJ President Sarah Glover is confident in Berry’s ability to lead, which should put him in position to lead the organization for longer than a few years.
“Drew Berry comes into this position now literally hitting the ground running,” Glover said. “He has the momentum, and I think, without a doubt, he will be an executive director who will be successful and carry us through for many years to come.”
Berry is taking the reins at a time when NABJ is in good financial standing. The convention has been profitable, and the organization has found other funding sources. Berry has played a key role in that, including helping to secure large grants from donors like the Democracy Fund and Ford Foundation. NABJ entered the 2018 conference with a $436,617 surplus, and the convention has typically been its largest source of income, according to NABJ’s financial report, which was released Monday.
“We have a way of getting things accomplished,” he said of his relationship with the board of directors. “We have a really cooperative and collaborative spirit, and we move forward to just get it done.”