So who is Kevin Keller?

Posted by Michael Kitces on Tuesday, April 29th, 9:00 pm, 2008 in Planning Profession

It's been a time of great change for the CFP Board over the past few years, and especially the past 12 months or so. The responsilibity for managing all of this change in the organization lies on the shoulders of one man - Kevin Keller. The only catch - he's also the new kid on the block.

Kevin Keller was hired by the CFP Board as the CEO to replace Sarah Teslik (and more immediately, to replace interim CEO Don Tharpe) last May. Certainly, the hire of a new CEO in-and-of itself is a tremendous change for any organization to go through. But the reality is that the start of a new CEO was only part of the changes underway at the CFP Board.

At the same time (and in fact, also in May of 2007), the CFP Board also announced its relocation to Washington D.C., to occur by the end of 2007. This ultimately led to the turnover of more than 95% of the CFP Board's staff - many of whom had instituted the process, procedures, and policies of the organization for upwards of a decade or two - who were not willing to relocate themselves to the D.C. area.

Operating in tandem to all of this is the CFP Board's ongoing transition to the Carver Policy Governance Model. The CFP Board's then Board of Governors decided to adopt the Carver Model back in 2005. Its essence, the Carver Model directs the Board to be responsible for setting broad organization-wide policies and goals, and delegates and empowers the CEO of the organization to implement the necessary tactics. The result is that the Board decides the "ends", and the CEO determines the "means" to accomplish them.

Thus, we have an interesting confluence of changes underway. The CFP Board leadership has been in the process of implementing the Carver Model, which delegates wide-ranging authority to the CEO to implement the broad policy goals of the Board. The CEO role itself turned over last May, and virtually the entire staff of the organization turned over in the past 6 months (with the responsibility laying ultimately on the CEO's shoulders to re-staff the organization and its internal leadership).

This represents an absolutely incredible amount of power that falls in the hands of Kevin Keller. The focus of the Board of Directors is ostensibly to empower him to run the organization and implement the board's goals, and he has had the opportunity to hire an entire staff from top to bottom to achieve this. (Have you EVER heard of a CEO who had the opportunity to take over an existing successful organization and freely turn over the ENTIRE staff to replace with his own selections!?) This leaves us at an interesting juxtaposition - a brand new CEO, who has the opportunity to staff the entire organization from top to bottom to fulfill the mission of the board as conveyed to him.

I don't mean to suggest that Kevin Keller has abused his power, or done anything wrong whatsoever. However, all of this power has some people nervous, as evidenced by the recent incident where the majority of the members of the Discipline and Ethics Commission resigned over the realization of new powers that the CEO would have in selecting future committee members. Of course, the CFP Board had a very different perspective on the issue, and the former DEC members in return have written a White Paper to provide their perspective on why they resigned.

I haven't yet taken a position on the recent DEC controversy, and again the concerns here were not in response to people that the CEO did appoint as members, but merely the fact that he would be vested with the power to do so. So I don't know if Kevin Keller is doing a good job or not. In fact, I haven't yet had the chance to meet the man, or have a conversation with him. I really don't know who he is at all. But after realizing all of the responsibility, power, and opportunity for change that rests on his shoulders, I'd certainly like to get to know him a little better now. Wouldn't you?

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