O’Connor Named CEDIA CEO, ‘Status Quo’ Wins the Day

cedia logoCEDIA announced this week that it was promoting Tabatha O’Connor to permanent CEDIA Global President and CEO. O’Connor, a sixteen-year CEDIA association employee, had recently been serving as the “acting” President and CEO in the wake of the sudden dismissal of former CEO Vin Bruno in 2017.

Unfortunately, what this means is the organization has decided to go back to day-to-day association management of operations, rather than drive growth through a strong, visionary CEO with industry experience and great force-of-will to stem the erosion of the organization’s influence.

See more about CEDIA’s choice for CEO…

O’Connor joined CEDIA in 2002 in an entry-level role with the organization’s staff. Over the years, she has held a variety of positions, including stints in membership, finance, human resources, operations, and volunteer development.

If you believe that CEDIA is making all the right moves, is growing stronger, is something you can rely on every day and is critical to helping your business thrive, then you may look upon this appointment of O’Connor as a good thing. With O’Connor at the helm, tomorrow will pretty much look just like today.

On the Other Hand

If on the other hand, you view CEDIA as an organization that is adrift, losing momentum, is irrelevant to your company’s daily activities, success, and growth, and is an organization that is headed in the wrong direction – then this appointment is disturbing. With a strong CEO, there is the hope that tomorrow will look better than today.

Tabatha O'Connor

Tabatha O’Connor

“Tabatha has proven herself to be an incredibly effective leader, working to make some of CEDIA’s most significant projects become a reality,” said David Humphries, CEDIA Chairman. “From the global alignment to the sale of the show to our new headquarters, Tabatha has been the one to carry the torch across the finish line.”

Humphries’ endorsement notwithstanding, insiders tell us that O’Connor’s role in each of those initiatives was operational, not strategic.

CEDIA Board Reverses Direction from 2015 Position

With this announcement, the organization has retreated dramatically from the decision made in May 2015, when former Executive Director and COO Don Gilpin was forced to step down. The Board of Directors had decided to take the leadership of the organization in a new direction. The announcement from CEDIA was clear – it was looking for a new strong, industry-savvy leader:

CEDIA is searching for an individual with global leadership experience who shows passion for the growth of the organization and the membership globally.

The CEO will report the Board of Directors and collaborate with the Board to forge the strategic vision for the organization. Other key responsibilities of the CEO will include strategic planning and governance, forging of partnerships, membership development, communications and advocacy, as well as staff leadership.

CEDIA retained Korn Ferry, one of the most elite executive recruitment firms in the world, often tapped by multi-billion dollar Fortune 100 companies to recruit their heavyweight, million-dollar CEOs. The result of this search, which sources in a position to know tell us cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars, was the hiring of Vin Bruno just ahead of the 2016 CEDIA Expo. Months later, Bruno would be gone, terminated with no explanation to the membership.

Swinging Back to Association Management

So now the organization swings back to being managed by an association person, apparently giving up on the idea of strong leadership by someone with industry experience. As a 16-year employee, O’Connor is practically a lifer in association management.

We reached out for reaction from several CEDIA members. The reactions were interesting – everything from “Who?”…to shrugged shoulders…to the expression of angst at yet another organizational about face.

A Good Person, ‘But…’

We asked our sources, many of whom know O’Connor personally, what they thought about her appointment as CEO.

Photo of new CEDIA HQ rendering

Artist’s rendering of new CEDIA headquarters in Fishers, IN

“Tabatha is a very capable person,” one source told us. Adding quickly, “But we need a CEO with experience in the industry. I’m concerned about her lack of industry experience – her background is association management. This change is a troubling.”

“She will be there only to please the board,” another told us a little more strongly. “Tabatha is a good person who is capable from an accounting standpoint. [But in a CEO] we need a leader. She is not CEO material.”

Will Simply Follow Directions

“This decision solidifies that nothing is going to change,” another source said. “She doesn’t have the leadership capabilities for the CEO position. She will simply follow the direction of the Executive Committee.”

Others we spoke with characterized O’Connor as possessing good administrative skills – someone who is willing to work hard to get the job done. But most felt that the CEO’s role did not play to her strengths.

One source told us he doubted the Board ever conducted any real executive search for a CEO this time around, suggesting it was simply easier and cheaper to make the acting CEO the permanent CEO.

Another Step Back from Transparency

Finally, as many Strata-gee readers know, we strongly seek transparency and openness in representative trade associations like CEDIA. But we have been frustrated in the past by this organization, which has not been particularly communicative – other than through prepared press releases from time-to-time. During Bruno’s tenure (and well before him Utz Baldwin), we experienced a refreshing openness in this regard. Bruno always took media calls and took the time to explain the rationale behind any decisions or moves made by the organization.

After Bruno was terminated, the organization returned to its old opaque ways under enigmatic former Chairman Dennis Erskine. We have already been notified by CEDIA that O’Connor will not be speaking regularly with the media. As COO, perhaps that stance was acceptable. But as CEO of the organization…it is not. Even in their own specs for the CEO position back in 2015, the CEDIA Board said “communications and advocacy” were important elements of the position.

Perhaps that’s changed as well…

About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.


O’Connor Named CEDIA CEO, ‘Status Quo’ Wins the Day — 6 Comments

  1. I believe the criticism of this appointment lacks understanding and insight into the current CEDIA direction. In my opinion, CEDIA is doing a great job under the current board and Tabatha’s direction There are multiple new outreach initiatives under way to steer the organization BACK to an education and training platform which our little industry desperately needs. I have seen and read some of Ms. O’Connors words and it appears to me that the appointment makes sense and should be given a chance. An old and wise acqauantance in the CI channel once told me that if I did not like the way an organization was working then I should help to change it. This IS our industry organization, so jump in or……..well…..you know.

    • Hi Dave

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I believe my story covers your position. I acknowledged that those who believe the association is on the right track would likely be happy with this appointment. That appears to be you.

      But there are those who see the other side as well. In the case of my sources, I can assure you they’ve been very involved with the organization at some point in their careers. And from your comments, it sounds like my sources had more direct insight with Tabatha. They were for the most part complimentary – even if they disagreed with the Boards decision on naming her CEO.

      And if your comment is targeted at me, well this is how I help – I identify relevant factors and put them into the public domain for discussion.

      In this overly divisive political climate, I believe discussions of opposing viewpoints are healthy and productive.

      Thanks for reading!


  2. Ted,

    I thought your article was fair and balanced. Tabatha had to work her way up in a male dominated crucible, she gets kudos. But now regardless of gender, she is under the rule of the EC. Compliance will be the rule of the day.

  3. Ted,
    I enjoy your prose and you already know that I think your coverage of events at CEDIA and Monster have been second to none. In this case, however, I don’t see going inside rather than outside as a status quo choice.
    Anytime someone comes into an organization in an entry-level position and 16 years later emerges as its CEO, it’s an impressive accomplishment.And while it may not indicate field experience as a vendor or integrator, it certainly is profound and unique channel experience.
    This seems to be an era fraught with change and peril and opportunity for CEDIA.Tabatha’s operational, implementation, and get-things-done skill set, coupled with a slightly more diverse new Board, augurs a positive direction for CEDIA.
    I was (am) a Vin Bruno fan. I bought into his mission and vision for the Group. Time will tell with Tabatha.But I think she will turn out to be a smart choice and successful CEO for CEDIA.

  4. Sometimes the most visionary and successful associations are board-driven whereby the executive director, not a CEO, per se, helps carry out that vision – and leads the team and makes things happen in the industry. If board members are well chosen and take their positions seriously, and if the board hires good strategic planners to help create and keep their vision fresh, it could be an interesting outcome.

  5. So what does it mean when one maintains the “status quo?” In the case of CEDIA, that can represent a great many different constituencies and feelings.

    Promoting Tabatha O’Connor to Global President and CEO does not in my opinion mean that CEDIA is just trying to maintain the same old. If you disagree, then the first question one must ask is; “What is CEDIA today?”

    Is CEDIA supposed to me the marketing arm of the small army of trade members? If so, one could argue for a focus on marketing and consumer branding. And the question that must be applied if this were the case is, “How can such a small association really impact the market place?” And if one can envision CEDIA as a marketing powerhouse, especially in this ever changing world of what is custom installation and what are the impacts of non-custom installable home technology solutions, then I would suggest lowering one’s expectations on the affect a CEDIA can have.

    However, if that goal is not really to market but rather to provide services such as education, then the goals become much more achievable and the role of the Association’s principle leader changes dramatically to one of operations and accountability. And clearly based on the Board’s direction, this is the current purpose of the Association. And here Tabatha is uniquely qualified.

    If one has any issues with this announcement, then take it to the Board, as that is where your criticism belongs. I am not suggesting that the direction of CEDIA as a trade association is perfect, but with respect to the paths chosen, Tabatha’s promotion most certainly is a perfect fit.

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