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OP GM Thompson tackles ‘different’ board of directors

(Jan. 22, 2015) Although his name was nowhere to be found on the ballot during the 2014 election in Ocean Pines, General Manager Bob Thompson became the focus of the campaign, with issues ranging from his contract extension to the interpretation of his role as GM often leading the narrative.
Thompson is now facing unfamiliar territory operating under the direction of the new board, led by newly elected President Dave Stevens.
In an exclusive interview with the Bayside Gazette, Thompson addressed the political landscape in the Pines for the first time since the election shook up community leadership.
Thompson began serving as general manager of the Ocean Pines Association in August 2010, following a brief stint on the board of directors.
“I’ve been in the community 24-25 years now,” he said. “I served on several committees and raised my kids here. Of anybody, I can say I’ve pretty much filled every roll here.”
Under the new board, Thompson said his role within the organization has not changed, although his activities certainly have.
“How I conduct my daily business and how I go about accomplishing my duties has changed,” he said. “I try to work within the guidelines of whatever board I’m working with, whatever their guidelines are, and still perform my duties to the fullest.
“I know it rubs people wrong, but the general manager really works for the membership,” Thompson continued. “Every staff member works for the membership. My role as general manager, though, I work through the board, because the board does the hiring and firing of the general manager. I have to find a way to do my job as outlined in the bylaws. I have to do my job in supporting the declarations and restrictions as written, making sure the staff is following up with that, and do so within the confines or constraints or lack of constraints depending on the board and what the board’s current posturing might be.”
Thompson said his relationship with the current board is “very different” than it was under its previous president, Tom Terry.
“Under the previous boards, my ability to be more flexible and my approach to daily activities and my ability to think a little more outside the box was not only there, but it was encouraged,” he said. “Being out in front, addressing issues head on was something highly encouraged by the last three boards I’ve had under the leadership of Tom Terry.
“This particular board prefers my role to be more in the background and not in the forefront,” Thompson continued. “Less out front, less opportunistic with my approach, therefore I’ve dialed back a little bit. It’s challenging because I’m a more driven person. However my biggest concern isn’t my ability to adapt to the board, because that’s something I definitely need to do.”
Thompson is confident he has demonstrated his ability to adapt within his role as general manager.
“However, still trying to meet the expectations of the senior leadership of the board still seems to be a big challenge,” he said. “I’m not sure why. I’ve never had that anywhere else I’ve ever been. I’m having some challenges in that area.”
The perception, from the outside, is that the board and Thompson have a contentious relationship.
“Absolutely,” Thompson said. “I’m not sure where that comes from. The fact that I have continued to adapt my activities and my approach – and it’s still not being received well by the senior leadership of the board – I’m not sure. I’m certainly doing my very best to adapt to the changing conditions.”
Thompson signed a new three-year contract in early 2014 with a base salary of $165,000, a $15,000 raise over his previous contract.
Almost immediately, the extension became an election issue.
“It’s always uncomfortable for me,” Thompson said. “I don’t focus on the amount I make. It’s not something I’ve ever focused on. If you do the right thing every day and you do it to the best of your ability, things like your contract, how much you’re paid, they all follow. It’s staying focused in the right direction that makes the difference.
“For me, when it becomes a big argument about the dollars, it becomes a bit uncomfortable because that really isn’t a focus for me,” Thompson continued. “Doing the right thing and doing my very best in whatever task I’m in is what the most important part of it is. And if I do that I know I’ll be fairly compensated.”
Thompson said he thought it was a fair contract and believes the public perception of his job performance was generally positive.
“I believe from the feedback I get that it is,” he said. “However, from the senior leadership of the board I tend to get, based on their reactions to my activities, it seems to differ a little bit. Really, it’s hard to read right now.”
Asked if he felt his position was threatened by the current board, Thompson pointed toward the historical lack of longevity that comes with the role of general manager.
“The average turnover in the role here, and at any [home owner’s association] in this type of position, is two-and-a-half to three years,” he said. “Some previous GMs have certainly been here longer than that. Tim Stoner was here 12-plus years, so we can show longevity. But, I think as the makeup of the board changes, it puts every general manager at risk because the current board may say, ‘This isn’t the direction that we want to move in.’
“This person may or may not be the right person, and that’s why the contract was written the way it was,” Thompson continued. “The board has an out. If I’m not the right person driving the bus, they have an opportunity to do it. Just do it the right way.”
Under Ocean Pines community bylaws, the board elects a handful of new directors each year, while others continue to serve on three-year terms.
According to Thompson, the situation tends to invite uncertainty.
“When you have an election every year it creates the opportunity for the direction to shift or change every year,” Thompson said. “When you’re trying to look at long-term stability or long-term positioning on any one item that constant turnover creates some challenges. So you would hope that you have some consistency, either amongst the direction of board or your senior staff, from the general manager to the department heads.
“Without consistency in one area or the other, it does create challenges,” Thompson continued. “Over the years, Ocean Pines has been fortunate. Because we have such great membership, we have a lot of wonderful people here who do a lot of great things. We’ve been able to overcome those challenges in many other ways.”
Thompson pointed to the Worcester County Veterans Memorial at Ocean Pines and the recent flag-raising at the yacht club honoring World War II veterans, as well as weekly activities provided by parks and recreation and aquatics, as positive actions that occurred because of community involvement.
“All those things are really more about what Ocean Pines is about,” Thompson said. “That’s where the focus should remain. Lately we’ve had more focus on the differences amongst the senior leadership and less focus on the real positive things our community stands for.
“That’s where the real disconnect for me is,” Thompson continued. “We do so much more in our community – the membership of the community represents so much more good than this minor, small bickering, and it’s a shame that we tend to focus on the negatives more so than all the positives.”
Thompson said he looks at Ocean Pines as a “marketable entity.”
“It’s supposed to be run business-like,” he said. “If you sit down and look at it from a business-like [perspective], does all of the negativity that gets put forward help the bottom-line value of the organization? I’d argue that any Fortune 500 company would say, ‘no.’ Bickering hurts the stock value, and in our case, the property value.
“A lot of people that move to the community, when they first get here, talk about how wonderful it is, all the amenities, all the great things we have to offer, how economical it is,” Thompson continued. “But after a number of years of being here and then you get consistently bombarded with negative, we start to lose sight of all the reasons we moved here, all the positive that’s created here, all the great things that membership does, because that gets lost in all the ugliness of what’s not right, what’s perceived as not right.”
Being optimistic, Thompson said, is part of the job description.
“I would hope that any general manager [or] CEO of a company always feels great about the company,” Thompson said. “If that person in that senior role doesn’t feel good about the company what does that say about the company?
“I don’t even think it’s an option not to feel good,” Thompson continued. “If you don’t feel good – if you’re a senior player in any organization and you don’t feel good about that organization something’s wrong. I get criticized for being excited or optimistic. You really want someone pessimistic about the organization they’re serving? It doesn’t add up for me.”
Looking back at the 2014 election that saw Stevens and Pat Renaud oust incumbents Terri Mohr and Jeff Knepper, Thompson said participation and visibility is always higher in seemingly contentious environments.
“If they’re upset about something they’re going to be involved,” he said.
Thompson said his obligation was ultimately to the membership and his staff.
“I’ll always stay focused with that,” he said. “I’ll certainly tailor my activities to meet the board requirements or whatever the board believes is the right direction, but I’ve got to be true to myself.
“I understand that my primary focus needs to be the membership, and I never lose sight of that,” Thompson continued. “Everything I do every day is focused on how do we make this a better place, regardless of other pressures. I focus on that because our membership deserves that. If the person sitting in this chair isn’t always focused on that then they’re focused on the wrong thing.”