March 15, 2010
Dear Members and Friends of the United States Naval Institute:
We the undersigned Directors of the Naval Institute write to ask that you vote against the revised Mission Statement for the Institute cited below:
“The U.S. Naval Institute is an independent forum advocating the necessity of global seapower for national security and economic prosperity.”
We emphatically disagree with their imperfectly crafted solution. The reasons are quite simple. The majority has not made the case that changing the mission statement and including the word “advocating” will somehow magically increase our relevance, grow our membership, and make us more economically viable.
In fact, we gain absolutely nothing from a word change to “Advocacy,” that justifies diminishing our image and heritage as the “independent forum” of America’s sea services. This is USNI’s brand. It is USNI’s uniqueness. This is USNI’s “DNA.”
Further, with this proposed change the Board has created its own version of the “perfect storm.” USNI members are expressing outrage not only at the proposed mission, but also at the Board’s cavalier approach to engaging the membership on the change.
In an effort to gather more information on the impact of the proposed change, Director Dr. J.P. London conducted an extensive survey, contacting former CNO’s, former SECNAV’s, 16 retired four star naval officers and other distinguished naval officers seeking their views. NONE supported the explicit “Advocacy” role for USNI, saying “lobby-look-alike” was not needed. All, however, strongly supported USNI taking on a more assertive “LEADERSHIP” role in framing the coming policy and budgetary debates – post Iraq/Afghanistan—about American seapower, maritime policy and sea service matters.
We do agree with the majority that the Institute faces two large challenges in this first decade of the 21st century – how to increase the relevance and the financial stability of the Institute. Again, unlike the majority, we believe the Institute is answering these challenges. In both 2009 and 2010 USNI delivered impressive financial and operational performances (see the 2010 Annual State of the Institute Letter to Members).
We see unmistakable signs of vigorous, exciting opportunities on the horizon. Strong, relevant and timely content in our conferences is delivering growth from exhibit sales and attendance; a fully developed eBook program is adding sales to readers using Kindle, iPads and every other conceivable electronic reader. The USNI Blog, launched less than two years ago is the world’s leading forum of its kind in the naval blogosphere. The prospects for continued growth in the midyears is very strong.
We believe continuing on course with exceptional leadership both in the USNI staff and on the Board itself is the right near term strategy to increase relevance, grow the membership, and gain a stronger financial position.
We also believe it is high time to conduct a major strategic review process to determine where we want to be in 5 and 10 years and then developing well defined strategy for how to get there, not by just changing the wording to the mission statement. We will answer the questions, “where do we put our focus and investment in new growth initiatives – in other words figuring out “where do we play” and “how do we win.” That only comes through a cogent strategy and focused execution – and, by keeping the membership engaged in the process.
Finally, while the Chairman suggests the USNI will still remain an independent forum, perception is reality and branding matters. Adding the word “Advocacy” will clearly have an adverse effect on the USNI’s brand and reputation as an independent forum. In too many ways, they are polar opposite terms.
How can USNI be an “Advocate,” yet concurrently promote an “Independent/Intellectual Forum?” It can’t. An “Independent Forum” is where differing views that challenge the conventional wisdom are shared and debated. It’s where dialogue brings new ideas and adds value. Advocacy, by definition, is the need to suppress or ignore dissenting views. The “Independent Forum” lives to seek these competing views.
The Majority’s revised Mission Statement is ill-conceived, will not fix either the relevance nor the finance issue and places the entire 137 years effort by generations of members of this unique professional association at risk, for no perceived gain.
The Board is on the cusp of making an irretrievable error and we respectfully ask that you join us and vote DISAPPROVING the new Mission Statement.
Dr. J. P. London
Mark W. Johnson