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Brad Whitworth, ABC - new IABC chairman.

Brad Whitworth, ABC--New IABC Chairman

Brad Whitworth's first job as a photographer for his high school yearbook gave him an early opportunity to learn the skills of a communicator--and as he says, "also showed me the value of adding on, not dropping off."

As he was trudging along the sidelines shooting football in the cold and windy Missouri winter weather, he decided that those people up in the warm broadcast booths commenting on the game were far better off. "So I decided to join them--and be comfortable!"--which he did, as a spotter for a radio station. "Then someone put a mike in my hand and that was the beginning of a whole new career. I added new skills, but didn't drop older ones."

At the University of Missouri, he continued as a radio commentator both for the local AM station and the campus FM station. Whitworth says he learned audience differentiation, and the importance of responding to an unseen group. "My mentor was Chris Lincoln, a sports announcer who's done NCAA (college) football games for ABC and has his own sports show on ESPN cable network. Learning tricks of broadcast skills from someone like that enabled me to take what ability I had as a writer and add a public personna as well as behind-the-scenes management skills."

Whitworth made the leap from those early days to managing employee communication for one of the world's most highly regarded companies, Hewlett-Packard Company, Palo Alto, Calif., with his characteristic mixture of tenacity and nonchalance. Along the way he picked up a Master of Business Administration degree (MBA) and loads of IABC management experience.

Whitworth visited 27 IABC chapters last year and says this year he doesn't know what the final count is going to be. "There's a part of me that is trying to limit the amount of time I spend out of the office. I want to be accessible to my staff, to help solve problems at H-P, but I also want to be doing all the IABC stuff. So again, my old motto--'In addition to...' rather than 'instead of...'"

I asked Whitworth how he sells his management on his IABC commitments. "What I'm doing on a daily basis as IABC chairman includes managing a 25-person volunteer board, overseeing a 25-person paid staff, looking at a US $3 million budget, and being aware of the concerns of some 124 chapters around the world. That's a lot of management expertise that IABC is giving me, and that H-P is investing in by giving me time to do this. After they've made this investment, H-P will reap the benefits of my time management skills, ability, energy, and enthusiasm. So I ask them to give me more challenges."

And while he's on the road for IABC and H-P, he feels he's giving his H-P staff an opportunity to really stand out in doing the job they were hired to do. "It allows my staff to grow professionally." But he's never that far from the office. Whitworth sets off on every trip with a handful of overnightmail envelopes, lists of fax and phone numbers and a pile of correspondence. "It's amazing how much you can accomplish on a three-hour flight," he says.

Whitworth is moving his own professional development along using IABC--he is mastering spokesperson and media relations skills he doesn't get on his job at H-P. Consistent with his head down, full-tilt approach to life, Whitworth recently completed an MBA at Santa Clara (Calif.) University. "Working on this certainly opened my mind. At an IABC seminar, a speaker commented that communicators moan and groan and gripe about not being involved in boardroom decisions. 'Look at the people in the room,' he told us. 'The lawyers represent the legal aspects; accountants look at the financial implications; engineers look at the technical feasibility. Because of the constituencies you represent--customers, community, employees, shareholders--you should be in there. But the reason you don't belong in the boardroom is because you don't speak the language. Until you do, you're always going to be an outsider.'"

Communication Melds Art and Science

Whitworth says, "Now I won't claim that because I completed the MBA, I deserve to be in the H-P boardroom, but I think I have developed an affinity and an appreciation of some of the things they're going through. But now, at cocktail parties, people expect me to talk like an MBA. So I'll use a phrase like 'empirically discriminates more so than' which means 'this is more important than ...' That seems to make them happy.

"The ability to translate MBA-speak into human terms is a skill the communicator needs. This brings a certain discipline to what otherwise may be perceived to be only a creative function.

"Part of what we, as communicators, do can be measured. This is being asked of us, even demanded of us. And we're equipped to use both hemispheres of the brain--the creative and the logical. We must package our ideas well enough to sell them--to our management team, our clients--and in rational terms. But communicators' weaker rational skills have probably been our Achilles' heel for some time."

But Whitworth feels future boardrooms will place a higher value on communication skills. He was encouraged to learn from a Harvard Business School lecturer that the school now has a required course in communication for every student. The course is approached at various levels, both oral and written. "It's encouraging to see that the business school feels it's important that a manager be able to write a simple memo that every employee can understand and digest." Whitworth says, "A communication case study project also is included--'here's the problem, how do you solve it?'"

H-P has a reputation for great employee communication, and Whitworth says he is learning all the time--for example, how to measure something more effectively. "I was exposed to a great exercise at General Electric where they were able to value the goodwill of an organization. If you take a company's market value, its shares outstanding times its stock price--and subtract the book value--the assets carried on its balance sheet--what you end up with is the company's goodwill. It's the reason someone would pay a premium price for your stock--because the firm has a value above and beyond what's on paper.

"That goodwill value is largely attributable to things that communicators do--PR image, value of the logo, the reputation, perception, impression. At H-P, this exercise shows that communicators are in a large part responsible for goodwill valued at about US $5 billion. Protecting and enhancing that financial asset is our job, and it's an extremely important one."

Armed with boyish looks, the MBA, 10+ years' experience and limitless amounts of energy, Whitworth says his biggest challenge during his term of office is to develop a broader IABC membership. "I don't see this as growth for growth's sake. In the past four years, we've plateaued, yet we know there is an untapped market out there. How do we get out of the doldrums? That's the challenge. The concept of IABC's growth must be properly explained. If I go talk to chapter leaders and say IABC should grow by, say 20 percent next year, they'll say, 'Hey, wait. What gives? Is bigger necessarily better?' But when I turn the question around and ask chapter leaders how they measure their success, they always talk about the caliber of their programming (measured by how many people show up at meetings) member involvement (measured by the percentage of people on committees and in leadership roles), their financial health (measured in dollars) and the size of the chapter (measured in people).

"But it's more important than just numbers. It's the network; how much more valuable we are with more people representing more diverse backgrounds. Our resource base will expand. So the whole idea is growth to bring in the right kinds of people doing the right sorts of things, and getting others plugged into it."

IABC Taps into the Future

Whitworth says the time is right for IABC. The association is well positioned for the '90s in the global marketplace of the '90s. "Maybe I can see it more clearly because I'm in a multinational organization and I travel more than others might. It doesn't take too much poking around to find that there are very few businesses that won't be affected by global competition in the next decade. The electronics, automotive industries have seen it. Now even utilities are seeing it. Peter Drucker has a great line: 'in about five years there will be two types of CEOs--those who think globally and those who are unemployed.' Part of our job as communicators is to think and act as our CEOs should. We must be plugged into their thinking, but we must also influence their actions and words so they're in synch with the coming reality."

Whitworth notes that one value of an international organization is the chance to spot such trends no matter where they start. "When I spoke to our Paris chapter last year, members commented on an article we did in H-P's Measure magazine on an employee who had dealt with, and overcome, a drug- abuse problem. They said they could not possibly print anything that candid and personal today, but they knew that sometime in the future, they would."

Whitworth sees IABC serving as an anchor in a stormy sea of change in the working environment. "It will be the stable part of your life, since you may change employers regularly--from corporation to agency to non-profit to self-employed. IABC will be your constant--giving you the contacts, the exposure to various disciplines, the networks, the people, and it can be the professional development resource to give you the skills you need to make that smoother transfer from one to the other.

"As a communicator, and an IABC member, I see areas that are significant to our mutual growth. Communicators tend to be at the low end of the food chain. We're the first to be gobbled up. And until we can show how valuable we are qualitatively and demonstratively, I think we may be doomed to having to put up with not being in charge of things. We need to sell, to learn to use the other half of our brain.

"Joining IABC was a revelation to me--and what has happened to me can happen to anybody. There I was, an IABC president sitting out in the Illinois cornfields, and because of IABC's Jobline and my active involvement in the organization, I've been able to accomplish what I have. IABC has given me a world of resources to tap, a better understanding of the profession and connections to the best in the business. I can honestly say IABC is the world's best association for the best in the world."

Working for a multinational company reinforces his global outlook. Whitworth has traveled to Europe several times and just recently completed a far-eastern tour for H-P and IABC. "Travel makes you realize how small the globe is--quickly!--and how similar the communication and management problems are."

The opportunity for travel and making contacts worldwide isn't the only reason Whitworth feels fortunate to be with H-P. "Our culture blends well with my personality. H-P's philosophy--and mine--is based on the Golden Rule: trust in the individual, and treat people as you would hope to be treated. We have a very egalitarian atmosphere here at H-P and I believe my upbringing, and optimistic outlook fit well with this open, unpretentious environment."

Gloria Gordon is editor of Communication World magazine.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:International Association of Business Communicators
Author:Gordon, Gloria
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:1927
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