AARP has finally figured out they need to make a turnaround if they are to become relevant to a larger segment of the population. Their previous President, Bill Novelli was way too close to the Bushit Administration, and was seen by some to rubber stamp policies which hurt the membership. The selection of Barry Rand is definately a departure.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Since taking over in April as CEO of AARP, the nation’s top advocacy group for people over 50, A. Barry Rand has been asked the same question by reporters, as well as others.
They want to know if a quintessential “grey suit” who has been long-known as a corporate America change agent and the prolific leader of a Fortune 500 company can successfully transition into somebody who can lead an advocacy group with nearly 40 million members. It even became a discussion point with AARP’s executive board when they met with Rand during their search process.
”Quite frankly, I didn’t understand the question when it was first asked,” Rand marveled during an interview in his office at the AARP national headquarters in northwest Washington, D.C. ”I never thought what professional path you took would determine in your heart what you felt society should be. I am a child of the Sixties. And in the Sixties you had to be about social change.”
Unlike his predecessor, Bill Novelli, who served in non-profit leadership positions, such as president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and as senior executive at the relief organization CARE before becoming AARP’s CEO in 2001, Rand hasn’t worked in the non-profit sector.
Rather, before making history as the first Black CEO of AARP, the nation’s largest membership organization, and before becoming one of the first African-Americans to lead any Fortune 500 company – Avis – this son of the Civil Rights era worked for Xerox for 30 years. There he rose through the corporate ranks and spearheaded Xerox’s corporate diversity initiatives.
In fact, Rand’s professional career began at 24 as Xerox’s only Black sales representative in Washington, D.C., and nationally one of its top salesmen. After rising through the echelons to vice president for worldwide operations, Rand helped Xerox to level the playing field for minorities and women and won numerous awards as he helped it become one of the most diverse companies in the nation. But – to the advantage of AARP – his roots always remained intact.
”When I initially grew up in Washington, D.C., it was a segregated city. So up until the fifth grade my color determined where I lived and where I went to school,” he says about the upbringing that shaped the principles that guide his life and ultimately led him to this new position. ”We were all about community building. My grandfather was a Methodist minister. My parents were all about two things – achievement and social change. That is what you were supposed to do. And the theory was that you had a better opportunity to drive social change if you were also achieving, because people would listen to you. So I was always involved in issues of that time.”
Those issues included civil rights, rights for the aging, women’s rights, and rights for the poor. They are issues that were intrinsic to the diversity programs Rand set up at Xerox and are issues for which he now advocates at AARP.
”It doesn’t matter what you called it; we were opening doors to the American dream,” reflects Rand, who also serves as volunteer chairman of the Howard University Board of Trustees. “What you were doing professionally was only half of your brain. The other half of your brain is to what do I do to change America, and your heart was 100 percent what do I do to change America.”
Worked with Barry and know him from Xerox when he started the Black Employees Association. As a fellow Manager I saw many of the same issues, and fought the same battles within my group. Barry was pivotal in turning Xerox into a multicultural, diverse organization which became the model for many modern American corporations. He led the way in turning that beast around…
I sincerely hope he can do the same for AARP.
While spurring social change on the outside Rand and his executive team must also address the lack of diversity that exists within its member ranks. AARP’s membership is 88.5 percent White while its Black membership is less than 5 percent, according to Edna Kane-Williams, AARP’s vice president of African-American member outreach.