PIAA: What just happened?

This is the third time I have written this month’s column – every time I have submitted my piece to the editor some new development in the PIAA story has hit and I have had to start over. Can we all take a break?

By now you know the basics – under the guise of its three year strategy PIAA sacked a lot of staff, sold off the Auburn building, moved to leased premises in Chatswood, and got into a fight with James Cryer. The new CEO resigned after six months, a bunch of members started organising a petition for a Special General Meeting to force the board to answer questions (and maybe resign), and under the pressure of the fight and a lot of personal abuse David Leach resigned as the PIAA president.

Let’s start with the strategy. I could not recall having seen it but CEO Jason Allen insisted in proprint.com.au that we all got it last year. After some trawling I tracked it down – I will post it to my blog (https://badenkirgan.wordpress.com/) but it is a very short piece of management-ese, which gives no hint of why PIAA took any of the actions it did. It sure does not tell us what they are planning next. As a defence it is not worth the pixels it is not printed on.

Allen says that anyone who wanted to know more was invited to speak to their local PIAA reps. How about just posting the plan on the site? Today and in full. Especially now when there is literally a petition for more information?

I have no problem in telling you that I was one of the people who signed the petition calling for an SGM, and for what it was worth I even contributed some thoughts to the organising group. I did not agree with everything that was said or proposed within the group, but I certainly agreed with the need for some kind of explanation from the Board.

I have had a fairly nonplussed view of the PIAA for a while. I often disagreed with Bill Healy but I had to admit he was competent, energetic and some of his programmes were very good. Ever since he stepped away though I have watched on with incredulity at the missteps, and with Allen’s resignation the show tipped over into disaster.

I wanted (and still want) some questions answered.

Why the need to sell Auburn? What is this ‘critical turning point/finance issue’ being used as motivation for the sackings? What is the plan with the money from the sale? Allen quotes the need for a new CRM system – the most expensive version of SalesForce is about US$400 a month, so where is the rest going?

If the sackings are not just about headcount and are in fact a legitimate re-organisation, what kind of body is the board moving us to, with what services? How does sacking so many people with long experience help us? We need specifics.

Those questions do not go away with the resignation of David Leach, but now we are down a president and a CEO the board deserves the chance to draw together and get the show back on the road. Everyone on that board (Leach included) is an impressive individual with solid credentials to lead the industry. I hope they will take the opportunity afforded by the departures of Leach and Allen to re-assess their strategy, tell us what it is clearly and show us where they are taking the organisation.

Another thing they could do is let us know the bad news Allen and Leach have alluding to in defence of the changes. We are all in print and we all run print businesses – we understand what it is like to trade in difficult circumstances. Given the number of printing companies that have gone broke in the last few years would it be any surprise if PIAA’s membership-based revenues were in serious decline? If that is the case, tell us clearly – we will understand and be supportive of a smaller organisation borne of necessity.

What I do not think members want is radical change without explanation. The board cannot ask us to trust them if they will not trust us with the information we need to assess their actions. That is not fair.

But let’s look ahead and be positive. PIAA may be looking slightly broken but it is not dead. It is up to the Board to fix the mess but they are all capable people who I am sure are up to the challenge. And once they have filled us in on the plan I am sure we will all get behind them.

Here’s hoping.

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