It’s been more than 17 months since Roger C. Mosby was named president and CEO of the Boy Scouts of America. Since then, the organization has faced two monumental tests: the ongoing bankruptcy procedures and the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the reasons Mosby was hired in the first place was for his ability to deal with the former. As far as the latter goes, well, nobody could have seen that one coming.
“The organization has been through a lot,” Mosby says. “But there are always positives that come out of events in life, even if at the time when you’re in the middle of them they don’t seem that positive.”
That kind of attitude is what’s gotten Mosby where he is today: from Cubmaster to Scoutmaster to committee chair; from running the human resources department at Kinder Morgan to running his own consulting firm; from president and CEO of the Boy Scouts of America to, now, Chief Scout Executive.
Mosby recently sat down with us to talk about what’s happened over the last year-and-a-half, why he feels good about the position we’re currently in, and how Scouting can remain as relevant as ever as we head into the future. Our conversation has been edited for content and clarity.
You are now Chief Scout Executive. Congratulations!
It’s an honor that the Board chose to both commission me and name me Chief Scout Executive.
When I first came here, I was named president and chief executive officer. That’s really the legal title for the corporation. The Chief Scout Executive is the chief professional of the movement. It doesn’t change the job in any way. It’s still pretty much being the head of the corporation. The day-to-day duties will not change.
When we last spoke, you said you knew that this was going to be a challenging time for the organization. How are we doing?
I don’t think anyone anticipated COVID. It has made everyone’s life a lot more difficult. But I think it’s also shown that businesses – whatever business it is – can operate in a different manner. During COVID, we were all forced to do things different. Especially our councils. Seventy percent of the council summer camps didn’t happen last year. On the other hand, it looks like this year most of the summer camps are open. So, we’re seeing much more of a “normal” Scouting summer this year than we did last year.
What did you hear from the field when councils and units were having to deal with COVID restrictions?
There were a lot of positive attitudes. People were doing the best they could do. For many months, we had no Scout Shops open. Most of the councils weren’t open. They basically hung a sign on their door that said, “call this number.” Certainly, in the early months, it was very difficult to do anything because people just didn’t know what was going to happen with the pandemic. As we got into the fall, things loosened up a little bit, and you started seeing Scouts BSA groups meeting a little bit using social distancing and masks. But there was very little Cub Scout activity during that period of time. That’s what we were hearing. It was difficult to take a child that had spent maybe a lot of the day on Zoom for school and then turn around and have a Zoom den meeting. So that inhibited a lot of Cub Scouting activities. That for sure was a little bit of a curveball. Our employees in the councils did an incredible job of adapting, with all the roadblocks that COVID threw at us.
What did you hear from Scouting families and leaders during that time?
If you were in Scouting, you might have had 2-3 things going on. Adults had a job to try to keep up with. And that was stressful if you had two parents trying to do their jobs from home while also doing childcare and home schooling. I think last year and into this year shows you how resilient people can be. For the most part, the ability of people to handle adversity came out pretty good. I commend all the parents – certainly those trying to do this triple duty thing – work, childcare, and school … and then Scouting. It was certainly easier to do Scouting remotely than, say, a soccer team. To some extent, Scouting kind of lent itself to doing that. You could do things like merit badges. The merit badge program offered a lot of opportunities for kids to actually do some activities apart from school or at staying home. So, I think maybe the virtual activities in Cub Scouts and the merit badge activities in Scouts BSA probably helped parents in some ways.
As you said, it appears that things are slowly getting back to normal. As we emerge from the pandemic, what are your goals for the BSA?
Every year, we have to recruit somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 kids to kind of keep the program level set. There were some of our members who weren’t active during the pandemic. Will those kids come back? We hope they will. Our rechartering this spring was pretty good. More like “normal,” if you will. But the real test to see where we are in terms of normalcy in Scouting is to see how many new members we get this fall. Fall is traditionally the recruiting time. A lot of that was done around school starting and Cub Scouts really getting active again as school starts. That will be key for us. Membership is the key. I have no doubt that we’re going to emerge from bankruptcy. But in order to keep the program vital, we’ve got to get new members. There’s going to be a lot of emphasis this summer and this fall on membership.
What message do our volunteers need to put out as they recruit new families?
I think our message still revolves around the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. We offer really timeless values to families, and we’re finding that the values of Scouting are the values of families. I think Scouting has remained true to its core for the last 111 years. The program has changed, how it looks has changed, but when you get right down to it, the Scout Oath and Law have not changed. We offer a values program. And in addition to that, it’s certainly an outdoor program. Getting outdoors seems to be something that parents want for their kids. A lot of people get caught up in a lot of things the 21st century has provided us, and now we are seeing that having kids outdoors is healthy. It’s healthy physically. It’s healthy mentally. If you have a program structure to help you accomplish that, that’s where Scouting can really help.
Can you give us an update on how the bankruptcy process is looking?
It’s been a long process. I realized going into it that it was going to take some time. One of the reasons the Board asked me to take the job to start with is that I have a lot of experience with organizational change. So, I myself realized pretty much what the organization was going to have to go through with bankruptcy. I think it’s advancing at about the pace I thought. We’re on a pace right now to exit bankruptcy sometime around the end of the third quarter. And I think if we can get that done, we’ll still have enough time to have a good membership year. But I can’t control what the court does. The court moves on its own schedule.
What has your personal experience been like during this time? Like you say, the court moves on its own schedule.
This is one of the most complicated bankruptcies in U.S. history. And what makes it complicated is we have a national organization – a corporation – and then we have about 250 individual corporations out there – the councils. The councils are not part of the bankruptcy as being debtors. The national organization is the only debtor. But one of the goals from the very beginning was to bring the councils and the chartering organizations through what’s called a channeling injunction. So, with that channeling injunction, councils and chartering organizations get the advantage of putting all the abuse claims behind them. The whole process is designed so we can equitably compensate victims who were abused during their time in Scouting and preserve BSA’s ability to continue the mission of Scouting for years to come. So, I’ve really had two jobs coming into this thing. One job was to manage the organization. Just like any other CEO would do for a company. But the other job was to manage the bankruptcy to the extent that we can. We’re working very hard on managing everything we can, but, ultimately, the court drives the process, sets schedules, makes rulings, and eventually hands down a final confirmation.
When we do emerge from bankruptcy, it will be a big weight off the organization’s shoulders. Have you thought about life after bankruptcy?
I took this job for the specific purpose of managing through the bankruptcy and then getting the BSA on good footing going forward. I’m not sure how long that will take. I would say a year or so after we emerge from bankruptcy, we should be in pretty good shape to see what the future’s going to look like. I think we’ve got some really good things going on, especially with having girls in the program now. It’s a big attribute to the program. We didn’t really get a chance to see how that was going to work before we jumped into bankruptcy and then jumped into COVID.
The inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts has to be one of the highlights of your time here so far, right?
One of the most pleasant things that I did last year quite frankly was (National Chair) Dan Ownby and (National Commissioner) Scott Sorrells and I hand-signed all the inaugural Eagle Scout certificates for all the girls. That was very pleasant. I had a stack of certificates in my office about three feet high. I signed every one of them. It took me about three hours to actually hand sign every one. I probably did it over two or three days. That was a pleasure. And, of course, being a part of that celebration in February. That was great.
What does it mean to emerge from bankruptcy on “good footing”?
Most organizations, whether it be a volunteer non-profit or a for-profit organization, need a couple of different elements. In our case, we need people – good volunteers that are interested in delivering the program as it is intended, emphasizing the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. And quite frankly we need money. People and money are the key to any non-profit organization. You’ve got to have a good human capital base. And you’ve got to have a good dollar base, if you will, to deliver your program. We need good volunteers. Volunteers are the heart of the program. Without volunteers you just can’t get the job done. Beyond that, it’s about membership — serving as many kids as we can. We need kids in the program. We’ve got a good program. We’ve got a program that has good values, which is something that parents are looking for. I’d say to people, “give Scouting a try.” My goal is that I want to have a program that every child in the United States, if they want to be a part of, can be a part of. We don’t want any barriers for children coming into the program. We want every child to have an opportunity to join Scouting.
What is the BSA’s message to families about safety and youth protection?
Parents have to know that when they put their children in any program, whether it be Scouting or soccer or football or whatever it is, that that program is going to be as safe as it can be. I think parents have a right to know what safety measures we’re taking. If parents can expect anything out of our program today, it’s that their kids are safe. And I think everything we do today is working towards that.