Interview with Jay Czar - AIBF Board President
Navigator News: What does the board president do?
Jay Czar: As president I work with executive director to help coordinate policies and financial issues. It is important that I make sure the officers are fully informed of all issues facing the organization. Communication skills are a necessary tool of my job. There is always something going on when you are in the president's job.
I and the other officers meet with executive director once per month before finance committee meeting, then again to attend the finance committee meeting, held each month on Wednesday before the monthly board meeting. The board meeting is always third Wednesday of the month.
I am in charge of running board meetings and making sure they run smoothly and the agenda is focused on. Normally at the monthly meetings both the executive director and the event director speak, along with any committees that have reports to make. The meetings are year-round, and the members are encouraged to attend as many as possible.
The board has a super set of officers and, as president, I have opportunity to work with past presidents. For example, I have worked closely with Mike Rice, my predecessor. The strength in continuity is a valuable tool for whoever has the president's responsibilities.
During the event, the president attends certain functions and has media activities with Tom Garrity, the media relations director. In addition, I am involved with behind-the-scenes meetings, like with city officials - the Mayor and the Parks and Recreation Department. Of course as a leader, I try to network with as many people as possible. This networking helps when working out issues, as with what happened in 2016 with Sandia Pueblo and getting access to talk to certain people.
Fiesta is a big business, the board personnel are policy makers. We work with a very competent staff. The key to our events success is having the right staff. AIBF is very lucky to have the people who continually have made it the world-class event it is. As with any group, frictions will sometimes occur but they often will lead to better logistics and processes.
Fiesta relies heavily on the staff and the Navigators. The Navigators never cease to amaze me. Their dedication, knowledge and how much they care are amazing. They inspire me, and I try to speak to as many as I can. The Navigators love their jobs. Many travel at their own expense to come to be part of this event.
There is no more special event then the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I am fortunate to be a part of it. There are a lot of people involved like contractors, sponsors, and other entities, but they all hold up their end.
NN: It strikes me that you play the role of a conductor.
JC: I have to trust it will all come together. The role is not just me. The full board engages in problem solving. We work to make things better. Everyone tries to make the next event better than the last and this is why we succeed.
I view myself as a facilitator. Every board member has capacity, has knowledge and is able to work on issues. There are many former presidents on the board - all type “A” personalities, action-oriented, and decision-makers. This makes it tough sometimes, but they are a strong set of players.
NN: How did you personally come to Fiesta?
JC: I have a love for Balloon Fiesta. I did not attend the first Fiesta at Coronado Mall but I did attend the second one at the Fairgrounds, and every year since, with the exception of a few years when I lived out of town. My wife and I would bring the kids, lawn chairs, blankets, coolers and make a day of it. It became a family tradition to be involved.
In 1993 I had my first official involvement when I became the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Albuquerque under Mayor Martin Chavez. The first month we met with the officers and the executive director regarding acquisition of land for a permanent site for Fiesta. They came with very specific information, including research data on how balloons typically flew, landing issues, space, and security. I was made the liaison by the mayor. My first assignment was to acquire the land the board had identified, which is where we are today. The project was going to take money and many board members were involved. I got to work with Bruce Hale and we went to Santa Fe to testify and request funding for the acquisition of three parcels of land that had three owners. Some City money was used as well as funds from Bernalillo County. A short period of time passed and the land was acquired. Development began but it was slow.
Since 1993 the infra-structure has been built, grass fields have been added and roads added. I spent four years in that position which allowed for good relationship and trust-building. We were able to always deliver on our promises.
Then I was Aviation Director for four years before becoming the Chief Administrative Officer for the City. I helped continue to work with park development, including the addition of the Balloon Museum.
In 2004 I retired from the City. I could not have served on the board while working for the City because of possible conflict of interest. I was invited to join the Fiesta board and subsequently was nominated and elected as an officer. I am one of the few board members who are not a balloonist, but the board knew my commitment to Fiesta and the sport of ballooning.
The most important elements of Fiesta are that it is a world-class family event, it is a magical event, and it has an economic impact on the City. Anywhere you are in the world you know Albuquerque is associated with Balloon Fiesta, which is a positive thing. This week I am working with groups who want to bring a conference to Albuquerque during Fiesta. This happens a lot. Many conferences and events are planned around that time of Balloon Fiesta. Albuquerque Economic Development and the State Economic Development people try to bring in business to showcase the city during Fiesta, which is an incredible opportunity.
NN: One thing that strikes me is the variety of backgrounds that make up the members of the board of directors and how valuable each aspect is. They are not just balloonists, but people who can see the bigger picture; they can see the city and state impact, and the economic impact. Some Navigators have asked what qualities contribute to likelihood of being on the board.
JC: Primarily the board is made up of balloonists. Many are those who have been leaders in the sport and their own fields respectively. We have bankers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, a Supreme Court justice, retired FBI agent, and a retired police officer. There is a broad spectrum of people.
When there is an opening on the board the members look for people who can bring knowledge, expertise, and those committed to the sport and organization as volunteer in whatever capacity. There are 24 members on the board and rarely an opening. When an opening exists there is usually 5-10 people wanting the one spot which makes it very difficult.
There is an opportunity for non-board members on committees, and there are Navigators who are not board members on some committees. It will be important to fill the position with someone who has knowledge and can help bring to the table things that can make the event stronger.
I was asked if that would be a good thing for someone interested in running for the board one day. Should they volunteer for heritage committee, strategic planning, or the committees that allow non-board members? It is not necessary for them to serve on a committee.
Many people got on board through leadership and the capacity involved as a Navigator.
It is important that we get to meet the Navigators. I enjoy their coming up and asking what is going on with the board and expressing interest in the board. Looking at big picture, there are thousands of Navigators but only twenty-four board members. There are lots of opportunities for leadership in many areas like Zebras, concessions, etc. The board is looking for commitment and proven leadership as a Navigator.
NN: Great point. Many believe board is only power position?
JC: I am in awe of the Zebras for example. There are none on the board. Yet they are highly structured, and independent.
All committees are equally important. The event could not be pulled off, without everyone pulling their weight.
NN: Right, like saying only business aspect is important. But really, so is operations and planning because the event can’t happen without all of them.
JC: There is a need for strong financial structure. Security is another strong area and there are many Navigators who help in this area along with traffic, parking, and RVs. Fiesta would not be what it is without the RV’ers. Another important area is the greeters.
All Navigators add something, a special part, to the Fiesta’s success no matter where they volunteer.
NN: Where do you see Balloon Fiesta going and what are challenges to overcome in the next 5 to 10 years?
JC: One of the biggest challenges will be landing spaces. Areas around the park, especially south, have flourished. Schools and business help with landing sites. There are about 550 balloons, which is a great number, but safety is our most important responsibility. Fiesta is not about numbers but safety first, and then next a world class show. There is a duty to the sport of ballooning. Young people need to be recruited and encouraged to join the sport. There are so many sports and activities young people can be involved in, but we want a young new generation of Balloon Fiesta pilots to maintain the growth of the sport.
NN: I agree this is a challenge. Ballooning is different than buying a snow board, it is a big commitment.
JC: Ballooning is incredibly exciting and it is magic every time I go up, which has not been often enough. Young people and families need to be exposed to this terrific sport.
NN: Do you see Fiesta continuing to grow or see it settling in at this size and shape? The 50th is coming up.
JC: It is always about making the event better, not necessarily bigger. In 2000 we had 1000 balloons. Is it better today than in 2000? Absolutely. It is not just about numbers but the type of show and the experience. Some work to make it better has included grass to make is cleaner, quieter, and more picturesque, and changes in concessions to offer healthier foods. There are surveys done to find out what people like and what they do not like. There tends to be smarter changes, rarely huge changes. There are incremental changes to make the event better. As a result the event continues to get better year after year.
The strategic planning committee is already working on the 50th Fiesta even though it is a few years away. We are looking at the 46th of course but people are excited about the 50th and want to get involved. The manager of Coronado Mall wants to be involved seeing they were site of first. Some ways to excite people are with laser lights and offering great experiences like Music Fiesta. We want to keep the excitement up, and the enthusiasm with things like more special shapes.
Most importantly we must take care of the balloonists so they will cherish the event and keep coming back. They are the core, it is for the balloonist, ballooning, and the magic that comes with it.