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Defining a Future at AARP

“It’s a challenge when you have so many millions of members to keep them pleased,” said Ralph Neas, chief executive officer of the National Coalition on Health Care. “Bill is especially attuned to what members are thinking and adept at protecting the constituency of the AARP.”

In 2005, AARP returned to the scene again, this time with a $30 million campaign that succeeded in forcing Bush to shelve his plan to privatize Social Security.

Novelli participated in last month’s financial summit and last week’s health care meeting. In February, the group launched its Government Watch Web site to keep its membership engaged on legislative issues.

“Social Security and Medicare are the issues of the day that will be critical to the future of America,” he said. “We have to be big picture players and we have to involve the public, both of which AARP can do.”

A House GOP health care staffer said Congress “realizes any Medicare legislation they propose that doesn’t have AARP support will be difficult to pass.”

A ‘Secret Sauce’

The firm leading the search for Novelli’s replacement, Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., reportedly screened more than 100 candidates before presenting 20 possibilities to the internal search committee.

The search committee has introduced the four finalists to the entire board, according to current board members who asked not to be named.

Five of AARP’s past six staff executives have risen from internal positions to the top slot, and sources close to the organization say Chief Operating Officer Tom Nelson and Executive Vice President of Social Impact Nancy LeaMond are potential candidates to replace Novelli.

Nelson is seen as the insider’s insider who has been with the organization for 29 years and played a key role in building the state offices and consumer, community service and educational programs.

LeaMond came to AARP in 2001 after stints on Capitol Hill and at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce during the Clinton administration.

She directs the Divided We Fail campaign for the organization and has worked to build AARP’s global reach, a stated priority of Novelli’s when he became CEO.

The AARP Global Network, a partnership with like-minded member associations in five countries around the world, was launched in 2006 in an effort to take its member services and benefits global, and the organization has expanded both its partnership with the United Nations and outreach to other countries.

The economic crisis and an ambitious legislative agenda, however, may spur the board to reach beyond the organization for a new leader, perhaps again in the realm of Novelli who came to AARP after establishing himself in the private and public sectors.

“In looking for a new CEO, we’re looking for someone who will look at the best things we’re doing and bring new ideas,” said Leobardo Estrada, a board member who is not on the internal search panel. “The AARP is willing to be adventuresome, and in a new CEO, we’re looking for someone who will open new adventures for us as well.”

Novelli says one of the great challenges for his successor will be reaching the next wave of 50-somethings to ensure AARP stays relevant and continues to grow, but he is confident the tools are in place.

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