Top Takeaways from the 2024 NBOA Annual Meeting

This year’s keynote speakers delivered lessons we won’t soon forget.

Mar 5, 2024  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

What is chemistry? I don’t mean the high school course that covers the periodic table, but rather the feeling when people meet serendipitously, and it’s palpable those particular individuals were meant to come together as a group. That’s what I experienced during the 2024 NBOA Annual Meeting in Atlanta last week. The chemistry stemmed from a strong desire to be with colleagues with a shared purpose, and was elevated by keynotes, deep dives, concurrent sessions and goldmines, meals and receptions. That energy is not something I will soon forget. I know those of you in attendance felt it too, because you stopped to tell me in the hotel hallways and have been emailing me ever since. 

If you weren’t able to join us, it’s not too late to capture a portion of the meeting through the Annual Meeting On-Demand where you can hear the keynotes, concurrent and deep dives sessions. The audio is synched to the slide decks so you can better capture the expertise and share it with your colleagues at your school. And of course, consider joining us for the 2025 NBOA Annual Meeting in New York City, Feb 23-26, and be part of next year’s buzz.

The week offered so many great takeaways, and I wanted to share a few of those nuggets of wisdom that are still resonating with me today. How does my list compare with yours?

“Bring back the F word – friction.” Innovation strategist and opening keynote speaker Shawn Kanungo pointed out that many businesses today have perfected the art of seamless transactions, especially online – ease of purchase, ease of feedback, ease of signing on to a virtual meeting. The problem is, people value friction as well as ease – running into others spontaneously, working through differing points of view, coming up with a new way to solve a problem. Luckily, independent schools are in “the business of soul,” in Kanungo’s words, and school leaders have a real role to play in creating spaces for good friction. It could be among students and teachers in the classroom, among the business office team or the school’s leadership team. Kanungo’s point is that these human relationships at the center of our schools will become only more valuable as other aspects of our lives become easier.

When school business leaders are congratulated for a job well done, too often they say, 'It’s just my job.' Humility can be a blessing, but it’s also critical to celebrate your hard won accomplishments in order to stay refreshed and excited about work ahead. 

“Have gratitude for your work.” This one comes from NBOA Awards Luncheon keynote speaker Bertice Berry, a sociologist, comedienne, author, consultant and truly inspiring speaker. I would be remiss not to note how she made full use of her stand-up background, with delightful and playful observations of our incredible award recipients. In any case, she noted that when school business leaders are congratulated for a job well done, too often they say, “It’s just my job.” Humility can be a blessing, but it’s also critical to celebrate your hard won accomplishments in order to stay refreshed and excited about work ahead. Berry told a story about helping a young girl gather herself before a long airplane flight, about the connection they quickly developed, and how it reminded her that she has the ability to change someone’s life every day. I would urge all school business leaders to remember you too are changing lives; it’s work you should be proud of.

“Be more than a big box store.” These words are Brett Jacobsen’s, the NBOA Breakfast keynote speaker, current CEO of Mount Vernon School and Mount Vernon Ventures, and soon to be president of the Southern Association of Independent Schools. As someone who has worked in independent schools for decades, Jacobsen was the closest to our professional lives and could directly relate how key trends in the broader business world apply to the world of school business. Some thought his school’s decision to launch Mount Vernon Online just as the pandemic was concluding to be unsound; at the time it was clear that in-person education was more valued than ever. But the move was strategic: to provide more than the “big box” experience. Yes, most families want robust classes and extracurriculars, i.e., “the big box,” but students may also want to take additional courses to graduate faster. They may want to take a gap semester in another part of the world while still earning academic credits. It’s critical for schools to develop a “blue ocean” strategy, Jacobsen said, that creates uncontested space in which to compete, that captures new demand, and perhaps most importantly for our business leaders, busts familiar cost/value tradeoffs.

As much as I appreciated the incredible keynotes, I valued most my time interacting directly with members of the NBOA community. For all of your kind words, I want to say thank you and emphasize that delivering this type of meeting is truly a team effort. My thank you is on behalf of the entire NBOA staff, who are bound by a commitment to quality, member service and our amazing members! It was truly inspiring to be among you last week, and February 2025 can’t come fast enough. In the meantime, remember that NBOA is here to serve you well beyond a week – indeed throughout the entire calendar year — and it’s a sincere pleasure to do so.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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