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Transitioning Our Navigator Presidents

Summary: This article contrasts the simple process by which Lorne Sanny was appointed in 1956, upon the death of Dawson Trotman, with the much more sophisticated process that Lorne later developed with his team and that we used to select Jerry White in 1986. The essence of this process was often used later as a template in selecting our principal leaders around the world


Early Navigator Leaders and Organization
Qualifications of a President
Lorne Sanny’s Organizational Design, 1980s
Sanny’s Resignation, 1985
Selection of Jerry White as President

Early Navigator Leaders and Organization

During the period on which these articles focus, namely 1953 to 2003, we had only three leaders1 who served as our presidents:

Dawson Trotman (March 1943 to June 1956)
Lorne Sanny (June 1956 to June 1986)
Jerry White (June 1986 to August 2004)

The first transition occurred in 1956 when Daws drowned. Though this was unexpected, Lorne had been his designated successor for several years.2 Therefore, Lorne was immediately elected by our board as our president. This was a formality, although the transition from a California to a Colorado corporation added a modicum of complexity.3

In 1973, the separation of International HQ (IHQ) from USHQ took place. This prompted the launch of our International Leadership Team (ILT) in April 1975 with a mandate as field leader to assist Lorne in his global leadership.4

In 1977, the board agreed to position itself as the US rather than as an international board.5 This was an important milestone in our evolution into a worldwide partnership.

When the ILT met in April 1978, Lorne handed them his confidential letter of resignation as president. This letter stated that “my wife and I are agreed that I should not and need not continue as chief executive officer of The Navigators for much longer—not more than three years.” Our response was expressed in the following ILT minutes:

14.2 We noted that what was envisaged was a change of organizational role for Lorne rather than retirement. This would enhance his freedom to build the foundations of many generations.

14.3 We accepted the arguments advanced by Lorne in support of this decision. We also agreed that the selection of his successor should be made, in the first place, by the ILT, and should be made by the end of 1978.

Lorne was under pressure at the time. Diverse currents of opinion swirled in The Navigators as we went through a period of declining productivity. However, when the ILT next met in December 1978, the minutes record:

9.1 Lorne presented papers tracing the evolution of his thought since our April 1978 conference. On July 18, he had abandoned his attempts to pick a successor.

9.2 Lorne confirmed that he had neither a successor nor a specific timetable in mind.

9.3 Joe Simmons advised against too long a delay—and spoke of the need for divisional “autonomy.” We agreed that we were committed both to interdependence and decentralization.

9.4 We endorsed Lorne as our international president. However the concept of an international board of directors was seen as premature.

What we have so far is the early evolution of the process for a transition. As my article on boards of directors reveals, the US board was still seen as required for financial and legal accountability rather than as a policy-shaping organ. Thus the selection of a president rested with our field leaders, namely the International Leadership Team (ILT).

Much was to change in the early 1980s, not least because of the formation of the International Executive Team (IET)6 at the end of 1980. The remainder of this article will explore the transition from Lorne to Jerry, in context.

Lorne worked with the IET to produce a draft proposal to present to our International Navigator Council (INC), which first met at the end of 1981. It covered the purpose and functions of the council, of which function 6 stated simply that the council would engage in a process of selecting the president and that the INC’s decision on this matter would be binding, subject only to ratification by the US board.7 Subsequently, Lorne briefed our staff:

The process involves both the Council and the US Board of Directors, since we think it important that the President be chosen by the staff as represented by the Council and approved by the legal directors of the US Corporation. This is the first time we have had such a process as a formal written understanding.8

Qualifications of a President

As it happened, Lorne had earlier during 1978 written out some criteria for a voluntary transition. Drawing from Psalm 78:72, his view was that his successor should guide The Navigators toward accomplishing our Aim and objectives by:

  • Providing necessary spiritual leadership
  • Providing necessary managerial guidance

And he had developed six requisites for a successful candidate. These are worth quoting:

  • That he be a spiritual leader, as evidenced by a) godliness of character, b) knowledge of the Word, and c) ability to influence people spiritually (Acts 6:3, Galatians 5:22, 23).
  • That he be a thorough-going Navigator, committed to our calling and holding firm values and convictions consonant with The Navigators.
  • That he have adequate emotional stability buttressed by a good parental and personal family background and evidenced by his ability to endure.
  • That he be flexible enough to listen, to learn, to negotiate and integrate reasonably divergent persons and points of view.
  • That he have capacity for growth as evidenced by his mental capacity and desire to learn, especially as it relates to global concerns.
  • That he have shown above average aptitude and experience in managing either a division or a large region.

Lorne Sanny’s Organizational Design, 1980s

The INC was a new entity. It was not a leadership team or a board of directors—or even two leadership teams. Instead, it was a council—an assembly in which our senior leaders could consult together. Its purpose was expressed as “to strengthen the unity of spirit and direction among our top leaders by providing a forum in which we could be exposed to and have a voice in the global ministry of The Navigators and an opportunity for us to better know, understand and help one another in forwarding the ministry that God had given us.”

Parenthetically, the timing was opportune because the year 1981 was when Lorne initiated a new basic concept of how The Navigators should be organized by dividing the work into the American and the international segments. Thus, under the one president, there were two lines of authority:


US director          IET          International ministries director

USLT          INC          International ministries LT

State directors          ILC          Country leaders

On paper, this looks unstable, and so it would have been without the insertion at each level of central connectional bodies:9 IET, INC, ILC.

This structure, despite its elegant apparent balances, did not last long. The principal reason is that it reinforced a concept which Lorne’s team felt would be regressive. Namely, accentuating a split at every level between the Americans and those not so blessed. This was not a good recipe for what came to be called our Global Society a few years later.

A second reason was that this structure used “international” in two contrasting senses: namely, global (as for the IET), and outside the US (as for the IMLT).

When the INC met again at the end of 1982, we find that the IET purpose was expressed as, “to assist the president in leading The Navigators in a caring manner and with coordinated direction.”

Back to the selection of a president. The December 1981 council worked on a process which went through three drafts. This should not be taken as an indication of disagreement, but rather of an entirely new group (the INC) learning how best to work together, especially in the vital matter of Lorne’s eventual successor.10

Concurrently, Lorne was discussing with the council the practicability of an international parent corporation registered in the USA or elsewhere, a complex concept which was not pursued.

Sanny’s Resignation, 1985

In December 1985, Lorne announced his final decision to step down as general director,11 activating the attached process for selection (see link below).

Attachment 1: International President Selection

Therefore, a letter was sent later that month to our 820 Representatives in accordance with section II.2 of the process. We received 177 responses12 to this staff survey, as shown in the table that follows (click on the link):

Table 1: Staff survey responses

Of the thirteen nationalities who recommended names, fifty-nine people put forward more than one name. Eighteen candidates received at least one recommendation.

Selection of Jerry White as President

Lorne, with the IET, had prepared a position description for his successor in which he summarized his role as: “To guide The Navigators toward accomplishing their Aim and objectives by providing necessary spiritual leadership and managerial guidance (Psalm 78:72).”

When the council13 gathered in February 1986, discussion of the content of the role and the requisites preceded any assessment of candidates, in order to avoid a premature focus on personalities. The names recommended by our staff around the world were not yet before them.

After two secret ballots, a consensus formed and the basic members of the council unanimously chose Jerry White, with an open term of office. A productive exercise, after Jerry had been selected, was interacting with the council over the expectations that he had of them and their expectations of him.

This selection was ratified by the US board. There followed a commissioning service in which Howie Hendricks gave the charge and Lila Trotman offered the prayer of commitment.

On June 14, a joyous evening in the Great Hall combined tributes of appreciation for Lorne and the installation of Jerry White. Those who had worked with Lorne spoke of nine highlights14 of his presidency.

The construction of our Global Society inevitably interacted with the changes in the functions of our new general director.

Therefore, Jerry White developed with the IET a fresh understanding of his overall role. By August 1988, it had settled as: “To lead and guide The Navigators worldwide as an enabling society in their God-given mission and calling.” The means for accomplishing this included “co-laborship with teams of leaders throughout the world, encouraging and enabling them in their specific spheres of responsibility, drawing upon the gifts of many to meet the diversity of opportunities.”

Motivating Functions of the General Director and IET

Accompanying this was a March 1988 set of motivating functions for the general director and the IET,15 each having several aspects referencing the Scriptures. These functions were:

  • To be interactive, united and tenacious on the few essentials
  • To be stewards of our aim and stimulators of movement
  • To fan the flames, internationally
  • To be catalysts
  • To foster community in our international relationships

It is clear that the small resident nucleus (then, only three men), the successor to the IET, was hardly substantial enough to “lead” the Navigator world. This corroborates the definite shift in the locus of “power.” It was the ten linkage leaders and the additional seven experienced facilitators who would also drive our Global Society.

Lorne, who was no longer a member of the council, made a private note16 of his concern that autonomy might outrun accountability. He reviewed our history from the 1940s onwards in order to briefly support his belief that leaders would always be resisted. Thus, in the 1980s, he had picked up statements such as: “All the answers are at the bottom, none at the top” and “each country has the right to write its own Navigator history.”

This naturally alarmed him. Such sentiments caused him to wonder whether “the dismantling of The Navigators as a viable global society” was already under way. With hindsight, his perspective was too gloomy. Incidentally, his angle of approach was that our Global Society had long existed but that such a commitment “is being washed away by wave after wave of verbal erosions.”

Lorne continued for some years as chairman of our US board.

The March 1988 INC studied the report of the November 1987 Global Society task force and explored the proposals that Jerry and his team had developed. The resulting recommendations were marshalled in an action plan called “The Way Ahead.” Points 3 and 4 dealt with how best to strengthen the international perspectives of the resident nucleus. Two schools of thought:

  • The nucleus should move geographically to a place more attuned to the emerging realities of the Developing World. Addis Ababa or Singapore were popular suggestions.
  • The nucleus should stay at the Glen, but gradually bring in members from other continents, and intentionally seek to absorb diverse viewpoints and visitors.

A practical consideration, of course, was that the nucleus and their staff were still largely Americans and, furthermore, were not charged rent by the US Navigators for the building that they occupied on Glen Eyrie.

There was also the need to sustain and strengthen the vital working relationships between the general director and our US leaders. This was especially important in view of the fact that missionaries from the US Navigators still accounted for the majority of our cross-cultural staff.

On balance, therefore, Jerry and his team concluded that a move to another country would be cosmetic rather than efficient: it would increase the costs for at least the Americans on the team and would divert precious energy into familiarizing themselves with the culture in which they would then reside, at the expense of attending to our countries as a whole.

See also articles on:

Lorne Sanny’s Role as President
Boards of Directors

By Donald McGilchrist
2808 words


  1. Titles that they used varied from president to general director to international president. For some years, Lorne used general director when travelling outside the US, recognizing that most other agencies around the world used either this title or general secretary. President had a US resonance.
  2. Circumstances in 1956 were clearly exceptional. There was no defined and organized group of senior leaders such as became the ILT in the 1970s.
  3. Lorne was appointed president of The Navigators of California on the day of Daws’s death, effective June 28. The Navigators of Colorado was incorporated on July 3 with Lorne as president. The vice president was Rod Sargent and the secretary was John Crawford. The Colorado corporation became the primary one on July 30, with a new board of Lorne plus Rod Sargent (secretary), Peter Funk (treasurer), Bob Foster, and Charlie Riggs.
  4. The ILT comprised Lorne Sanny, Jack Mayhall, and our four divisional directors. Secretary: Donald McGilchrist. Henceforth, each divisional director had two roles: representing his division and contributing to the global perspective of the leadership team.
  5. Some years later, Lorne relinquished the role of US president and our US director assumed this title.
  6. The IET was very compact. In addition to Lorne, it then comprised the international ministries director (George Sanchez) and the US director (Jack Mayhall), and an international administrator (Donald McGilchrist). To balance this shrinkage of the previous ILT, we introduced a much broader International Navigator Council.
  7. INC 1 December 1981 guidelines.
  8. “Dear Staff” letter January 9, 1982.
  9. See chart of November 6, 1981 which for simplicity omits IHQ, assuming that it is the president’s staff, and postulates an as yet unformed international board.
  10. Source: INC 1, section on structure.
  11. “Dear Staff” letter of December 5, 1985. Because he was writing to our staff around the world, he chose to speak as general director.
  12. Responses analyzed by McGilchrist and assigned coded numbers in order to protect anonymity. The 820 heretofore mentioned also included twenty-seven participants in the upcoming council and eleven members of the US board.
  13. Comprising twenty-eight participants.
  14. A full transcript of twenty-four pages is on file: McGilchrist archive, selection of a president.
  15. Source: “Statement of Motivating Functions for GD and Resident Nucleus”: March 1988. At this time, the IET was called the “resident nucleus” (White, Petersen, McGilchrist).
  16. Lorne Sanny to Lorne of March 28, 1988.
  17. Twenty-two points. Appendix B to January 1988, INC 7, dated March 1, 1988.
  18. In line with the principles of the Global Society, what was in view here was relationships rather than control. Thus, for example, Jerry resigned as US president in July 1988.
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