Cover Story

The last 13 years at APA have been characterized by a growth few companies--let alone not-for-profit organizations--achieve.

From 1989 to 2002, APA's net worth climbed from $14.3 million to $33.7 million. Its membership grew from 105,000 to 155,000. Its operating budget tripled, from $33 million to $91 million, and the association built two office buildings to house APA's central office now and in the future.

Member services have swelled, too. Since 1989, APA has launched a vast, award-winning Web site, significantly expanded its career and scholarly resources, doubled its publishing arm and created a graduate student organization, now 59,000 members strong.

APA has also cultivated a greater respect for psychology on Capitol Hill, culminating in a host of psychology-friendly legislation, from the passage of a 1989 law granting psychologists direct Medicare reimbursement to this year's creation of the Graduate Psychology Education program.

The man at APA's helm throughout this epoch of success has been Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, a low-key, patient, yet persistent, former University of Alabama and University of Tennessee department chair who joined APA staff at the peak of its most tumultuous era.

"In our times, we see few leaders whose talents and energies are so vital to the success of their organization as Ray Fowler has been to APA," says APA President Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD.

Now, after serving more than twice as long as any other APA chief executive officer (CEO), Fowler is leaving APA at the end of this month.

"It's certainly been the keystone period of my life," says Fowler. "I had a whole long career before this--30 years in the academic realm teaching, being a department head, conducting research. All of that was very rewarding, and this was just totally different. It's been exciting, and it's been fun. I wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world."

A bygone era

Fowler joined the staff at a time when academic and practice members were vehemently battling over their differing agendas. "In the late 1980s, practitioners were, for the first time, developing a strong identity," explains L. Michael Honaker, PhD, Fowler's deputy CEO. "They were a large constituency that needed more attention in what had been an academic-based organization."

It was an era of political, philosophical and sometimes even personal power struggles among members. The clash prompted a group of members to establish the American Psychological Society (APS) in 1988.

Adding to the mire were the association's ailing finances, due mostly to APA's failed attempt to run Psychology Today magazine. APA bought the publication in 1983 with thoughts of producing a mass-market mouthpiece that would tout the value of psychology. By 1988, say APA officials, the association recognized it didn't have the expertise to run the venture--but not until the magazine had drained the association's finances by $20 million.

Clearly, it was a daunting time for anyone to take over the organization. But Fowler, known for his consensus-building skills, calm sensibilities and clear vision, was tapped for the job. "Ray had been a voice of reason and had the respect of both scientists and practitioners," says William Howell, PhD, who served as APA executive director for science from 1992 to 1997. "He was a logical choice for CEO."

Fowler immediately instituted initiatives to soothe the political tensions. He supported practitioners' need to be heard while simultaneously assembling a blue-ribbon committee of distinguished scientists to foster APA's science initiatives.

"His actions following the APS split demonstrated clearly his commitment to retaining and serving the needs of science and academics," says Howell. "And, of course, his personality--always looking for win-win opportunities, and being the calm voice of reason when everybody else is yelling--was exactly what was needed."

"He sought to--and succeeded in--creating an organization where all of APA's constituencies are able to work together--on council, on the board and on staff--without the eruption of major warfare," adds Honaker.

Fowler also brought much-needed order back to APA finances in several ways, most importantly by rehiring Jack McKay as APA's chief financial officer. (McKay had left the organization in 1983 when the Board of Directors opted to purchase Psychology Today against his advice.)

Among Fowler and McKay's most savvy financial decisions was to diversify the association's assets by purchasing real estate. APA built its Washington, D.C., headquarters in 1992, and three years later built a second property one block away. Today, the properties on average net $2 million to $2.5 million a year--income that helps offset member dues increases. And the buildings are appreciating in value, adding to APA's future net worth.

Shoring up APA's finances and easing the science-practitioner split were only the start of Fowler's list of accomplishments, however. Among his most significant were launching the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students to give students a voice in APA, expanding the association's international outreach, fostering better relationships with divisions, revamping governance meetings to make them less contentious and more effective, and establishing the Education Directorate to boost psychology's voice in education and education's voice in psychology.

Built for the job

Fowler was, of course, no stranger to APA when he joined its staff. A Member since 1958, he became politically active in the 1960s on APA's Council of Representatives, shaping a governance career that led him to a seat on the Board of Directors, a stint as treasurer from 1983 to 1987 and eventually APA's presidency in 1988.

What's driven him? It's simple, he says: "I love APA...and I love psychology. I believe psychology has more to offer toward the solutions of the world's problems than almost any other discipline. Those feelings and convictions are a primary driving force for me."

Such a force, in fact, that "most days I wake up thinking about APA and go to bed thinking about APA," he admits.

Despite his overall success, the job hasn't, of course, been painless. The disagreements between science and practice--though greatly diminished--have continued over the years, and balancing the budget is a recurrent problem. This year in particular, APA faced a $6 million deficit, and had to reduce its staff and cut board and committee meetings to make ends meet. (A $500,000 surplus is budgeted for next year.)

He credits two forces for helping him work through the difficult times: daily exercise and the unwavering support of his family, particularly his wife, Sandy, who he met through the Running Psychologists group he established in 1978. "She has literally built her time around my time during this period," Fowler says. "It would have made it a lot more difficult if she hadn't."

He also attributes his achievement to an important lesson he learned early on: Don't take it personally. "Things that are fired in my direction are fired at the CEO, not at Ray Fowler," he explains. "I try to keep those two identities separate."

Good times ahead

Though he'll miss APA, Fowler is excited about the projects he's lined up to tackle after Dec. 31, from writing a book to traveling, to spending more time with family (see Thoughts on a long ride). He's equally sanguine about the future of APA and psychology.

"The importance of psychology and of psychological factors in health are increasingly recognized," he says, predicting that in the future psychologists will be seen as not just health-care professionals but professionals in what he calls the "fine art of living."

"I think more psychologists will continue to work with people who are below par but will also increasingly help people who are already at par be way above par, developing their sense of optimism and other positive emotions," he explains.

And he believes psychology's expanding reach will bring more students to the field. "We probably have about 100,000 psychology graduate students today, and I'd be amazed if that number weren't 200,000 or more in 20 years," he speculates.

As psychology and APA forge into new territory with new CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, they go forward on the foundation that Fowler has built.

"Ray Fowler's vision of the interdependency of all psychologists in the United States and around the world has made APA more meaningful to a wider range of psychologists," says 1996 APA President Dorothy W. Cantor, PsyD. "He has helped to mend the rifts among segments of psychologists and that has kept APA the vibrant organization that it is, the largest national association of psychologists in the world."