Robert Rosen: Volunteering Benefits You and SHARE

Robert Rosen, former president of SHARE (2004-2006), presided over a tumultuous time in the organization’s history. He helped to “right the ship” financially, ensuring SHARE’s mainframe professionals could continue educating, influencing, and networking. “The simple fact was SHARE had been spending beyond its means, event attendance was down, and financial losses were taking their toll. The year before my term, SHARE lost a million dollars. I calculated that without change we would be out of business in three or four years. So, the emphasis of my presidency became addressing those challenges,” he says.


Volunteers Right the Ship

Despite SHARE’s fiscal issues, Rosen says he knew what path to take. SHARE needed to adopt the motto of his small government agency: “Do more with less.” With help from the SHARE Board of Directors and the many SHARE volunteers, “we put SHARE on a path for continued success,” Rosen adds. The changes required a team of people to ensure that success, as well as buy-in from the volunteers, particularly for painful but necessary cuts. “Without their buy-in and hard work, SHARE wouldn’t be here today. I also relearned a lesson from another Past President, Bettye Odneal — you can’t turn SHARE on a dime,” he explains.

Rosen points to Project Spark, an effort to expand SHARE to support all IT in the enterprise (i.e., add distributed computing to the mainframe content). He says it was a soul-searching mission: the main question SHARE had to answer was, “Do we want to be an enterprise computer user group or a dwindling mainframe club?” However, it was a “bridge too far” in terms of change. The frequent event attendees and volunteers felt it would dilute the mainframe emphasis too much, and it ultimately failed because it didn’t have the support from all levels in the organization. But he adds, “The biggest lesson was don’t be afraid to ask people to help and realize that good ideas come from all levels of an organization.”

During his tenure as SHARE president, Rosen believed his government experience could provide a different point of view, since previous presidents were from industry or academia. He adds that while we had some government attendees, the government had largely been an untapped market for SHARE, because the organization did not have the insight it needed into the restrictions those employees faced when attending conferences. Rosen’s expertise became an asset to tap that market. Government staff working with computers could learn about and benefit from SHARE events and networking. “I was able to provide insight into what could help attract the people in that market space,” he says. “New faces at SHARE meant new volunteers, new ideas, and, of course, money.”


Volunteering Pays Dividends

Rosen’s long volunteer history with SHARE had a positive impact on his career. One particular experience made a huge difference in his future. He explains how at one point his agency was standing up a whole new computer center, and there were disagreements about staffing levels. One group seemed to grossly underestimate the staffing needed for the project, which could have led to the project’s failure. Rosen says that after attending sessions at a SHARE event and speaking with other attendees, “I was able to provide good data on what was realistic. This brought me to the attention of the higher-ups and eventually resulted in significant increases in responsibility and promotions. All because of SHARE.” He adds, “This is the kind of payback that led me to want to give back to the organization and help other members of SHARE.”

Like others, Rosen had to use his own vacation time and money to attend SHARE events in different cities and meet colleagues from across the mainframe industry to talk about the latest technology. “Many of the things I learned at SHARE helped me throughout my career and led to almost every promotion I ever received, culminating in being a CIO. But it was not just the technical knowledge I acquired. The soft skills I learned both from my SHARE management positions and training sessions were critical to my career advancement,” he explains. “Interestingly, when I mentioned ‘soft skills’ to reporters in interviews, they usually said that was something that (1) they didn’t know SHARE did and (2) was a real need in the IT industry.”

“On a personal level, the travel to all the different cities SHARE went to exposed me to parts of the country I would never have gone to if not for SHARE. More importantly, I made life-long friends through the organization and even met my future wife.”

Since retiring from government, Rosen has continued to provide IT management consulting, but says “volunteering at SHARE was probably the smartest thing I ever did. It positively affected my entire life.” He does continue to make himself available to fill roles as needed, mostly with nominating committees and elections, but Rosen also provides input at Board of Directors’ meetings when appropriate and offers advice to individuals when asked. “As one of the past presidents dubbed us, the ‘Purple Sages’ can offer advice and insights that only those who have been through the SHARE presidency have,” he adds.


Volunteering Is Good for You

Volunteering at SHARE can have more benefits than you realize, Rosen explains. “It accomplishes at least three things that people value,” he says. “First, self-satisfaction in accomplishing a goal, whether it’s putting on a session, giving a talk, and/or steering the organization. Second, the management skills you learn and the ability to make mistakes without damaging your career is invaluable. Third, learning how a multimillion dollar organization works is knowledge that will pay off down the line.”

Volunteering is part of SHARE’s foundation, and Rosen says there is no other organization that has the same dedicated volunteers driving it forward. “It is one of a kind,” he adds. “Volunteer. You will enjoy it, and you’ll be amazed how it furthers your career.”


A Special Thanks

“SHARE could not succeed without its volunteers. They are unmatched in their abilities and enthusiasm for the organization. But another group also deserves credit: all of the folks at SHARE Headquarters who work so hard for the organization, much of it behind the scenes,” Rosen says. “Without them working with us, SHARE would not be, in my opinion, the best IT user group in the world.”

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