CBA has always been blessed with forward-thinking leadership. Given the tremendous growth of yesteryear and the constant state of flux the industry has experienced in recent times, the ability to see down the road is more than just a trick of the trade.
Among the visionaries who have guided CBA through the years, John Bass, Sr., holds a place of special honor. Under his leadership from 1965-1985, CBA grew from roughly 800 member stores and 100 associate members (publishers, music companies, and suppliers) to over 3,200 member stores with close to 500 associate members.
“The growth in CBA took place because of a grassroots effort between my dad and some of his board members who viewed the association not only from a business standpoint, but from a ministry standpoint as well,” says John Bass, Jr. “They spent months on the road recruiting owners of religious bookstores to join the association. It was a time of explosion in the Christian literature market during the 1960s and 1970s. It came out from almost a second-class status to the forefront with packaging and design and quality in the manuscripts.”
CBA Executive Director Bill Anderson (1985-2009) says, “John took CBA from start-up mode to a very influential organization that served the entire industry—retailers in particular, but being very inclusive of suppliers, publishers, music companies, and gift companies.”
A member of what Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation,” Bass Sr. served in the United States Navy during WWII. He never lost that penchant for service. “John was instrumental in taking CBA from red ink to black ink and moving it from a start-up phase to a more professionally managed, forward-looking, future-focused, outward-looking organization that had service as its primary strength,” says Anderson. “In fact, he would frequently remind the staff that the only thing we had to sell is service.”
Anderson remembers that, from a personal standpoint, “John saw capacity in me and helped me develop. He mentored me and encouraged me to keep going forward with greater education. He had an amazing ability to see beyond where people were. He could see their potential and where that could take them. I am one of many, but I feel very blessed that he was a strong mentor to me, and that I had the privilege of working that closely with him.”
When the baton of leadership was passed to Anderson, he realized Bass had left a very large legacy. “Some people have a very wide sphere of influence, and some have a very deep one, but John is one of those rare individuals whose sphere of influence is both deep and wide,” he says.
WRESTLING WITH THE FUTURE
“John had a vision for the newsletter,” saysAnderson. “He saw it becoming a full-ontrade magazine. It became the Bookstore Journal.”
Bass also expanded workshops and the education program, seeing how important it was for retailers to be professional in their approach to run a smart business. “He talked about ministry being a car, but profit was the gasoline that drove the ministry,” says Anderson, noting Bass also developed the vision for international chapters in CBA.
“He had a global vision for the fact that what CBA was doing in Colorado Springs could be of tremendous benefit to other Christian stores around the world. He added caravan shows in the wintertime, which eventually became regional conventions. He saw the need for the industry to be wrestling with the future and figuring out what it would take to get there.”
Bass Sr. humbly reflects on his years at CBA: “The concepts and innovations that take place [today] are completely different than I had experienced. The thing I know is that it wasn’t John Bass who succeeded but rather it was a group of wonderfully moral people who were sensitive to the needs of the industry.”