Rod Hightower, a business manager and Stearman pilot and rebuilder, will become the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) third president since the organization was formed in 1953, EAA Chairman and President Tom Poberezny announced July 26.
At an opening day AirVenture press conference normally reserved for mundane logistical matters, Poberezny made the surprise announcement and briefly introduced Hightower and his wife and five children. A more formal public introduction was scheduled for later in the day.
“There’s never a right time [to step down], but there’s a wrong time,” said Poberezny, who wanted to hand over management of the 160,000-member association while he was in good health and EAA was on solid footing. “We have to ensure the EAA’s culture, standards, and innovation remain intact.”
In a letter to Hightower, AOPA President Craig Fuller said he looks forward to forging a strong working relationship with Hightower and continuing to collaborate with Poberezny, who continues as EAA’s chairman.
“When I became the president of AOPA, Tom Poberezny welcomed me warmly, and since then we have developed a strong, collaborative relationship that has served our members and the entire GA community well,” said Fuller. “I’d like to extend the same warm welcome to Rod and look forward to getting to know him and develop the kind of cooperative relationship with him that I have enjoyed with Tom.”
Poberezny said a consulting firm hired by EAA evaluated 700 candidates for the job. The number was whittled down to 100 for interviews. In March, six candidates came to Washington, D.C., to meet with Poberezny. He visited the families of three finalists and toured their home airports. Finally, only Hightower remained.
Hightower learned to fly at 16, and currently owns and flies a Stearman biplane that he rebuilt beginning in 1988. Hightower keeps his vintage airplane at Creve Coeur Airport near St. Louis, Mo. He’s a director of the National Stearman Foundation and has been an EAA member for more than 20 years.
Hightower is a graduate of Central Missouri State University. His business career has included sales and management positions in a variety of industries, and he was a vice president at Square D Corp. and York Corp., an air conditioning firm. Most recently, he was CEO of Public Safety Equipment, a supplier of emergency lighting with law enforcement and military applications.
EAA was widely expected to announce a new president one year ago, but that effort fell apart when the EAA board split over the decision and the planned successor withdrew.
Poberezy said he will remain actively involved in building the organization that his father founded at their Wisconsin home in 1953.
“I’m not leaving the organization,” Poberezny said. “I’m changing my focus.”