by David Kaplan
The calendar had just turned to the glorious month of May when the leadership of Louisville Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Center signed on the dotted line and married the organizations. Spring flowers were blooming, birds were chirping, and the future of the new couple seemed full of promise. Now eight months into the relationship, there is snow on the ground, and we realize all too well that the most difficult work of coming together as one is still before us.
But this need not be the winter of our discontent. Good things have happened, and they continue to happen. We have a new mission, a new logo, and a new vision of programming that will inspire our Jewish community to participate and give generously. We now have a committee structure made up of committed Jews who will finalize the strategic plan for how best to serve our community needs with our limited funds. This committee process will ultimately produce a blueprint for revamping, right-sizing, or perhaps even relocating some of our aging facilities.
The still-missing ingredient in this process is a new CEO to help lead us forward. Our interim CEO, Ron Greenberg, has generously donated his time and performed valiantly during some very challenging early months. We thank him for his service to our community.
The permanent CEO will continue the difficult managerial tasks of merging corporate cultures, combining policies and procedures, and identifying operational efficiencies. The new CEO will also need to communicate the new vision of the JCL to the community, keep key stakeholders informed and involved, and assist the board of directors in implementing the strategic plan. And if that were not enough to test any seasoned executive, let’s not forget that the new CEO will be responsible for running the Annual Campaign and a busy Jewish Community Center.
We need a leader with stellar capabilities in the areas of communication, managing people, budgeting and fundraising. This person must also display visionary leadership. In case it’s not obvious, we’re looking for a superhero. And not just any superhero, but a Jewish superhero willing to move to Louisville and jump into an environment where it will be very tough to be successful.
Given economic realities, the JCL cannot afford to be all things to all people. And our community is impatient to see the positive results of merger. We all want change yesterday. Any new CEO must be hungry for the challenge of succeeding in this demanding setting, and doing so quickly.
The CEO Search Committee recognized from the beginning that it would be impossible to find a CEO who is an A+ in every category. So we prioritized the qualities we were seeking.
Responses we received to our written survey confirmed our initial instincts about the most essential qualities of our new CEO. The community told us loud and clear that the most important characteristics to seek were visionary leadership, financial know-how, conflict management, and strategic planning.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jewish communal experience and fundraising, though rated very important, were not in the top tier. This result reflects our community’s clear belief that we cannot operate as we have done in the past. We must accomplish real change.
We also understand that we cannot effectively raise money unless our donors understand clearly why they are giving and are confident that the tangible results will be worthwhile. The survey results also are a vote of confidence in the ability of our existing staff to support the new CEO in the day-to-day implementation of Jewish programs and running the Annual Campaign.
The selection of a new CEO is a pivotal decision that we cannot afford to get wrong. In easier times, we might be looking only for a person to keep the train on the tracks and make a few tweaks here and there. That approach is not sufficient for the times in which we live. The type of person with whom we are the most familiar is unlikely to be the leader who will help us forge a new structure that is neither a Federation nor a JCC.
The new JCL must find a chief executive with business sense who is capable of making tough financial decisions, inspiring donors to give more and promoting organizational change. The new CEO must be able to look forward five years, see where the JCL needs to be and chart a course for how to get there. And the new CEO must be able to challenge the Board to be courageous, creative and wise fiduciaries.
The Search Committee looks forward to completing its charge and presenting to the Board the person best able to fulfill this tall order from the candidates who came forward. After many meetings reviewing resumes, conducting rounds of interviews, and hosting community visits by finalists, we are nearing the end of the process.
Dozens of community members have taken the time to give us their opinions, comments and perspectives. All of these are valued by the Search Committee and will be used in formulating our recommendation. We thank the community for its participation and its patience as this critical process reaches its conclusion, and we share your hope that the new CEO will help lead this community to where it wants to be.