William Penn Foundation seeking leader

The William Penn Foundation is looking for a replacement for Jeremy Nowak.
The William Penn Foundation is looking for a replacement for Jeremy Nowak. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 11, 2013

The $1.9 billion William Penn Foundation, which abruptly parted ways with president Jeremy Nowak in November 2012 over "style" issues, says it has retained a head-hunting firm and is searching for a new leader.

The search comes after months of board discussions over a new management structure and needs of the foundation, board chair David Haas said Monday.

Natalie Brooks, managing partner with ZRG Partners in Philadelphia, has been hired to help find a new leader. She expects to identify one by the end of the year.

Helen Davis Picher, a former longtime foundation employee, has served as interim president since late last year. She will not be considered for the new position, Haas said.

The foundation head will be called a "managing director," with three individuals reporting to him or her: the chief philanthropy officer, the chief investment officer, and the director of finance and administration.

This new structure should allow the managing director to align different parts of the organization with the main goals and elevates the head of grant-making, Laura Sparks, to senior executive.

The William Penn Foundation dispenses about $80 million a year in grants in the Philadelphia area.

In the past, the president of the foundation has been the leader in grant-making, Haas said. Now that responsibility falls to Sparks as chief philanthropy officer.

"It's not about solving a problem, but about taking a step back and taking a creative look and figuring out what would make us a stronger organization," Haas said of the new leadership structure. He said the foundation would be more strategically organized.

Before coming to William Penn, Nowak was the founding chief executive of the Reinvestment Fund, which was focused on housing, community arts centers, schools, commercial real estate, and sustainable energy projects. At the foundation, Nowak was outspoken about the need for reforming Philadelphia schools, and he vowed to hold grant recipients accountable.

The William Penn Foundation is one of the region's wealthiest charities. It was created in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas. Otto Haas cofounded Rohm & Haas, the specialty chemical company in Philadelphia that was sold in 2009 to Dow Chemical Co. for $15.2 billion.

The sale, while acrimonious because of the financial crisis, infused the William Penn Foundation with new funds.

While its assets total nearly $2 billion today, the foundation will eventually benefit with an additional $2 billion in funds through complex trust agreements reached decades ago.

Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @bobfernandez1.

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