Headhunter: William Penn Foundation should have new leader soon

Posted: September 19, 2013

ZRG Partners headhunter Natalie H. Brooks says she has "total confidence" she can find a new leader for the $1.9 billion William Penn Foundation in the next four months.

"The board is ready, the staff is ready, everybody externally is ready," Brooks said Monday over coffee in Center City a few blocks from the foundation's headquarters.

Brooks said she had interviewed candidates but would not name them.

The previous president, Jeremy Nowak, resigned in a disagreement with the board in November 2012 after being hired in April 2011 and developing a 10-year plan for the organization.

Last week, the foundation, controlled by the Haas family of the former Philadelphia chemical company Rohm & Haas, announced it was searching for Nowak's successor and hired Brooks, who launched her human resources career in the 1980s at financier Saul Steinberg's Reliance Insurance Co. in Philadelphia.

The top position at William Penn pays $400,000 to $450,000 a year, based on the foundation's IRS 990 filings.

The ideal leader, Brooks said, will be someone with executive leadership skills who is financially astute. He or she will have to be "passionate about Philadelphia" but need not live currently in the city. The leader will have the title managing director.

William Penn benefited enormously from the $15 billion sale of Rohm & Haas to Dow Chemical in 2009. The foundation's assets soared by about $800 million from 2009 to 2010, according to its latest IRS 990. The foundation's grants to organizations in the Philadelphia region rose to $86.6 million in 2010 from $68.7 million in 2009.

The foundation also is expected to eventually benefit from an additional $2 billion because of trust agreements.

Nowak vowed to hold William Penn grant recipients accountable. Brooks said the foundation had been modernizing its tracking system and operations under "placeholder" president Helen Davis Picher. Picher is not expected to be considered for the permanent job.

Laura Sparks now heads grant-making as chief philanthropy officer at the foundation. She was hired in July 2012 from the mega-bank Citigroup, where she worked with its philanthropic arm and community development outreach revitalizing neighborhoods. She lives in Chestnut Hill and had commuted to New York.

Sparks, who has worked on programs in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, said the foundation was looking to be "smarter" with its grant-making.

"We want to continue the legacy but infuse the grant-making with a culture of learning," she said Tuesday.

The foundation added seven employees this year, bringing its total to 30.

William Penn's philanthropic grants are targeted at three areas - closing the education achievement gap for low-income students, enhancing the region's culture, and protecting the Delaware River watershed.

Commenting on the hires at William Penn, Brooks said, "With the same talent you get the same results." The question, she said, is, "Who can make the pendulum move?"

Brooks ran her own consulting and executive-search firm, and worked at the predecessor to Kenexa, a Wayne human resources company acquired by IBM. ZRG is based in Westborough, Mass., and Brooks is the firm's managing director in Philadelphia.


As the William Penn Foundation, with assets of $1.9 billion, searches for a new leader, here are two established leaders in the field:

Rebecca Rimel is president and chief executive officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia, with assets of $5.3 billion. She was the first nurse to hold a faculty position at the University of Virginia's medical school and won a Kellogg National Fellowship. She was compensated $1.1 million for fiscal 2012.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey is the president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, with $8.9 billion in assets. She has a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was compensated $857,351 for 2011.

SOURCES: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, IRS 990 documents

Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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