Personal journey? Professional mission? How do new CEO's find their paths?
This session focused on the personal journeys of three young and/or new CEO's. Jamie Merisotis talked about his move to Lumina instantly making him smarter, taller, and prettier... something everyone new to the field experiences. He went on to discuss how he is always looking for new avenues to make scalable change. His career has been in creating educational opportunity and Lumina was the obvious next step. While not an emerging leader anymore, he is the youngest CEO of one of the 50 largest foundations, and as such, he still carries the mantle of young leadership.
Monique Mehta from the Third Wave Foundation talked about her move to CEO as part of her journey from social services and volunteering as a high school and college student to moving into the corporate sector, becoming a volunteer, then a law student, finally coming full circle to Third Wave. While hers was a personal journey, it sounded like her turning point was her volunteer work after college. She found a personally compelling mission which put her on the CEO path. Now she works with her colleagues to make sure that she and her foundation have a seat at the table.
Perhaps the most compelling story was Nathanial Williams. He talked about his five year plan to become a foundation CEO, which happened a couple of years ago, but more importantly he talked about his background, both his family background and his educational experiences informing what he brought to his job. Because of his focus, I think he gave the most concrete path to executive leadership.--becoming part of national networks, taking on board work and taking leadership roles in everything he did. His career is clearly personal, but like Jaime he has had a relatively narrow focus area-- in youth leadership development and organizing.
Other key learnings from this session include: taking advantage of the fact that as a young person, you will be underestimated--excel when you can, marshall your resources when you can't. Create a "kitchen cabinet," that is, smart, accomplished colleagues and friends that will give you good, sometimes tough, feedback. No one climbs the executive mountain alone. And lastly, reclaim philanthropy. It doesn't mean rich, it doesn't mean old and it doesn't mean white. it means "love of mankind," we can embrace the term and redefine it.
Athena Adkins is a senior manager for community relations at Travelers and membership chair for the Minnesota chapter of EPIP