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Committee Launches Effort to Find New Jewish Federation Leader

June 5, 2013 By:
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Susanna Lachs Adler

The search is on.

Under the leadership of Susanna Lachs Adler, a search committee has been formed to find a new CEO for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The CEO will replace Ira Schwartz, who left the top professional post at Philadelphia’s central communal fundraising body on May 3. Alex Stroker, who had been the Federation’s COO, is now serving as the organization’s interim CEO.

The search committee, appointed by Federation president Sherrie Savett, includes past and current lay leaders of Federation.

In addition to Savett and Lachs Adler, the committee members are: Gary Erlbaum, Mark Fishman, Robert Fox, Laurie Franz, Richard Green, Marjorie Honickman, Matthew Kamens, Roy Neff, Bud Newman, Gail Norry, Tony Schneider and Murray Spain.

Darrell Friedman, a Jewish organizational consultant who served for 17 years as the CEO of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, is serving as consultant to the search process.

A national search firm to help find candidates will also be chosen soon.

While it will be up to the search committee to determine the actual job description, Savett, an attorney, listed some important qualities she sees as they look for a new CEO: “a person strong in building relationships; a person with impeccable judgment and integrity; a person who is a problem solver” and “one who can make decisions but also listen to others and has vision.”

She and Lachs Adler emphasized that beyond the committee, they want to reach out to other segments of the community to hear their thoughts.

“We want the process to be thoughtful, to get input from a wide array of constituencies in addition to Federation,” said Lachs Adler, who has been involved in several national searches, including for Temple University’s president; for her synagogue, Adath Israel; and for the Shipley School, where her children went. 

She said her group would be soliciting input from rabbis and lay leaders of synagogues, agency executives, Federation’s board of directors and board of trustees and other Federation lay leaders. 

Savett said that in choosing committee members, she wanted to find a broad range of people involved in the community and knowledgeable about Federation. She sought people of different ages and different interests. She also said she reached out to some individuals who were “once more involved than they were recently.”

Among those are Tony Schneider and Robert Fox, both of whom held leadership positions in the past but have not been involved in the past two or three years.

Schneider’s most recent leadership role was heading the committee charged with the allocation of unrestricted communal funds and he had invested personal resources into helping develop leadership at the Federation. He agreed to serve on the search committee, he said, because he sees this as a critical time for the Federation. “We need to find the right person, someone who understands where the community is and someone who has the resources and skills to turn it around.”

Robert Fox hasn’t been involved at all in the past three years, but he joined the search committee, he said, because “it’s important for the Jewish community to have a strong Federation for its constituent agencies and the community as a whole. That’s why I want to help get the right person for Federation.”

Several people involved on the search committee said they recognized the challenge as well as the opportunity that a search for a new Federation head presented.

The Philadelphia Federation has had five CEOs since 1991,  whereas the top executives at other major cities in the country, like Chicago, New York and Boston, have had more longevity. 

Schwartz left his position last month with no official explanation of why he was stepping down.

Lachs Adler said it was important to address the past but also look ahead to new opportunities.

This is a great opportunity for someone,” said Lachs Adler, a lifelong Philadelphian and attorney who now spends her time engaged as a lay leader in several nonprofit Jewish and academic institutions. She cited as a draw the high quality of the area’s institutions, synagogues, day schools, higher education and health care.

She said the community needs to address “what are our accomplishments and what are our challenges.”

“We need to talk about what we need to build on and improve to take our community to the next level in terms of giving and engagement.”

Savett agreed. “We need to inspire our community, be new and current and to find ways to attract” more people “to our work and get them to understand our mission and what we do. We literally help thousands of people every day.”

“As hard as we try to get the message out,” she said, “so many people don’t understand and see the incredible work we do.”

Neither Lachs Adler nor Savett would venture a guess when a candidate might be found. They expect the committee’s work to get under way formally after the July 4th holiday. 

Lachs Adler said they would likely begin interviewing in the fall.

Savett said that even as the search proceeds, the Federation, with Stroker as interim CEO, is “moving ahead at a good pace,” focusing on the allocations process and the annual campaign. 

She expressed confidence that the search committee would succeed in its mission. A talented executive, Savett said, “should see an extremely exciting and challenging assignment.”

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