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Sunday, 10 November 2013 22:00

Kellogg Foundation chooses from within for new CEO

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La June Montgomery Tabron takes over on Jan. 1 as the new president and CEO of the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation after a 26-year career within the organization, most recently as executive vice president of operations and treasurer. She takes over as Sterling Speirn steps down after eight years at the helm of the nonprofit La June Montgomery Tabron takes over on Jan. 1 as the new president and CEO of the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation after a 26-year career within the organization, most recently as executive vice president of operations and treasurer. She takes over as Sterling Speirn steps down after eight years at the helm of the nonprofit COURTESY PHOTO

BATTLE CREEK — When La June Montgomery Tabron takes over as president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on Jan. 1, she joins a small but exclusive group of black CEOs in West Michigan and nationally.

Tabron, 51, will be the first African American to lead the 83-year-old foundation that was founded in Battle Creek by Will Keith Kellogg, an heir to the Kellogg Co. fortune. In 2012, the foundation had revenue of just over $351 million.

Tabron said it was not part of her plan to establish a career in the philanthropic sector while working toward a degree in business administration at the University of Michigan and earning a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

 “It was my goal that I would become a partner in a public accounting firm,” Tabron said.  “Destiny charted a different course for me.  I was actually recruited to come to work for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  My name had been forwarded, and I was introduced to the foundation and it changed my whole life.”

Tabron joined the foundation at the age of 24 as a financial controller and rose within the organization over the past 26 years into her current role of executive vice president of operations and treasurer. During that time, she got married, gave birth to four children, and has run two half-marathons with a goal of running a full marathon.  She replaces

Sterling Speirn, who was president and CEO of the foundation for eight years, and will be responsible for a staff of 200, some of whom work from satellite or international locations.

“As an internal candidate, you wonder — as you’re making the shift to a top leadership position — whether internally and externally people can see that,” Tabron said.  “The good news about an internal candidate is they definitely can hit the ground running.  They have a deep knowledge of the organization and see how they can escalate the types of improvements that need to be made.”

Under Speirn’s leadership, the development of a new strategic approach to the way foundation leadership and staff members do their work was a major focus — and one that Tabron said she was very much a part of.  She said she has no intention of instituting any drastic changes to the way the organization is working or to the commitments it has made to the Battle Creek community, the state of Michigan and communities throughout the United States and around the world.

“Of course, our geographic area is the state of Michigan and we’ve committed and dedicated ourselves to Michigan.  We have opened offices in Detroit and Grand Rapids,” Tabron said.  “In addition to Michigan, we are also committed to the state of Mississippi, where we opened an office in Jackson, and in New Mexico, where we also have an office.”

Haiti, the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas in Mexico, and the New Orleans area are among the areas of focus for the foundation.  In areas such as Mississippi, particularly that state’s Delta area, the foundation’s involvement goes back decades.

“We do happen to be in some of the lower-performing states as it relates to outcomes for children,” Tabron said.

The mission of the foundation is to support children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.  Tabron said the organization remains committed to its work around racial equality and community engagement to create this positive change.

“I would really like to emphasize that the work of the foundation really wants to be focused on improving opportunities for children. That, at the end of the day, boils down to preparing them for jobs, getting them into those jobs and getting liveable wages,” she said.  “We are looking and seeking and wanting to understand the needs of businesses so we can match those to the needs of children and how we can prepare them.”

Tightening up agreements the foundation has with grantees and service providers around services, responsibilities and timelines and improvements to the grant-making decision process are expected to further support the organization’s mission.

“We will improve our work on our execution so that we can really make our work touch the lives of those children we’re serving,” Tabron said. “We need to communicate and partner with other organizations and the business community to really make significant leaps forward so that all children can be prepared for their future.

“As we revisit our work, it is clear to us that what is needed is a holistic approach to our grantmaking. We couldn’t just fund a small project around education without seeing how that’s tied to the family and the engagement of community. We want to connect those dots and make sure all of those elements are available to children.”

However, the foundation cannot make these positive changes for children alone.  Establishing partnerships and leveraging resources are key if Tabron’s vision of a nation that places children first is to become a reality.  From the policy level to the community level, there will have to be buy-in from all sectors — including the educational and family systems.

“When we look at where this country stands in the world, and how we’re preparing kids for jobs and the workforce of future, we’re behind and we’re falling behind,” Tabron said.  “We need to continue to build a pipeline of human resources which will carry this country into the future.  When we look at the educational outcomes for kids, particularly of color, and when we see that the gaps are widening for the preparation they have, there couldn’t be a more compelling reason for people to say our system needs to change.”

Read 3063 times Last modified on Saturday, 09 November 2013 12:20

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