The Search and the Searchers

August 4, 2008

As an involved volunteer in a major-city Federation, the news of the succession planning for next year’s departure of Howard Rieger as CEO of UJC reached me almost as soon as the news was publicly announced. And with that announcement came the simultaneous news that a search committee would be promptly convened to create a seamless transition. Now for much of the Jewish world, this wasn’t news. Howard Rieger was likely not even a name they were familiar with. But for those who are involved with UJC or otherwise pay attention to these sorts of things, this was big news.

The search is on.

The search for what you may ask?  Well, not necessarily the search for a strategic vision – that is already in process.  And not the search for more dollars, for that search is always in process.  This is the search for a new leader that will be able to invigorate both of the aforementioned searches and the organization that houses them. With new leadership comes new opportunities.  Mr. Rieger brought his own brand of each, and the next leader will bring his/her own opportunistic vision.  And given the state of UJC, this is an important time and an important search.

As the search commences, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines in the 1956 John Wayne movie “The Searchers.” In that movie, when getting ready to lead the charge into the Comanche camp, Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond) yells ”Brethern, we must go among them!”

And go among “them” is exactly what the UJC search committee must do.

Who is the “them” I reference? I mean the Jews of North America.  I mean the national and international Jewish leadership. I mean the next generation of professional staff as much as I mean the large-city executive directors. I mean the campaign workers, the donors, the rabbis, the social entrepreneurs, the students, the bloggers and the artists. I mean the highly engaged and the relatively unengaged. The “them” is as broad as the constituencies of our Jewish communities. The “them” is all of us.

But that isn’t the only suggestion I have for the UJC search committee. So in my own small and not so influential way, I have a few suggestions to UJC leadership comprising the search committee.

1.    Look outside the system. I never cease to be amazed by the wealth of excellent community professionals we have in our local and national Jewish communities. And we have some true luminaries. I don’t know most of them, but I read what they right or hear what they say, and they are impressive. Not so impressive that they shouldn’t be challenged or otherwise questioned by volunteer leadership, but nonetheless impressive. They run Federations in large cities and small and they are also the foot soldiers in those communities as well. They have a lot to offer, and like Stephen Hoffman and now Howard Rieger, they bring an insider’s view to an organization rife with insiders.

Butt here’s the rub. When you only look at insiders, you risk the perpetuation of an insider mentality. Such an insider CEO, while adding their own unique vision of a new CEO, never can fully break out of the perspective they gained from the system they rose up in. How many Federation executives started in Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore or Pittsburgh?  How many have passed through those cities on their way to more senior jobs? And how much of the vision of all of these professionals have been developed by similar experiences, challenges and successes?

That’s why we need to look outside. We need to look to executives in the Jewish world (profit and non-profit) who can bring a critical view to the state of UJC and its professional structure, its partnership arrangements and its national brand.  We need to find those visionary leaders that shift paradigms, and I don’t think they are all in the proximate circles of influence at in the UJC network. That is not to say they aren’t in there – they are. But they are outside that network as well. And we need to search for them.

2.    Find a visionary with help from the visionaries. When I was dreaming up my list of dream UJC search committee member it would include innovative business people like Sergey Brin at Google, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Susan Decker at Yahoo. I would include people like David Lonner at William Morris and Steve Koonin at Turner, each who bring a creative and Jewish perspective to the table (and understands how to manage talent).  I would bring some wonderful rabbinic talent to the table like Robert Wexlerm David Stern, David Saperstein, Sharon Brous at IKAR and Mark Charendoff.   I would bring in some Jewish artists and writers as well – I mean, think about the perspective Michael Chabon and Matisyahu might lend when discussing the creative attributes the CEO of UJC must possess?

Now I don’t know any of those people, but I must believe that somebody somewhere in the UJC system knows each of those individuals. And while UJC might not be able to get them on a search committee, they should at least have the search committee spend some time with those individuals (or those types of individuals) to understand their perspective on leadership and vision, so that the search and be infused with those perspectives. That’s what this search should be about, not just a search for a CEO, a search for a visionary. And if seeking a visionary, doesn’t it make sense to seek help from visionaries?

3.    Transparency. Lastly, the search process should be inclusive, and most importantly, transparent to key stakeholders in the UJC system and the broader Jewish community Any hiring process needs to have elements that are confidential, but UJC is not a private company, so the process need not be too secretive. There needs to be a level of openness in the search process that allows stakeholders in the system (and aren’t we all stakeholders) to understand what UJC is seeking in its CEO and why. Just as the strategic vision of UJC needs to be open and transparent, so should the hiring of its chief visionary. Anything less would reinforce the view some have that UJC is clubby, insular and close-mined.

So let’s hope that the searchers go out among their brethren, seek the visionary leadership we need and be transparent about both.

Then they may truly find what they are searching for – a strong future for UJC, and an equally if not stronger future for our Jewish community.


  1. […] Boundless Drama of Creation. Of particular interest to many of you will be his post from today, The Search and the Searchers, on the process underway for a new UJC-CEO. Bookmark: Tags: UJC  Email This Post […]

  2. As a 12 year member of the JCF of Cleveland staff, celebrating my 13th year of working elsewhere, I say “right on” to your comment about looking “outside” for Howard Reiger’s replacement. The “Federation Movement” is killing itself with mental stagnation fed by top professionals who plant roots. There is not enough creative thinking, not enough risk taking, not enough vision to take care of today’s growing communal needs. And, there isn’t a balance of evaluation of top executives between fundraising successes (which ARE key) with programs that truly make a difference (which ARE MORE key)–what difference does it make if you have lots of money in an endowment if critical needs still exist in the Jewish community? Look far–wide–deep–look in Alaska and look in Australia. Just keep looking!

  3. […] Life by Shifra Broznick.  I previously wrote that the next CEO of UJC/Federations of North America should be an outsider and should be a woman. So, although one out of two isn’t bad, we should make no mistake – we […]

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