On January 13, Beth Robinson Willmott became the new executive director of Women Leading Kentucky, marking the first leadership change for the organization since 1999. Nobody got fired, and there was no bad blood involved; rather, this is a story of a win-win situation.
Janet Holloway established Women Leading Kentucky in 1999 as her own for-profit business, turning it into a nonprofit in 2004. In early 2012, Holloway started writing her book, “A Willful Child.” By June, she told the board of directors she was serious about stepping down. Danielle Clore, director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, based at the University of Kentucky, facilitated the transition and succession plan, helping Holloway and the board deal with “founder’s syndrome” in stages, rather than as an abrupt withdrawal.
“If a founder stays too long, what often happens is that the board becomes disengaged,” Holloway explained. “I knew I had to get out of the way if it was going to grow.”
There were more than 50 applicants for the job of executive director. The search committee narrowed it down to three, and Willmott was selected.
Willmott had been working at Blue Grass Community Foundation since 2008 in a grant-driven position. When the grant ran out in December 2012, she started looking for another nonprofit opportunity and heard about the opening at Women Leading Kentucky.
“It was just a natural for me to roll into women helping women,” Willmott said. “The networking, mentoring, scholarships, recognition of role models — it’s wonderful.” She is appreciative of the support from Holloway, the board of directors and assistant director Sonia Boniface.
Women Leading Kentucky also started this year in new digs, moving from its space in the downtown library to Coldstream Research Park. Willmott gets to sit in her glass-enclosed office and look out at the Legacy Trail, the creation of which she spearheaded. When the Knight Foundation offered funding to Blue Grass Community Foundation to extend the legacy of the World Equestrian Games, Willmott engaged the community in coming up with ideas, then implemented the Legacy Trail, a recreational trail from downtown Lexington to the Kentucky Horse Park.
“This is a brand new opportunity for me,” she said of her position at Women Leading Kentucky. “The organization has a strong foundation. I look forward to growing it, expanding it more statewide to other cities, and growing the roundtables and the annual conference. By doing that, we’ll be able to help more young women who will become tomorrow’s leaders, by providing scholarships.”
Women Leading Kentucky is not a membership organization, but a strong network of corporate, business and individual contributors — “men and women who are committed to helping women learn,” according to Willmott.
The organization hosts four roundtable events in the spring and four in the fall, three each at Sal’s Chophouse in Lexington and one in Frankfort, Ky., at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, co-sponsored by Kentucky State University. The roundtables are luncheons with guest speakers who “talk to us about their opportunities and challenges,” said Willmott. “If they can do it, the rest of us can do it.”
The 14th annual business and leadership conference will be held on Thursday, May 2, at the Griffin Gate Marriott. In addition to national speakers, the conference is an opportunity for Women Leading Kentucky to present the Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award and several scholarships to female high school and college students. Since 2001 the organization has given more than $100,000 in scholarships. Gov. Collins is head of the foundation’s advisory council. Contributions for the annual scholarships come from businesses, corporations and individuals.
Willmott has the utmost respect for the established programs and legacies of Women Leading Kentucky, she said.
“Being grounded in our history” is one of her guiding principles, along with giving back to the community. She has a degree in architectural history from the University of Kentucky and has volunteered her time and efforts to several historical preservation efforts.
She’s no stranger to business either. Willmott was a co-owner of Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in the 1980s and ‘90s, and then she discovered she had an affinity for nonprofit organizations. She changed professional courses in 1997 and was hired as the vice president of operations for Bluegrass Tomorrow, where she worked from 1997 to 2008, before spending five years with Blue Grass Community Foundation. Although she has been executive director of Women Leading Kentucky just a few weeks, she is working on revamping a professional ambassadors program, the website and social media presence.
Meanwhile, Holloway will continue to write articles for “Business Lexington” as she expands her writing and business careers. She said she is happily handing the Women Leading Kentucky reins to Willmott.
“I leave it in very good hands,” Holloway said. “I’m excited about what changes there might be.”
Kathie Stamps posts grammar tips at www.facebook.com/GrammarTips.