On Wednesday evening, the charity announced that founder and CEO Nancy Brinker will be moving into “a new management role focusing on revenue creation, strategy and global growth as chair of the Komen Board Executive Committee.” President Liz Thompson will be leaving the organization in September. And board members Brenda Lauderback and Linda Law would also be resigning. (Brinker will remain CEO until replacements for the top leadership jobs can be found.)
Brinker told the Wall Street Journal that the changes were not a result of the Planned Parenthood uproar. Rather, in its press release, the organization announced “a new period of transition as it positions itself for the future in the ongoing global mission to end breast cancer.” Ms. Brinker told the Journal that “I apologized to everyone. I think we all made mistakes and we addressed them and we're through that and we're moving on.”
But here’s what I want to know: If the leadership shake-up has nothing to do with the controversy, what’s the rush? Why not wait until a new CEO (or at least a new president) has been found to announce two such high-level changes? Even if Brinker stays in the role until new senior leaders are named, knowing that the current CEO won’t be in the role for long could create uncertainty at the top.
Komen spokesperson Andrea Rader says that Thompson had “achieved what she wants to achieve” as president at the charity and told the board in April that she was thinking of leaving, but they asked her to stay to help see Komen through the controversy. Regarding Brinker’s move, Rader says Thompson’s announcement seemed like the right time to discuss Brinker’s transition, too, in order to let people know how the leadership structure would look.
Whoever takes these women’s jobs will have their work cut out for them. Brinker told the Journal that it’s been a “hard time” for fundraising and some of Komen’s walks and races have seen lower turnout this year. For instance, the Seattle race in June reportedly had about 8,500 participants, down from 14,000 the year before, while the three-day walk in Boston also reportedly saw reduced attendance. (Rader says the races this year have been a “mixed bag,” with some exceeding expectations and others falling behind, and that fundraising is starting to come back as more time passes since the Planned Parenthood furor.)
Moreover, whoever steps in will be leading an organization that—rightly or not—has became politicized, with pro-choice advocates questioning why funding was cut from Planned Parenthood in the first place while some abortion opponents were upset to see Komen reverse course.
Still, new leadership, whenever it happens and whatever temporary uncertainties it may bring, could be for the best. Brinker, who founded the organization in 1982 after her sister died from breast cancer, is certainly passionate about the cause. But when leaders become identified with a firestorm of the magnitude Komen faced earlier this year, it can be hard for the public to put much distance between the two.
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