The Komen Foundation’s very big leadership shake-up

August 8, 2012

Nancy Brinker speaking on Capitol Hill in 2007. (Karen Bleier/Getty Images)

Top officials at Susan G. Komen for the Cure stepped down Wednesday, months after the the breast cancer charity found itself embroiled in controversy when it halted grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates.

The reshuffling of leadership could mark a dramatic reorganization at one of the nation's largest women’s health organizations. Founder Nancy Brinker announced she would resign from her role as chief executive at the organization she founded 30 years ago, after her sister, Susan G. Komen, passed away from breast cancer at the age of 36.

Because Brinker will stay on in a new management role, focused on strategy and revenue growth, she will continue to influence Komen's future. One Komen insider not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization expected Brinker to “still be intimately involved on a day-to-day basis.”

President Liz Thompson announced plans to leave Komen in September. The same insider said Thompson was leaving the organization out of frustration, worried about the role that Brinker would still play at the beleaguered organization.

Komen spokeswoman Andrea Rader said Thompson "had been considering leaving for several months. She had accomplished what she wanted to do and it was time to move on."

Rader said Brinker would move out of the day-to-day management but "clearly, she's going to continue to have a role."

Two Komen board members, Brenda Lauderback and Linda Law, announced they would leave the organization at the same time.

Thompson said Wednesday that the organization was “on an excellent path to recovery,” adding that  “no other breast cancer organization does as much to help women and men through this disease.”

Both Brinker and Thompson came under heavy criticism in January, when the Komen Foundation revised its grant criteria in a way that would exclude Planned Parenthood from participating. Online petitions circulated demanding that Brinker step down from her leadership position.

After a public outcry over the decision — and protests alongside pushback from its own affiliates -- the Komen foundation reversed the decision. It has so far continued to provide funding for the women’s health organization’s preventive services.

The leadership shake-up follows the February resignation of Karen Handel, Komen’s vice president for public policy. Several former Komen employees have said that Handel was a driving force behind the  decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

Multiple state officials also stepped down from their roles in March, citing a disagreement over the initial decision to cut off Planned Parenthood’s funds.

Since the controversy, some Komen affiliates have reported lackluster fundraising with Race for the Cure, the organization’s signature fundraising event.

Brinker told the Wall Street Journal that the reorganization had nothing to do with the  Planned Parenthood maelstrom.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards praised Komen’s work on breast cancer.

“Nancy Brinker, Elizabeth Thompson, and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation have made profound contributions to women’s health,” she said.

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Brad Plumer | August 8, 2012