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.