Phillips Oppenheim Leading Search for Barack Obama Museum

As President Obama prepares to leave office, efforts are underway to bring in top leaders for his museum and foundation. 

January 19, 2017 – As President Obama steps down as the nation’s 44th president, planning is underway to identify the director for the Barack Obama Presidential Museum in Chicago. Executive search firm Phillips Oppenheim has the honor of leading this prestigious assignment. Principal Sarah James and partner Becky Klein are leading the search.

The incoming museum director is expected to take advantage of the Museum’s unique opportunities embedded within an unusual interpretation of the traditional presidential library model. The leader will position the museum as the first point of entry to the Obama Presidential Center and ensure it is a welcoming and highly appealing space and experience.

To that end, the director will provide a dynamic and authentic vision for the museum, taking the curatorial lead in defining the scope and direction of the institution’s exhibitions and public programming.


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The director, in partnership with key volunteer leaders and staff, will be charged with developing and executing a strategic plan for the museum that will capitalize on the strengths of the foundation and the community as well as on what has already been achieved. They will lead marketing and audience development strategy on-site and online to introduce the museum to local, regional, national and international audiences, and create a financial and fundraising plan that provides for financial stability.

Ultimately, the executive will oversee operations and manage a staff of between 15 to 20 people. The director will lead and support an active exhibition and public programming schedule designed to capture the interest of broader and more diverse audiences on site and online regionally, nationally and internationally, while providing innovative connections with the local community and external partners.

The ideal candidate will be passionate, creative, collaborative and deeply thoughtful about the potential for the Museum, according to the position specification. The chosen director will be a strategic leader who can set and implement industry guidelines as the foundation’s top museum professional.

An understanding of and commitment to social justice and advocacy is desired and knowledge of the advocacy arena and its key players is also a plus. Senior staff-level administrative experience in a museum known for excellence is also required.

Finding Mission-Driven Leaders

Phillips Oppenheim, founded in 1991, provides mission-driven organizations with senior leaders from the business, public, and non-profit sectors. It sponsors roundtable discussions, participates in workshops and conferences, and acts as informal counsel to non-profit organizations and their boards.

The firm has recently recruited senior leaders for other non-profit organizations, including Matthew Teitelbaum as executive director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Salvador Salort-Pons as director, president and CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA); Linda McNeil Tantawi as CEO for the Greater New York City Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; and Judge Judy Harris Kluger as executive director of Sanctuary for Families. The firm was also recently picked by the Apollo Theater to lead its search for a new executive producer. Executive search consultant Sandi Haynes is leading that search.

Ms. James has been recruiting for local, national and international non-profit institutions and corporations since 1996. She has recruited executives for leading aid, advocacy, cultural, education, environmental, faith-based, healthcare, philanthropic and social service institutions.

Ms. Klein has combined search experience with the arts during her professional career. She has conducted searches for the Metropolitan Opera, the Animal Medical Center, GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), Lincoln Center, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Obama Foundation CFO Search

A related organization, The Barack Obama Foundation, turned to another executive search firm to lead its search for a chief financial officer when it retained Koya Leadership Partners in November. Alison P. Ranney, managing director and Chicago office head, is leading the assignment on behalf of Koya, which has been advising the Obama Foundation informally and formally since early 2015. “Koya’s expertise and track record recruiting diverse executives aligns well with the Foundation’s core principles,” said Ms. Ranney. “We were delighted to recruit Michael Strautmanis late last year to serve as the Foundation’s first vice president of civic engagement. We are excited about the CFO opportunity and continuing our relationship with the Foundation.” Reporting to the Foundation’s executive director, the incoming CFO will play a critical role in the development and implementation of the financial systems and strategies of the Foundation and its affiliates. This will be the first senior level finance leader brought into the organization. Koya hopes to have a CFO in place by the second quarter.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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