Rick Tsoumas

The Lens for Our Work

Rick Tsoumas, Board Chair

Your internal lens on leadership changes from year to year if you continue to grow.

When I started out as a CPA, I would work with one company after another for a week or longer to complete audits. Teaming up with different people at each place – the CEO, CFO, head of purchasing and others – I saw a wide range of leadership traits and management styles. Some I wanted to pick up; others to avoid. They were like mini-mentorships and helped shape my internal lens.

Serving as a W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) trustee over the last decade has continued to broaden my view.

From a board perspective, we are leading with our eyes primarily on the future. Within the culture of the Kellogg Foundation, our charge is to see where we need to move on behalf of vulnerable children. In hockey, the great Wayne Gretzky’s dad told him: “Skate where the puck is going, not where it has been.” For us the question is: “Where do we need to go from a leadership perspective so that more children will be thriving five years, ten years from now?”

“Our DNA is the lens through which we view all of our work.”

Racial equity, community engagement and developing leadership – what we call the Kellogg Foundation’s DNA – are essential to every discussion. WKKF’s priorities (thriving children, working families, equitable communities) sharpen the focus and cohesion of our programming. Our DNA is the lens through which we view all of our work.

As a board, that way of looking at things represents an ongoing progression.

When I first became a trustee, the focus was on separate programming areas. All the pieces were potentially there, but not cohesively drawn together. Over time, and in response to the pace of societal change, the foundation’s program approaches have become much more strategic and interconnected. In recent years, especially in WKKF’s transformation to a networked organization, we are seeing how connecting common threads generates the momentum for positive change for children. That is our DNA in action.

The WKKF Community Leadership Network (WKKF CLN) is a great example of that positive dynamic.

Candidate selection and WKKF CLN curriculum all grew from our community engagement. The focus on a racial equity lens, the clarity on leadership of and for the community — meeting the Class Two fellows brought that to life.

At their initial session in Battle Creek, I felt their excitement about the learning year ahead. But more than that, I recognized the desire to grow so they could help to change their communities. Each was chosen because of those strong ties and the willingness to lead on behalf of children, families and their communities.

They are part of a network now, a long continuum of leadership strengthened as each WKKF CLN fellow steps up and commits to motivating positive change. There is a responsibility with leadership that is so important in community. It takes real courage to break through the old guard. As part of the WKKF Community Leadership Network, they know they’re not in it alone.

In the following sections, you will meet some of the Class One fellows – leaders who are a few years ahead of the Class Two cohort and already changing their communities. As you will see, every learning journey is unique. But the ripple effect they are creating is inspiring others.

As a board, we are seeing a ripple effect within the Kellogg Foundation as well. With a great leader like La June Montgomery Tabron — and a leadership team aligned and operating at top capacity — our board can assess the landscape at a higher level. As we do, our DNA is top of mind. We see it in action and continue to learn from it. It permeates our work and makes it better.