JCC names newest CEO

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

The Jewish Community Center announced that Lynn Wittels has been named Chief Executive Officer, the first female CEO in the organization’s history.

The appointment of Wittels as CEO was announced at the JCC’s board meeting on Monday, April 30.

Wittels is a familiar face at the JCC, having served as the organization’s chief operating officer since September 2005. Before joining the JCC’s professional staff, she served on the JCC’s Board of Directors.

Michael Staenberg, Board Chairman of the JCC, said a national search was conducted to fill the CEO position after former CEO Ken Weintraub stepped down in August 2006.

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Staenberg said a 13-member CEO search committee, headed by former JCC Board Chairman and current board member Todd Siwak, worked with Gina Hoagland, president of Collaborative Strategies, Inc., a St. Louis-based firm, as well as a national recruiting firm in New York to conduct the search.

However, Staenberg said the board found the best choice for the position was already on staff at the JCC.

“When Lynn was hired as COO, she really started to shine,” he said. “She expressed interest in the CEO position, and for the six or seven months that we interviewed people, she worked as though she wanted to show us that she could do the job.”

“It’s refreshing to have someone show you what they can do,” Staenberg said. “Actions do speak louder than words.”

Wittels grew up in Cincinnati, but came to St. Louis to attend Washington University, where she earned a degree in business.

Wittels has served on the boards of Congregation B’nai Amoona and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, where she is past president of the business and professional women’s division.

She also has 20 years of business experience, having worked for Proctor & Gamble, Pet Incorporated and Right Management Consultants, where she worked as a vice president for career development for seven years before coming to the JCC.

Wittels said she and Chief Financial Officer Steve Rosenzweig worked together to fill the role of CEO after Weintraub stepped down, which gave her a taste of the difference between the COO and CEO positions.

“The CEO not only is responsible for day-to-day operations, but that person also has responsibility for assuring that there is a vision and that the strategic plan is, in fact, being implemented,” Wittels said. “A CEO is far more responsible in an external focus, reaching out into the community.”

“While I had as COO the same profit and loss responsibility as the CEO does, the CEO also has board development responsibilities, donor development responsibilities, and so on. But primarily the CEO is responsible for creating a vision of what the J aspires to be, and helping us get there,” Wittels said.

Wittels said her vision has been fairly consistent since she became a board member of the JCC.

“When I came to the board, when Todd Siwak was board chairman, we talked about this dream of evolving from what is no doubt an incredible social service agency to more of a mission-driven business, with somebody who could bring the benefit of a corporate background to help us at a time when we are at a threshold,” she said.

“We’re standing here at a very interesting time,” Wittels continued. “We are looking to enhance our program vibrancy and programming excellence and in a time of some financial difficulty.”

Wittels said that some of the JCC’s newer programs, like “LaMazel Tov,” a Jewish take on Lamaze, and the JCC and Hillel project Gesher City, an online community for young adults, are intended to expand on the JCC’s traditional offerings and reach out to new audiences.

“We have to build relevancy in our community, expand our community to include more people,” Wittels said. “Some of that is doing what we do better, and some of it is doing different things.”

“We are an incredible place. We serve more than 50,000 people a year, between our membership and our programs. We hold the largest Jewish book festival in the country. We have the incredibly well acknowledged New Jewish Theater. We have incredible programming in small groups to build Jewish social circles,” Wittels said. “We do all of that, but we have to do so in a way that is also fiscally responsible.”

Staenberg said Wittels’ experience in the corporate world was a major factor in the decision to hire her as CEO.

“She has a great business background,” he said. “People need to be accountable, yet understand the social aspect of what we’re doing. We have a lot in transition, and she’s an excellent multitasker. We really couldn’t be happier.”

The JCC has not hired anyone to step into Wittels’ former role as COO.