Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

Leadership landscape to change; mindful approach is necessary

The leadership landscape in Spokane is changing, with a handful of prominent organizations starting formal searches for new presidents and CEOs and the expected increase in retirements in the future. Now is an ideal time for the Spokane business community—and the community as a whole—to think about what we’re looking for, universally, in our new leaders.

The organizations are varied, and any broad statement regarding qualities such executives should possess wouldn’t apply to every position. Even so, we would implore those involved in the searches to be introspective in the process and think of the big picture when evaluating candidates. Additionally, any individuals who have a vested interest in an organization looking for new leadership should make sure their voices are heard during the process.

Some of the changes are due, predictably, to more baby boomers reaching retirement age and preparing to pass the torch, presumably to the next generation. The number of boomers retiring has been increasing relatively consistently for 10 years, and the Pew Research Center reports that rate has accelerated during the pandemic, with 28.6 million boomers reporting being retired in the third quarter of 2020, up 3.5 million people from a year earlier.

In Spokane, most recently, Tim Henkel has announced plans to step down at year’s end as president and CEO of United Way Spokane County, retiring following 14 years in that position and 38 years leading United Way chapters. At Eastern Washington University, a formal search is underway to find a permanent replacement for late President Mary Cullinan. David May has served aptly since Cullinan stepped down in the summer of 2020, and the search for a permanent president could take a year.

As the Journal reported earlier this month, Rosauers Supermarkets CEO Jeff Philipps is retiring this summer, and his replacement has been named. He follows, chronologically at least, the retirement of Elaine Couture earlier this year as market executive for Providence Health Care and Steve Tammaro’s departure from the YMCA of the Inland Northwest.

Of course, not all significant vacancies can be attributed to boomers retiring. Beck Taylor vacated his position as president of Whitworth University to accept the top spot at Samford University, in Alabama. Earlier this month, University District Development Association President and CEO Lars Gilberts disclosed that he’ll step down at the end of the month to take a new job with Numerica Credit Union.

To a person, the leaders mentioned have taken broader roles in the community during their tenures and have had profound impacts in our region. Our hope is that their successors, in addition to being competent organization leaders, also will see the importance of being involved in the community and help to guide broader initiatives.

And as we think in that context, what leadership attributes would be enviable when we consider who might help us envision Spokane’s evolving future.

With the challenge of filling the voids left by those who are moving on comes the opportunity for new energy and ideas. Collectively, let’s be mindful of the direction we want to go and look for leaders who can get us there.