Leadership transition at the Mott Foundation

The following is a message from William S. White, chairman of the Mott Foundation Board of Trustees:

An oft-quoted passage of the Bible teaches that, “To everything, there is a season.” It is with this thought in mind that I am writing to let you know about a transition in leadership of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

After nearly five decades at the Foundation, I am stepping back from day-to-day operations. Though I will continue to serve, without compensation, as chairman of our Board of Trustees, I have officially retired from the position of chief executive officer.

With the enthusiastic approval of our trustees, Foundation President Ridgway H. White also has been named CEO. A great-grandson of our founder, Ridgway has been preceded by only three other leaders of the Foundation during our 92-year history: C.S. Mott; his son, C.S. Harding Mott; and me, Harding Mott’s son-in-law.

From left to right: Charles Stewart Mott, C.S. Harding Mott, William S. White, Ridgway H. White

From left to right: Charles Stewart Mott, C.S. Harding Mott, William S. White, Ridgway H. White

The demands of running a sizable philanthropic organization are increasing every day, and Ridgway brings vigor, energy and insight to the challenges we face in all our areas of interest. He also brings experience.

Ridgway began his career at Mott as an intern in 2002 and was hired as a program assistant two years later. After working his way up through the program ranks, he served as the Foundation’s vice president for special projects and chair of our management working group from 2011 until he became president in January 2015.

He took the reins at the Foundation as the Flint water crisis was unfolding, and he quickly proved himself to be a decisive leader. Upon learning that blood lead levels had increased in Flint’s children since the city’s water source had been switched, he immediately called the governor to find out how the Foundation could help reconnect Flint to the Great Lakes Water Authority. With swift approval from our trustees, he committed $4 million to close the budget shortfall that had been preventing the State and the City of Flint from taking the crucial first step to bringing safe drinking water back to our community. In the months that followed, he also called on and worked with other foundations to help Flint. As part of that effort, the Mott Foundation committed up to $100 million over five years to help the city recover and rise from the water crisis.

A teacher works with students at Cummings Great Expectations, one of two early childhood schools Mott helped to launch in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

A teacher works with students at Cummings Great Expectations, one of two early childhood schools Mott helped to launch in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Photo: Danen Williams

In addition to serving as president and CEO of the Mott Foundation, Ridgway also serves the philanthropic sector. He recently completed his term as chairman of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and he currently serves on the boards of the Council of Michigan Foundations and the Council on Foundations. He knows how crucial it is to advocate for a policy environment that encourages charitable giving, and to support and participate in the regional and national organizations that do such work.

I’m proud to watch Ridgway contributing to the sector and leading the Mott Foundation. I’m also pleased to say I believe C.S. Mott would recognize today’s Foundation and the work we’re doing as his own. We’ve maintained a focus on our donor’s intent, even as we’ve evolved to remain relevant.

Based on his deep affection for the city of Flint, I’m sure C.S. would be pleased to see that supporting the community we call home is still one of the Foundation’s top priorities.

Artist and poet Kayla Shannon, a senior at Grand Blanc High School - September 2018

Spoken-word artist Kayla Shannon was one of two Flint, Michigan, teens to medal in the national ACT-SO competition at the NAACP’s annual convention. The Mott Foundation has granted $300,000 in multi-year support for ACT-SO’s national and Flint-based programming. Photo: Cristina Wright

C.S. also was extremely interested in education — particularly community schools and afterschool programs. We’re still working locally and nationally on those issues. In fact, we can trace a path from work C.S. launched in Flint in 1935 to a partnership we formed with the federal government in the 1990s to pilot and expand the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative. Today, the program serves 1.7 million children nationwide.

As a practical engineer, C.S. had a great interest in the wise use of resources to meet changing conditions. I expect he would be very engaged in our efforts to provide clean, sustainable energy to the nearly 1 billion people around the world who still lack access to electricity.

Solar installation in Pyulaga Village

With a $1 million grant from the Mott Foundation, the Brazil-based Socio-Environmental Institute is helping communities in the Xingu Indigenous Park install solar power systems to give dozens of remote communities in the Amazon rainforest access to clean, renewable energy. Photo: Neal Hegarty

One of C.S.’ most strongly held beliefs was that all people exist in a kind of informal partnership with their community, and that concept still guides our grantmaking today. The Mott Foundation has helped to build the field of community philanthropy worldwide as a means of helping people engage with their communities to tackle both local and global challenges.

I believe Harding Mott also would be proud. Throughout all our work, we’ve paid heed to his counsel to “preserve the seed corn.” Just as farmers must save their seed corn so they can plant and harvest the following year, Harding wanted to be sure the Foundation always protected our asset base to be able to serve our mission year after year, and decade after decade. And we’ve done so.

Bill White and Harding Mott on the cover of a 1978 issue of Flint Magazine and Bill and Ridgway White on the cover of a 2016 issue of My City Magazine.

Magazines published almost four decades apart show a family tradition of leadership. From the left, William S. White and C.S. Harding Mott stand beside a portrait of Charles Stewart (C.S.) Mott. On the right, William S. White and Ridgway H. White pose before a painting of C.S. Mott.

Even after giving away more than $3 billion dollars, we still have roughly $3 billion in assets. Continued adherence to this practice will ensure that Ridgway — and all the leaders who will follow him — will have resources to tackle the challenges of their day.

My time at the Mott Foundation began just as the Tax Reform Act of 1969 was enacted. That legislation fundamentally rewrote the book on how foundations could operate, and I remember well the governance, staffing and payout issues the field had to address following its passage.

I’ve seen the field change dramatically since that time, yet one thing remains clear. The philanthropic field must always be vigilant in promoting leadership, ethical standards and transparency. It’s the only way we’ll continue to have a place at the table, a voice in public dialogue and impact on issues that matter.

Mott Foundation 2016 Annual Report

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation 2016 Annual Report

If you’d like to know more about the lessons I learned over more than four decades at the helm of the Mott Foundation, I invite you to read the message I wrote for the 2016 annual report commemorating the Foundation’s 90th anniversary.

But, for now, what I really want you to know is that the time is right for this transition.

I feel good about the Foundation’s priorities and our ability to address them. I have great confidence in Ridgway, the rest of the Foundation’s management team, our staff at every level and the wonderful grantees we’re fortunate to have as partners in our work.

In my ongoing role as chairman, I plan to contribute — for many years to come — to the Foundation’s efforts to promote a just, equitable and sustainable society. And I will continue to be grateful every day for the chance to do that.

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