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Jumping ship: Why leaders are leaving corporate jobs for the social sector

Jumping Ship

Other than thrifty living on a paycheck with fewer zeros, what adjustments do corporate executives confront when they shift gears to the nonprofit arena?
 
What are the lessons learned in the business world that they've applied to social sector work?
 
And what have they learned as leaders in the nonprofit field that could be put to use in the corporate jungle?
 
We wanted to know the answer to these questions and more. That's why Model D is hosting (in partnership with Michigan Nightlight and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) our next Speaker Series event, Jumping Ship: Leaders Who Left the Corporate Sector for the Social Sector, on Thursday evening, August 21, at United Way for Southeastern Michigan in Detroit.
 
Four metro Detroit leaders who have "jumped ship" will tell all in a lively conversation moderated by Zafar Razzacki, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's vice president of marketing. The panelists are:Listeners will learn how these leaders, who came from banking, sales, automotive marketing, and public relations, found their way -- sometimes by happenstance, sometimes by choice -- to nonprofit organizations.
 
Appetizers will be provided by FoodLab Detroit vendors, including: 
As a teaser to what you might hear, here are some words of wisdom from our panelists:

Ann Kalass, Starfish Family Services, Inkster and Detroit 
 
Ann Kalass, CEO of Starfish Family Services, has one word for what she enjoys most about working in the nonprofit arena that was lacking in the for-profit world: purpose.
 
"I see and experience every day why our work is critical to the community," says Kalass. "I am lucky enough to work in a building that serves more than 200 children under five every day, and our hallways are bustling with engaged and caring parents who want to do well by their children."
 
Before starting at Starfish in 2007, Kalass worked for 13 years in marketing and sales executive positions at Ford Motor Company.
 
Kalass admits that the first few months of her transition to Starfish were a little unsettling. She had run Lincoln-Mercury's largest U.S. sales region and oversaw Lincoln-Mercury marketing communications with a $400 million annual budget. Starfish was a drastically smaller organization with limited infrastructure.
 
"But, I have to say that since then I have never looked back," says Kalass. "The purposefulness of our work keeps me energized, and I truly enjoy and appreciate the people I work with -- staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and other nonprofit colleagues." She says that she also values the chance to get to know the families Starfish serves and watch them gain confidence.

Chris Uhl, The Skillman Foundation, Detroit
 
Chris Uhl likes the fact that he doesn't question how he spends his days.
 
"I'm working for a larger cause," he says. "I wasn't always sure about that in my old life."
 
Before starting at The Skillman Foundation in 2012 as vice president of social innovation, Uhl worked as a vice president of commercial banking at PNC and before that with other financial institutions. He says that he learned to strive for results by selling every day in the for-profit world, and thus he's driven to get things done every day in his new position.
 
But when it comes to human services, results are quantified differently, through more than dollars and cents, and there's a heap of social issues to solve in the social service sector.
 
"Biggest thing that is a difference for me: in my old world, I could work my butt off and close a deal and then go celebrate. I always had something I was shooting for that ended," says Uhl. "In this world, you try to solve one problem and there are another 100 smacking you in the face."
 
Uhl says that to raise the bar on social sector work, people must recognize that talent should be paid for.
 
"It's a misnomer that people in this sector should earn far less than other sectors."

Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, Linked Learning Detroit
 
After bidding adieu to the corporate world (last stop Compuware), Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp embraced the role of CEO at Linked Learning Detroit last fall. It posed an opportunity for her to use all she'd learned and accomplished in her career to make a difference in the lives of young people in Detroit.
 
Heidelberg-Yopp is interested in connecting the dots on the work going on in all sectors -- social services, private, and government -- as each sector is making major investments designed to have a positive impact on the economy.
 
She enjoys putting an entire day, and sometimes night, into work that was extra-curricular in the for-profit world.
 
"The profit that we are now seeking is in the building of people, our community, and our economy," she says. "That benefits everyone and will have true lasting impact."

Alexander Sebastian, The Guidance Center, Southgate
  
After working in corporate America for 20 years, including an eight-year stint at Ilitch Holdings in Detroit, Al Sebastian left it all behind in 2004, deciding to put his skills to use in the nonprofit industry.
 
He currently serves as director of communications and philanthropy for The Guidance Center, the largest employer in Southgate with 700 staff members and a $40 million budget.
 
Sebastian has observed that people who work in the nonprofit world are savvy, dedicated, and talented.
 
"They know how to build relationships and successful partnerships, while affecting great change," says Sebastian.
 
Likely not found in big business, a perk of Sebastian's nonprofit job is found simply in its atmosphere,
 
"You may leave an important board meeting and head down the hall to join a classroom of children where you have the privilege to read them a book or two. Pretty awesome."
 
Want to hear more? Join us for Jumping Ship: Leaders Who Left the Corporate Sector for the Social Sector on Thursday, August 21; networking, food and drinks at 5:00 p.m.; panel discussion begins promptly at 6:00 p.m. Location: United Way for Southeastern Michigan, First National Building, 660 Woodward Ave, Suite 300, Detroit. For more information, visit the event's Facebook page

PARKING: The nearest paid lots are the Handy lot at 64 Cadillac Square or the 2 Detroit Center Garage at 160 E. Congress near Larned. Metered street parking is also available nearby. 


Can't make it to the event? Join us as we couple the live discussion with a tweet chat. If you're on Twitter, use and follow the hashtag #MIyouth starting at 6 p.m.
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