CLEVELAND–November 20, 2019–After more than 15 years leading the Fund for Our Economic Future, Brad Whitehead announced today his plans to step down as president of the funder alliance, a position he has held since its inception in 2004. Whitehead, who was instrumental in founding the first-of-its-kind economic development organization while a senior fellow at the Cleveland Foundation, made the decision to make room for the next generation of leadership.
“This was not an easy decision for me; I love what I do and I love this community,” Whitehead said. “But it is absolutely the right time. I believe we are falling short of our potential as a region in part because we are not allowing sufficient space for generational leadership. We will benefit from fresh perspectives, fresh ideas, fresh culture.”
A careful succession planning process is nearing completion, and members are expected to announce the selection of the next president by early 2020. Beginning in March, Whitehead will move into the role of senior advisor of special projects. He will also serve as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.
“Brad’s commitment to making room for the next generation is emblematic of his leadership style,” said Chair Mark Samolczyk, president and CEO of Stark Community Foundation. “It is hard to overstate just how influential Brad has been in the work of the Fund, and all of our members are grateful to him. Our next leader will be well positioned; we have a compelling strategy, a fully funded budget and an energetic and engaged membership.”
During Whitehead’s tenure, the Fund has been a leading voice locally and nationally for economic growth and equitable access to opportunity, raising more than $105 million for its efforts, which have included research and awareness building; collaboration building; and grantmaking to support job creation, job preparation, job access, and systemic racial inclusion.
Under Whitehead’s leadership, the Fund published extensive research on issues that matter to the regional economy, including the influential What Matters to Metros, which evaluates the economic performance of 115 metropolitan statistical areas between 1990 and 2011, and The Two Tomorrows, which recommends 10 priorities to advance the region and suggests metrics to track inclusive economic growth.
The organization engaged residents across Northeast Ohio in Voices and Choices to better understand what the region needed; worked with partners to develop comprehensive regional economic competitiveness strategies around job creation, job preparation and job access; and supported effective collaboration building in communities across the region to advance inclusive economic growth.
In addition, the Fund was instrumental in the strategic development of and granted millions of dollars to regional economic development intermediaries, including JumpStart, BioEnterprise, MAGNET, and Team NEO. The Fund supported talent development and efforts to improve how workforce development services are delivered, most notably as the multi-million-dollar local funder for the national WorkAdvance pilot. The Fund also created and put funding toward public competitions like EfficientGovNow to support government collaboration and the $1 million Paradox Prize, launched earlier this year, to inspire innovations in transportation to eradicate the “no car, no job; no job, no car” paradox in Northeast Ohio.
Through all of this, Whitehead skillfully shepherded the Fund through a transformative evolution of its work in economic development, championing causes such as a regional identity and government collaboration, entrepreneurship and minority-business acceleration, workforce and talent development, and land use and worker mobility, all with an emphasis on the needs of Northeast Ohioans.
In 2014, building on a strong foundation of research and experience, the Fund made a more concerted push to ensure all residents can benefit from Northeast Ohio’s growth. This dual mission of Growth & Opportunity is encapsulated in 2018’s Two Tomorrows report, which explicitly called for the community to address head on racial disparities in economic outcomes. As part of this expressed commitment to systemic racial inclusion, the Fund anticipates announcing in the coming weeks some bold changes to its governance structure — the culmination of 12+ months of discussions and planning co-led by Whitehead, staff and members — that will bring fresh voices and perspectives to its work.
Throughout Whitehead’s tenure, the Fund worked with countless partners across the region in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to advance its mission, and remains the leading voice of philanthropy in Northeast Ohio.
“I am so proud of the work of the Fund and the long-term commitment and dedication of our members, who year after year have been in the trenches working to improve the places they call home,” Whitehead said. “We have enjoyed some real successes, but as The Two Tomorrows points out, we have a long way to go until Northeast Ohio’s economy provides good jobs and rising incomes for everyone. The good news is there is amazing talent emerging that is more than prepared and ready to lead. I firmly believe a more extraordinary tomorrow awaits; the best is ahead of us.”
Before moving into the civic space, Whitehead was a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, where he worked for 20 years throughout North America and Europe on a broad range of business management and public policy issues. He co-founded the firm’s North American Environment Practice and was a global leader of its Growth & Business Building Practice. He has also worked as an anthropologist in Africa and an environmental researcher in the Amazon.
A resident of Northeast Ohio since 1986, Whitehead hails from a small Illinois farm town. He graduated with honors in economics from Harvard College and later received an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School.
Whitehead has received numerous honors for his contributions to the Northeast Ohio economy, including the prestigious Richard A. Shatten Leadership Award from the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and has held a number of nonprofit and private board positions throughout his career.
About the Fund for Our Economic Future
The Fund for Our Economic Future is an alliance of more than 30 funders — foundations, corporations, higher education institutions, government, and civic associations — from across Northeast Ohio working toward a more extraordinary economy with good jobs and rising incomes for everyone through improved job creation, job preparation and job access.
Sara McCarthy, Director of Communications