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Walton Family Foundation Names Consultant as New Leader

Foundation

Walton Family Foundation Names Consultant as New Leader

This story originally appeared at The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Reprinted with permission: philanthropy.com. 

The Walton Family Foundation on Wednesday named Kyle Peterson, an international-development expert and foundation consultant, as its new executive director.

Mr. Peterson, currently managing director of consulting firm FSG, will start in September. He replaces Buddy Philpot, a longtime confidant of the Walton family, who announced in August 2015 that he would step down after 15 years on the job.

The Walton family, one of the world’s richest, made its fortune through Walmart Stores, the retail chain founded by Sam Walton.

Mr. Peterson will be the grant maker’s third leader. He is the first not to come from within the Walton orbit of business associates.

Walton, which has about $2.6 billion in assets, recently completed a new blueprint for its philanthropy. In February, it downsized its board from 22 to five members.

Carrie Walton Penner, the grant maker’s board chair, called Mr. Peterson "best in class" and said picking an outsider was a natural fit for the foundation.

"This is the next step in our evolution as a philanthropy," said Ms. Walton Penner, who is Sam Walton’s granddaughter. "That external knowledge and experience will really help us realize our potential."

Mr. Peterson said his goal was to "listen to the family and translate their ambition and dreams into ambitious practical reality."

More Collaboration

Much of Mr. Peterson’s professional experience is in international development. Before joining FSG, he was a strategy consultant for OnTheFrontier, a Monitor Group company. In that role, he advised Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, on the country’s future economic strategy and served as a country director in Zimbabwe and Rwanda for Population Services International.

At FSG, Mr. Peterson helped devise strategies for foundations to collaborate with others more effectively, work with businesses, and develop methods to evaluate progress. He said he is excited to use those approaches at Walton, which over the past two years has revamped its approach to K-12 education, the environment, and regional development and hired new leaders in each of those areas.

"What an opportunity to actually implement, really dig into the strategy, and move it toward execution," Mr. Peterson said. "I’m excited to bring new perspectives — all the tools in the toolbox I’ve been working on for the last 15 years."

Through 2020, the family plans to spend about $2.2 billion. The largest share of the foundation’s grants — about $1 billion — will go to education. About $455 million is earmarked for projects to improve the environment, and roughly $250 million is slated for regional development in Arkansas and Mississippi. The remainder, about $526 million, will go to an assortment of other causes, which in the past have included Boys & Girls Clubs, universities, and assistance for Walmart employees in crises.

Broad Knowledge

Over the past several years, some foundation boards looked within when they named a new leader. For instance, Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, previously held senior jobs at the grant maker. (His predecessor, Luis Ubiñas, was a veteran of McKinsey and company, a large consulting firm). La June Montgomery Tabron worked at the Kellogg Foundation for 26 years before being named president. And Julia Stasch, the president of the McArthur Foundation, was in charge of the grant maker’s U.S. programs before she was named to the top spot.

Others, such as the Irvine Foundation, chose outside consultants to take the helm. In 2014, for example, Don Howard took over as president. Previously, Mr. Howard was a partner at the Bridge¬span Group, a nonprofit strategy consulting firm.

Mark Kramer, FSG’s co-founder, said Mr. Peterson’s knowledge of how foundations can wield influence by building knowledge on an issue, influencing public will, and working a variety of groups, would serve him well at Walton.

"He has had an exposure to program and leadership strategies at foundations all over the world and has seen examples of what works and what doesn’t work," he said. "A lot of foundations look for subject-matter expertise. What many foundations miss, which is equally important, is expertise on how philanthropy can be effective in leading change on an issue."

Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, agreed that knowledge about the broader field of philanthropy is a helpful asset. Commenting generally, and not on Mr. Peterson’s appointment at Walton, Mr. Fineberg said it is important for leaders at grant makers with living founders — as is the case at Moore — need first-hand knowledge of the donors’ intent.

"With living donors, it’s vital that the president is able to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with the donors and other key advisers," he wrote in an email. "In a young foundation, strategic planning and organizational development skills are particularly important

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