Search for Ujc President Narrows to Five Candidates

“Newly redesigned social service and fund-raising organization that provides hundreds of millions of dollars annually for Jewish needs in North America and around the world seeks a visionary leader who can articulate its mission to a broad-based constituency and collaborate with a national board of directors and high-powered volunteer leaders.

“Commitment to Jewish life and experience with corporate mergers a must.”

So might read the job description for president of the United Jewish Communities, the chief professional officer of the organization formed by the merger of the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Israel Appeal.

It’s an opening that has taken over a year to fill, and officials close to the process say they expect to announce a new CEO by the end of October.

The UJC was launched in April, but a 25-member search committee began its work in August 1998, while the UJA-CJF union still existed as a partnership.

Now those closest to the search for a qualified president say they have five serious prospects for the job.

Jeffrey Solomon, a consultant to the UJC, and David Edell, the president of Development Resource Group, a New York-based headhunting firm, said in an interview last week that the search has covered a professional spectrum ranging from local federation offices to the halls of government, including professionals in higher education, health care and public advocacy.

The two men responsible for recruiting candidates say that despite speculation to the contrary, they have encountered a high level of interest in the position and have held intensive discussions with “more than 10″ people. They would not name those individuals.

Solomon said the search has “narrowed down” in what has become a “day-to-day dynamic situation.”

Edell and Solomon said they hope to complete the search well before the UJC’s mid-November General Assembly, when federation leaders from around the country will gather in Atlanta.

Solomon is laying bets that the process will be wrapped up before the end of October.

That deadline would leave little lag time in filling the position currently held by Stephen Solender, whose six-month stint as acting UJC president is scheduled to end Oct. 15. Solender continues to work part time in his permanent role as executive vice president of UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.

Solender was appointed in April after the search committee did not come up with a candidate and found itself “uncertain about what direction to go,” said Daniel Shapiro, the New York lawyer who, with Richard Pearlstone of Aspen, Colo., serves as its co-chairman.

Over the past five months, they have returned to the process Shapiro describes as “complicated and interesting and challenging.”

Solomon said the search was boosted by the completion of the merger and the announcement this spring that Charles Bronfman, Seagram company executive, would be UJC’s chairman of the board.

“One of the things a CEO in a non-profit needs to know is who’s going to be the chairman of the board, who am I going to be working with?” said Solomon, a former chief operating officer at the New York federation who is now the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

The first phase of the search for a chief professional officer had resulted most publicly with a request from Steven Nasatir, the president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, that his name be withdrawn from consideration for the post.

Another large-city federation executive in the running was Robert Aronson, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Other names churning in the rumor mill during the original search phase included Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. deputy treasury secretary, and Richard Joel, the president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

This time around, the search process has been kept tightly under wraps. Until the search subcommittee met earlier this month, Solomon and Edell were the only people involved in interviewing candidates, they said.

The second round of the search saga has been more successful, Solomon said, “because of the confidentiality in this round.”

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