Cleveland exec tapped for top UJC post

NEW YORK, June 5 (JTA) — In what is being called a long-term “succession plan,” the executive of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland has been tapped to succeed Stephen Solender as the top professional at the United Jewish Communities.

Cleveland’s Stephen Hoffman will likely replace Solender, who retires in 2003. But he is expected to join the North American federation umbrella group in the near future, running it’s day-to-day operations before that, said Joel Tauber, chair of the UJC’s executive committee.

Hoffman declined to comment, saying discussions were still ongoing.

Solender said he is pleased with the new plans, and that he expects to focus on special projects and ensuring a smooth transition while Hoffman assumes responsibility for the UJC’s operations.

The latest development comes two years after Solender was hired, following a lengthy search process. At that time, Solender, now 63, told lay leaders that he would stay only until he turns 65, Tauber and Solender said.

However, in recent weeks, rumors had circulated that Solender was being pushed out under pressure from James Tisch, who has been invited to become the UJC’s next chairman of the board.

Tisch, currently president of the UJA-Federation of Greater New York, was rumored to dislike Solender, who is former executive vice president of that federation.

But Tisch, who said he is accepting the offer to be chairman of the board, dismissed those rumors as “patently ridiculous.” Solender said the rumor has “no basis in reality.”

Tauber said recent discussions over the UJC’s top professional position have been limited to himself, Hoffman, Solender and Charles Bronfman, the UJC’s current chairman of the board.

“Jim Tisch has had no input, no involvement, no discussion and no influence” in the hiring decisions, Tauber said.

Both Bronfman and Tauber will step down from their volunteer posts in October. Robert Goldberg, immediate past board chair of Cleveland’s federation, is expected to replace Tauber.

Hoffman’s selection is the latest staffing move at the top echelons of UJC, which is the product of the 1999 merger between the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations. Until December, the group had a chief operating officer responsible for many of the day-to-day operations Hoffman is expected to assume, but she left after weeks of negotiations.

The new changes mean that top leadership will be heavily weighted towards New York and Cleveland. New York has the largest campaign, and Cleveland has the fifth largest campaign.

Tisch, the president and CEO of Loews Corporation, was selected because he has “done an absolutely outstanding job in the New York federation on every level,” said Daniel Shapiro, the chair of the nominating committee.

Tisch is “an articulate spokesman for the federation system and for making a gift to the federation campaign” as opposed to the current trend toward designated giving to particular institutions, Shapiro added.

Tisch’s business holdings — which include the Lorillard tobacco company — may draw some controversy, as they did when he was named to the top post in New York.

While the nominating committee discussed that possibility, Shapiro said, “with the exception of one, maybe two, people, everyone felt that was not really relevant.”

“His business is run lawfully and legally and they’re functioning in the business world today,” Shapiro said. “He’s an upstanding citizen and part of a family that’s been unbelievably philanthropic.”

Goldberg, who has had major leadership roles in Cleveland’s Mandel Foundation, as well as the city’s federation, has been extremely involved in the UJC’s governance. The UJC’s immediate past treasurer, Goldberg currently is chairman of its Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee, which determines how federations should allocate funds to Israel and Jews in other countries.

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