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News Analysis: Ujc’s Appointment of New Triad Prompts Speculation, Anticipation

October 12, 1999
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The decision to appoint three professionals to the top tier of leadership at the United Jewish Communities is being presented as the perfect blend of vital experience, management skills and visionary inspiration.

But the appointments announced last week — of Stephen Solender as the UJC’s president, Louise Frankel Stoll as chief operating officer and David Altshuler as the president of a new, independent foundation — also represent the latest growing pains in the development of the 6-month-old organization being formed through the merger of the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Israel Appeal.

The merger, which was launched in April, is meant to give local Jewish community federations a majority voice in the way the funds they raise in annual campaigns — some $760 million last year — are allocated for domestic and global Jewish needs.

Charles Bronfman, the UJC’s board chairman, originally had articulated his desire to install as the UJC’s president someone from outside the federation system — a visionary to inspire a cultural change at the new national organization.

But federation executives, particularly as the search wound down in recent weeks, pressed for the appointment of an insider — a knowledgeable community leader who understood the system, knew the players and could quickly acclimate to the position at the helm of a system that serves 189 Jewish federations and some 400 independent communities across North America.

The news of the appointments has generated much speculation and great anticipation.

Federation executives from around the country said they were pleased with Solender’s leadership posting and expressed cautious approval for the other two appointments.

But the pervasive feeling was one of relief that the search was over, so that the UJC’s real work could begin.

Significant issues related to the merger — including staffing at the national office in New York and the development of policy agendas — had been put on hold until the top position was filled permanently.

At a news conference announcing the appointments Oct. 5, Bronfman said the shift from his original vision of creating a completely new culture at the UJC grew out of his realization of the “real needs of the organization versus the supposed needs.”

“At the end of the day, you say, This looks to us to be the best” outcome: “to have an insider, an insider/outsider and an outsider.”

But in private conversations, some people closely associated with the UJC said the appointments were less a blending of interests than Bronfman’s temporary acquiescence to the will of executives at the largest federations.

Solender, 61, has served for the last six months as the UJC’s acting president, while simultaneously working as the executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York, a post he has held for the past 13 years.

Known as a consummate Jewish communal professional, he oversaw the 1986 merger of the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies with the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York.

While he has been called the “dean of federation executives,” Solender is not known primarily as a visionary.

Instead, he is praised for his ability to appoint and work with strong, capable personalities.

During his tenure in New York, he brought in several highly regarded chief operating officers, including Jeffrey Solomon, now a consultant to the UJC merger and the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, and John Ruskay, who will replace Solender at the New York UJA-Federation.

Since his appointment as the interim president, Solender had maintained publicly that he was not a candidate for the national position. At the Oct. 5 news conference he said he had entered into conversations with the search committee about the permanent posting only two weeks before.

Stoll and Altshuler were among the five final candidates already being considered for the job, according to sources involved in the process.

Members of the search committee saw the creation of a professional troika a “fantasy” opportunity to triple their leadership potency, according to Solomon.

Describing his new job, Solender said he would serve as president and chief executive officer, in charge of day-to-day management of the UJC’s staff. He also said he would oversee the UJC’s $37 million annual budget and supervise the development of the UJC’s four content areas, or “pillars”: Jewish Renaissance and Renewal, Israel and Overseas, Human Services and Social Policy, and Financial Resource Development.

Solender’s appointment takes effect immediately.

Stoll, as executive vice president and chief operating officer, will be responsible for strategic planning and implementing the organizational changes and fiscal planning required by the merger.

Those familiar with Stoll’s professional history praise her managerial expertise — skills that got the attention of the Clinton administration, which hired her as assistant secretary for budget and programs and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation, where she served from 1993 to 1997.

She has spent the last two years in Washington as a senior vice president for the Los Angeles-based engineering and consulting firm of Dames and Moore Group. She is scheduled to begin at the UJC on Dec. 1.

Stoll made her reputation in the Jewish community as vocal advocate for Israel and activist on behalf of Soviet Jews.

At the same time, Stoll is known as an aggressive, sometimes divisive personality, whose opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and her vocal dissatisfaction with the disbursal of funds for the resettling of Soviet emigres put her at odds with many other Jews in the Bay Area during the early 1990s, according to the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California.

Bronfman said last week that he had not asked Stoll about her politics, and the UJC leadership pointed to her professional credentials as the criteria for her appointment.

Speaking of Altshuler, Solender said he would help federations “obtain critically important funds” from mega-donors and corporations.

The foundation that he will run is envisioned as a new approach for reaching out to philanthropists to support programs that conform to the UJC’s mission.

Altshuler, who is 50, began his career as an academic, launching the Judaic Studies program at George Washington University. In 1986, he became the founding director of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

“I’m confident he’s going to bring the wisdom, vision and ability to communicate the essence of the United Jewish Communities to donors coast to coast,” Solender said.

Altshuler is slated to begin in his new job on Jan. 1.

Most leaders in the UJC system interviewed by JTA expressed enthusiasm for the appointments. But despite the decision to ultimately go with Solender, several insiders noted aspects of the process that seemed to indicate Bronfman’s strong influence over the process.

Chief among the issues cited was that Solender’s chief operating officer was not of his choosing — although Solender reportedly met with Stoll and drafted her job description.

Another point noted by several system insiders was that the foundation, which has yet to be named, was originally envisioned as a semi-autonomous division of the UJC.

But the foundation was reconceived as an “independent entity,” some suggested, in order to attract Altshuler to the position.

The foundation’s connection to the UJC has yet to be defined, and its autonomous status has raised fears in some corners that it will develop outside of the federations’ purview.

The UJC will not divulge salaries for the three new professional leaders.

But Bronfman and Joel Tauber, chairman of the UJC’s executive committee, said the appointment of three people rather than one would not impinge on cutting costs — one of the goals of the merger — because under the old UJA-CJF-UIA system each organization would have had a chief executive and a chief financial officer.

Prior to his recent appointment, Solender had said he planned to retire in the next two or three years.

Unconfirmed rumors that Solender’s current contract expires after two years suggest that Bronfman pushed through his preference to bring in outsiders.

That time frame would give the veteran federation executive time to “right the ship” of the UJC and help set its future course in terms of policy and agenda.

After Solender’s anticipated retirement, either Stoll or Altshuler conceivably would be primed to take over the top post.

Solomon called the speculation over the length of Solender’s contract “inaccurate,” but declined to elaborate.

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