It began with a call in late summer last year. “I have news for you, but I need you to keep it confidential for a little while,” she said. “I have been offered another job and it will probably be finalized very soon.” My response, “Well, to be candid, I’m not surprised; I knew this was bound to happen one day, it was just a matter of time.” And with that the journey began.
I knew Seema Sueko, who has been in the position of executive artistic director since Mo`olelo began, almost ten years ago. I served on the board of trustees for several years at the beginning, and then came back on the board years later to support this innovative award winning San Diego theater. For all these years, the success of the theater was tied directly to the talents of this amazing woman and the task became finding the perfect successor. Once the entire board learned that she was moving on by the end of the year, the wheels began to turn. Mo`olelo will celebrate a ten year anniversary soon and the theater is an important part of San Diego’s culture, much too important to allow the founder’s departure to slow down the momentum.
With a transition team of board members in place, the first steps were taken. Our team leader contacted his friend and neighbor, a well known and respected management consultant. Knowing that the consultant had worked with many nonprofits and arts organization he asked for a favor, could he take on the task of leading us through the process. Offering to do it pro bono, he met with the entire board and led us through a planning session to get started. The plan included details and specifics, such as when we let the public know, who we contact personally and what the job announcement and interview process would entail.
As we continued, board members were each given resumes to read and grade. The same standards were applied to each resume so there would be fairness and consistency. Next steps involved narrowing down the list of candidates and phone interviews, again using consistency and standards. At one point the selection team brought in interested stakeholders and donors to have a part in this very democratic and well thought out process.
Mo`olelo means so much to our board of trustees and to the community that is imperative that we go about this the right way. Stepping into a position held since inception by the founder is a daunting task. We had to find that one right person who had the talent, drive and initiative to move us to the next chapter. We needed a leader with his or her own vision that fell right in line with Mo`olelo’s.
As part of the interview team for the finalists, I saw firsthand how much time, thought and love went into designing these important questions posed to the candidates who made the close to the last cut. The best part of any hiring process is finding that more than one person might be right for the job. First, it tells us that the theater can and will go on, even as a beloved leader leaves; and second, it tells us we have the luxury of knowing a choice is not forced upon us by lack of viable candidates. It was like choosing between wonderful and terrific.
After extensive interviews and work samples, the last two candidates selected were brought up for discussion at a full board meeting and the vote was cast. San Diego theater world get ready – we are about to introduce you to Mo`olelo’s new Artistic Executive Director, Lydia Fort, and yes, more to follow.