THE LEADERSHIP CALIFORNIA TEAM - Pam Hemann and the management team, from left, development director Carrie Calkins, administrative director Yvette Dominguez, executive director Pam Hemann and communications and marketing director Carol Caley.
Pam Hemann on Her Legacy at Leadership California:
A Look Back, and a Look Forward
Pam Hemann will depart from her role as executive director of Leadership California on December 31, 2017. New leadership for the organization will be announced in the coming weeks.
by Carol Caley
October 12, 2017
Pam, in your role as executive director you’ve been the face of Leadership California—really the heart and soul of Leadership California—for 26 years. Tell us about your history. How did you get started with the organization?
What I love is this: it’s really the same story as this organization’s: it’s all about networking, learning, and connecting with people.
I got married and moved to California in 1988. I didn’t know a thing about the state—other than what you read when you live on the East coast, which makes it sound like a very odd place (laughs). Simultaneously to my coming here, our founding director, Sarah Smith Orr, had also married and moved to Pasadena. Her life’s work was in the nonprofit arena. My work was in the association arena in Washington D.C. We both immediately got ourselves overcommitted in community work, and that’s where we got acquainted. We found out our husbands knew each other, and we became friends. She was very involved as one of the founders of Leadership California, and she was recruiting me into the first California Issues & Trends (CIT) class.
Who would think that you started out as a would-be class member?
Yes, Sarah was trying to recruit me into the Class of 1992. Then, as the founders were working on the launch of the inaugural program, they realized they needed help managing it.
It dawned on them that you had the expertise to lead rather than participate?
Sarah had been named the founding executive director. There was a very active board of 12 people. They came to me and said, we know you have a management company, and what we really need is your expertise in running the logistics and administrative parts of the program. So I came on to do that, and work with program committees.
“It’s been a wonderful 26-year ride for me personally, for my company, and certainly also for LC, a great growth curve.”
So the new program got off the ground.
My company, Association Management Services (AMS), was founded in 1988. I was looking to grow my business, and they were looking to grow LC, so it was serendipitous.
My company grew along with LC. I spent 11 years working with associations in D.C., and my last position was as VP of education for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. That background allowed me to continue to build my skills, and gave me the flexibility to expand my business and also help LC grow.
It’s been a wonderful 26-year ride for me personally, for my company, and certainly also for LC, a great growth curve.
Growing personally and professionally is always the goal for the women in our programs—and to learn how things happen in California. It’s like a college education, on the road, with no homework! So you benefited from that.
I was very fortunate, because I learned about California in a totally immersive way. Moving around the state, finding speakers and resources, learning the complexities. Think about the beauty of this program. You learn through the eyes of others. It’s not just the speakers, the field trips and the experiences, it’s also the listening and learning from the women in the room. It’s a very rich experience. That’s what’s unique about the CIT program, and what people love about it.
You do have a gift for connecting people. The organization gained the huge network you proceeded to set up here, even though you are not a native Californian. Everyone always says behind your back, ‘Oh, Pam knows everyone!’
I think LC certainly contributed to my knowing everyone! But I’ve always taken pleasure in bringing people together and making connections, having insights about people, and thinking of who they might want to get to know, or be introduced to, helping them find a resource. I love doing that.
It’s really the network—that’s the gift that women leaders take home from LC.
It’s both knowledge and learning, and connecting—and it has been even for me as the executive. The key is, you get out of it what you put in to it. For all the women in the programs, the more they personally give, the more effort they make with other class members, speakers, the experiences, the bigger the takeaway.
“I admire the women who were on the original board. It was their labor of love that made this happen. They had a very clear vision. ”
You’ve navigated the Leadership California organization through challenging times, including through a recession, and through a process to make us more diverse and inclusive. You’ve also led us during some great good times. Tell us about the challenges and the triumphs, how did it feel for you?
The launching of a new organization is incredibly challenging. I admire the women who were on the original board. It was their labor of love that made this happen. They had a very clear vision. That helped the organization get off the ground, and grow to be viable.
So their dedication got things going when the organization was brand new, and then what?
As with every organization, you face challenges. If you look at a history of nonprofits, and how they succeed or not, there’s a pattern around success and failure. Rapid success and growth happen in the first 5-7 years while the founders are still involved. There’s a lot of passion, everyone’s giving everything they can.
At the beginning, LC had a rapid rise.
Yes, the passion and dedication of that group was with the organization for many years. The founders made Sarah’s volunteer founding executive director role a paid role, which was highly appropriate in a growth pattern. The organization grew to where they had to expand staff. Eventually, Sarah moved on to other things. LC reorganized, and hired a captive staff, including a new executive director. My company, AMS, was still on a contract. At that point I was leading CIT programming, not serving as the executive director.
So LC had a contract with you, and a captive staff as well?
Yes. I was doing programming and logistics. In 1998, there was an attempt at rapid growth, and the organization found itself in financial trouble. The executive director and staff left, and then the board and AMS were responsible for the organization. We made sure the program was completed for the year, that the organization fulfilled its obligation to the class and the sponsors, and basically survived the year. LC ended that year about $100,000 in debt.
That sounds like a precarious time.
We started calling this period “The Precipice.” We had to find a way to recover from that.
Dorothy Farris was board president at that time. Dorothy and I and the remaining seven board members were committed to a future for Leadership California. We did some planning, and began the work of turning things around. Dorothy and I went to the RGK Foundation with a business plan in hand, and requested a loan to get the organization out of debt, and to somehow launch a program in 1999.
So Leadership California was on the edge of failure?
It is not unusual for a young organization to falter, to have issues and problems.
We were then incredibly fortunate that George and Ronya Kozmetsky, the trustees of RGK Foundation, provided a $75,000 loan to be paid back over three years, with interest. Then we managed to pull together a tremendous class of fifty women for 1999. The stars aligned, and that was the re-launch of Leadership California, its board, and its fundraising.
What did you do differently in 1999 that you hadn’t done before?
We always had full classes, good classes, but in 1997-98, the organization determined that they wanted to grow the class size to between 90 and 100 women. That created some real issues for the program. Developing a network with that many women was incredibly difficult. Transportation was more difficult, costs were higher. It became unwieldy, and unsatisfactory for the participants.
It’s hard to bond with 100 people meeting them only four times in a year.
Yes, so in 1999, we went back to a smaller class size, focused on our core program, let go of some activities, and got back to our roots. We had a great class, a wonderful experience.
After that, the board, along with Dorothy and me, made individual calls across the state to every company that had been a sponsor, every company that was sending women to the program, to meet with them. We explained our plan to pull back from “The Precipice,” and told them where we were headed.
“By the time we got to 2010 or so, we were on a pretty good growth trajectory, increasing revenues and programs. Over the last 6 years we’ve experienced a 9% year-over-year revenue growth. That has every promise of continuing.”
So the funders came through.
Yes. With a lot of luck and hard work, and the Kozmetskys’ generous loan, we followed the plan. At year three of the loan repayment, the Kozmetskys forgave the loan. They stayed so supportive, so amazing in their partnership with us.
Since that time, it’s been pretty much a growth curve. Yes, there has been a recession, and some blips, but the organization has operated in the black since then. By the time we got to the mid-2000s, it was modest growth, and by the time we got to 2010 or so, we were on a pretty good growth trajectory, increasing revenues and programs. Over the last 6 years we’ve experienced a 9% year-over-year revenue growth. That has every promise of continuing.
Can you talk about the board decision to work on diversity and inclusion? What prompted the realization that diversity should become a core value?
Learning and knowledge gained from the program itself brought that new approach. We had speakers coming in to talk about demographics, so it was clear that the diversity of California would continue to expand.
“Demographics are king.” So says Mary O’Hara Devereaux, our futurist. This includes ethnicity, age cohorts, business sectors, and regional growth areas. It was all very clear in the demographics and the economic development picture for California as a global entity.
So there was a disconnect? LC needed to look more like the face of California?
In 2005 or so, it became clear that we were not representative of California. When we say we are Leadership California, we’d better really represent California. It’s not just something you talk about, it’s something you work hard to accomplish.
So we asked Kay Iwata to join the board. Kay could help us work on becoming more like what California represents demographically. She brought the board through a diversity and inclusion learning session. We know it will always be a work in progress.
We can look at the photo just published on our home page. It’s a thrill to look at this picture and know that it wasn’t planned, it just happened. These are women who attended the D.C. program. It’s the picture of diversity.
It means that we’ve succeeded in achieving a more diverse Leadership California community, something we can be proud of, and continue to work on.
Can you talk about some of the highlights that you remember, the special moments, either a challenge or a triumph? I remember a few! I was on that D.C. trip in 2013, when the government shutdown happened. You had to pull a rabbit out of a hat. You came up with two days of alternate activities at the very last-minute. Yet you went to Plan B so smoothly.
As they say, the best laid plans can go awry. At LC, we’ve had a range of challenges and successes. The Precipice was the lowest point, where we could easily have closed our doors. I’ll always be grateful to that core group who worked side by side to make sure that didn’t happen.
At the same time, it was a high point: it speaks to the resiliency of this organization. It was about people coming together to make something wonderful happen. While it was a disaster, it was also a rebirth, and a great joy to see it come together and succeed over the next few years.
“The organization has been innovative. We have a strong mission and vision that has sustained us over the years, to see something bright and shining at the end of our efforts. ”
What were some highlights to you personally? Our 25th anniversary was a big milestone. Was it a personal thrill to see LC recognized in both the California State Senate and Assembly floors?
Yes, what a great day that was, the kickoff to our 25th anniversary year. I can think of so many really wonderful high points. The Legacy of Leadership Awards—that was something we did early on, and then dropped during the dark days. We brought it back and strengthened it. Again, that speaks to the resiliency of the organization, and of our women.
The organization has been innovative. We have a strong mission and vision of what we want to do. That has sustained us over the years, to see something bright and shining at the end of our efforts, and has allowed us to have measured growth.
It was your concept to come up with the D.C. program, now in high demand.
We were in pretty good shape financially in 2013, and I believed that we should expand in a new, different way. And I know D.C. so well. I knew we could do this. Also, it was a logical extension of our California program, a good answer for the alumnae who asked us for something more and for companies with business beyond California’s borders.
So you took the idea to the board.
We found that we can innovate by trying pilot programs, and if they work, we can keep moving on them. The first LC to DC in 2013 proved it could be a success, so we planned for 2015. Here we are now in 2017, and the program sold out 6 weeks ahead of time and was a big success, with great sponsors and great co-chairs.
Also the Central Valley Women’s Forum, now growing successfully.
The idea of building a program in the Central Valley came from our board member Sandy Cha, four years ago. Sandy and I worked on a white paper to the board about why it was important for LC to do this, but more than that, why it would be important to the women of the Central Valley. We were at the height of our efforts around diversity. We needed to be more inclusive of women in this region.
So it’s another innovation, another pilot.
It’s a specially-tailored program for a specific region, a pilot to find out what could work and be replicated elsewhere in the state. We owe a tremendous thanks to Sandy and Wells Fargo for providing a full grant that completely paid for the first Central Valley Women’s Forum in 2015. Now, we’re in year three, and the program stands on its own.
“The future of women’s leadership is an interesting combination of hope, persistence, and steady change. ”
You mentioned recently that you see CIT class members getting younger. Is that a trend? If you had a crystal ball, what would you see for women’s leadership in the future?
The future of women’s leadership is an interesting combination of hope, persistence, and steady change. I have a lot of hope about it. Women in positions of leadership today are achieving leadership positions at a younger age and earlier in their career than when the program started in 1992. In the CIT of the 90s, the women were all in their 50s. They were all very seasoned, in roles of VP, executive VP, director, senior director.
Now women have similar titles, but they’re younger. They have the same career trajectory, but accelerated by 10 years. They’re moving up faster. That says something about what their longevity will be in the workforce. The other thing we learn from demographics is…
…that we’ll be in our third or fourth career by the time we’re 85? And still working?
Yes! These women in CIT now, who are on that escalator up in terms of health—they’re going to live to be 100. They will need to work until they are 70 or 75 to sustain themselves in that longer lifespan. Demographic patterns also tell us that they will outlive men, so some of them will likely be living alone. This is where I always say we should create a CIT Alumnae Active Senior Residence!
What I see is steady change in leadership roles for women, and moving to those roles at a younger age. To me that means their presence at the leadership table will continue to increase. They will find it easier and easier to move to those higher level roles.
Maybe we’re inching toward that elusive goal in workplace leadership, equal footing with men?
What I don’t want women to forget is the shoulders that they stand on, the journey it’s taken to get there, and that the journey is now in their hands. The future of women is in the hands of the women in the program this year and next year, and the next year, and the next.
They need to continue to pursue, and push, and be confident and hopeful. I also hope that women will find it easier to talk about what works for them. How their life is probably very different from their mother’s, and from women of just ten years ago.
What do you see as your legacy to LC?
If I think about what I’ll miss most, it’s all about the women. My legacy is the 1,600 women whose lives I hope I have influenced in some way.
Our team at AMS is now recruiting the Class of 2018. By the time our current AMS agreement terminates on December 31, 2017, our recruitment will be 90% complete. We will have met these women, talked to them, and started getting excited about Session I, where we would bring them all together. I’ll recruit them, I’ll know them, but I won’t take the journey with them in 2018. That’s bittersweet.
I hope I’ll find a great volunteer role at this organization. I don’t intend to disappear, as long as I can bring something of value to the organization.
“I'm working now with the board to ensure that the transition is smooth – I'm involved in the process and providing counsel as they select a new management team. I'm confident the organization will remain in good hands.”
How do you envision that?
I’m going to have some transition involvement, certainly, through the first quarter of 2018. The board has indicated they want me working through that time to assist the new management team. I'm working now with the board to ensure that the transition is smooth – I'm involved in the process and providing counsel as they select a new management team. I'm confident the organization will remain in good hands. Then I hope I can be useful as a volunteer—whether that’s on a planning committee for an event, or around funding and partnerships, or planning a program or new venture. I would like to think I can still contribute and participate with the women I’ve gotten to know so well.
What’s next for you?
I’m not retiring. Association Management Services, Inc. is a going concern. There is a staff, we have other great clients. We look to building and growing that business. I’m very much involved as an association executive, my profession of 30 years. I have every intention of continuing. There may be new things on the horizon that I will find fascinating.
California was populated by people who were willing to take a chance. I think back to Kevin Starr’s wonderful book on California history. It was a history of chance-takers. As a woman leader yourself, and an entrepreneur, that’s what you’ve done. Took a chance on California, and Leadership California, and made something happen, made it golden.
I’m grateful to LC because it really helped me to discover California. Despite its complexity and challenges, California is an incredible place. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
And California is a very resilient place. Over the years, some crisis or other unfolds, and people respond—they save water, use less electricity, or accept a tax to make something change for the better. They come together because they want California to lead, to be the home of innovation and inspiration. There’s great resiliency in that, so it’s no surprise to me that there’s great resiliency in Leadership California. We’re made up of Californians, the best of them—wonderful women leaders.