Sometimes organizations hiring an interim leader are looking for a caretaker to continue business as usual until the new leader stakes out a new course.
At the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, change was already the order of the day when Howard Charish ended his tenure as chief executive and David Gad-Harf assumed the position of interim executive at the beginning of the year. When he was asked to head up the organization until Charish’s successor could be found, “The clear message was to not be a caretaker but to move the organization forward, since were at such a pivotal point,” he said in an interview on Monday, his first day back as the federation’s associate executive vice president and chief operating officer with Jason Shames at the organization’s helm.
“It wasn’t a quiet time to be the interim executive vice president. But I really feel proud that I’ve been able to play an important role in maintaining, if not strengthening, the organization during a period of intense change,” he said.
Gad-Harf was already intimately involved with the federation’s day-to-day operations as its chief operating officer. He led the strategic planning process that led to the changes under way at federation.
But sitting in the top seat was different.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Part of what I’ve gained is a lot of additional experience in high-end fundraising. These days the executive of a federation has to spend the bulk of his or her time raising funds. It was during this period that we needed to close our annual campaign. I had a lot of additional responsibilities for cultivating relationships with our major donors and bringing them to the point where they were eager to make their donations to the 2011 campaign. It wasn’t foreign to me before then, but I gained a lot of additional experience.
“It also provided me with a broader perspective of our federation as a whole and the role of the CEO within it. There’s an additional kind and level of responsibility that comes with being the top professional in any organization or corporation. You don’t understand or feel it until you’re there, to really feel responsible for the future and well-being of this organization,” he said.
“I really feel fortunate to remain in a position where I can continue to move the federation forward. This is an exciting time to be a professional at the federation. I look forward to being Jason’s partner as we move the federation forward,” he said.