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Bob’s Blog – Marion & Ruth: Two Badass Women

So, you have probably already heard the news that within the coming months, TCE will be losing two incredibly valued and historical contributors to retirement.  These two powerful women are Senior Vice-President Marion Standish and Chief Investment Officer Ruth Wernig.  I will miss them both immensely, and I wanted the opportunity to transparently say why.

Marion has been with TCE for nearly 25 years, and was among the early hires as a program officer – before we had offices or any support infrastructure. She came to us as a legal advocacy attorney on health-related issues.  If you want to chuckle, ask Marion about those early months at TCE when she (and Mario Gutierrez, and Joel Diringer, and the handful of initial program hires) were forced to work out of their cars, endeavoring to make a first-year target grants budget deadline imposed on TCE of $200 million dollars set by state officials.  Why?  In the mid-1990s, TCE was in the early cohort of health foundations created via a nonprofit-to-for profit health system “conversion”, and there was tremendous political and civic distrust about the shift to for-profit health care.  Marion and her colleagues had to sift through THOUSANDS of proposals to “get the money out”: no office, little to no support staff, no Smart Simple, few tech advantages.   Marion doesn’t complain about it — it’s all humorous to her as a memory.

Marion has a number of key contributions to TCE, but I would say the most enduring and significant among them is TCE’s shift to funding advocacy – which paved the way for our “people power”/powerbuilding theory of change as we got closer to BHC.  This may sound obvious two decades later, but during that period of time it was assumed that health philanthropy would: 1) fill service gaps for the poor and uninsured, and 2) fund pilot projects for health.  Marion brought advocacy, policy, and systems change to the TCE table, with strategic programs in asthma, clean and fluoridated water, environmental justice, and childhood obesity prevention.  Her leadership impact reached well beyond TCE and influenced health philanthropy.

Personally, we grew to become great friends even though I was technically her boss.  Our weekly meetings were a combination of mundane management decision issues, big-picture national and California strategy, and sharing stories about our families.  When I think of Marion, the word “wisdom” comes to mind.  While I am not a person of the Jewish faith, she brought “rabbinical” wisdom and counseling to our conversations.  She is incredibly grounded with a rare triad of management savvy, strategic insight, and moral authenticity.  I could have conversations with her that were “big picture” as well as management-and-detail oriented.

I can’t recall with precision how we “found” Chief Investment Officer Ruth Wernig.  Ruth came to us a dozen years ago, when I realized we needed to have the Investments team as part of the TCE organizational family – and not in an “outsider” status.

Ruth may very well be the most transparent and uncomplicated manager-executive I have worked with in my nearly 30 years in executive roles.  She is simply honest, candid, straightforward – and operates with an incredible sense of integrity. There are no guessing games or secret agendas in the room when Ruth is involved – just the mission, work, and performance of the organization. When we discovered Ruth in the interview process (she was at USC in their investment leadership role) she was a rare bird – the world of Investments was overwhelmingly dominated by white males, and women CIOs were pretty unusual (it’s a little better now).

Ruth’s leadership solved three problems for me as TCE’s CEO.  The first is that our Investment Team performance prior to her arrival was, to put it kindly, between mediocre and tepid.  During Ruth’s tenure, we progressed from a fourth quartile performer in philanthropy to between a first and second quarter performer.  We are hundreds of millions of dollars better off as a foundation under her leadership.  Secondly, as I mentioned, she was instrumental in hiring and bringing the Investment Team into the spirit and culture of TCE.

Thirdly, she helped steward our relationship with impact- and mission investing, and better diversified our investment manager portfolio in the process – we had ZERO person-of-color led investment firms when Ruth took over.  We are now considered a field leader in racial equity and impact investing, and Ruth’s thoughtful leadership has played a large part on this front.  Lastly, Ruth hired and mentored David Greenberg as a succession candidate, and David will serve TCE very well in following in Ruth’s footsteps.

Like Marion, Ruth has a pretty subtle but wicked sense of humor – they both take the work of TCE very seriously, but don’t take themselves too seriously at all.  Ruth and CFO Dan DeLeon are both avid USC sports fans, and it is hilarious for me to join in texting one another during a USC football or basketball game to experience their whining and complaining about how bad the USC coaches are – which they never do about TCE, where ego is subjugated to mission.

Join me in saluting these two incredible colleagues.  I will miss Marion and Ruth terribly – and love them both.

Bob

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