20 January 2011

End of the Forsthoefel Era

The hour is upon us, after months of knowing, Ann Forsthoefel will be stepping down as Executive Director at the end of the week, leaving Portland for the browner pastures of Montana. (Sorry, the opportunities may be better, but it’s really not as green there.) Mid-sized, regional cities like Portland occasionally have to swallow their civic pride, allowing bright minds to get pulled away to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but loosing such a good citizen and capable soul to Missoula adds an extra sting to her departure.

Under Ann’s tenure the PSU Market underwent a much needed expansion, doubling in size; PFM opened new Markets in NE & NW Portland and returned to Pioneer Courthouse Square; additionally our Markets have received national and international recognition for their excellence and PFM has served as model to burgeoning Farmers Markets in cites near and far.

Instead of restating Ann’s public accomplishments, I’d like to recognize something only a handful of us were able to enjoy – what a joy it has been to work with Ann for the last 2 years. This isn’t goodbye, this is a thank you for being the best boss I have ever encountered. You are a true leader.

Leadership is hard to understand, harder still to explain; if it were only a matter of doing the opposite of your worst-boss-ever; it would be easier to describe, learn and share. Because the concept is difficult to comprehend; we end up substituting proxies and the quality becomes caricatured: Recognized by shellacked hair, bleached-teeth, charisma or the ‘wow’ quality of pyrotechnics or PowerPoints. Or for those willing to believe leadership occasionally takes a different guise than Tony Robbins, it becomes like the rich Texan buying art; he might not understand it but knows it when he sees it.

I am not any better; I can’t exactly pinpoint what makes Ann’s leadership style so very good. Many of her strengths are personal – likeable, funny, intelligent and true (knowing Ann is on your side makes one feel bulletproof). She ranks high on the honor scale – honest, committed to her responsibilities and as good as her word. Maybe Ann’s ultimate talent was her no-nonsense style of management: Non-Profit Organizations have different obligations than their for-profit counterparts, yet she ran PFM more “like a business” than any other capitalistic entity I have been involved with. Her decision tree had one question with two branches: Does it help farmers and improve Markets? Yes, then we will invest resources and no. Because her decisions were honest and transparent, getting said no to never diminished my willingness to work hard.

Ann’s strengths derived from her elegant goal of wanting us to create the best Market possible – supporting and encouraging us to work toward that objective instead of micromanaging shortcomings. Working with Ann was a great experience and I am in a better place both personally and professionally after our time together. Thank you is appropriate, but doesn’t cover my gratitude.

The next director of PFM won’t be Ann and that is good. Trudy will bring her own abilities, intelligence, drive, vision and management style to the position. As professionals, rallied around a shared goal, the transition should be smooth to easy. My only concern is that the new Executive Director will be an even better boss than Ann – something like that will make me seriously wonder what I have been doing with my work life.