On December 1st, board members and their friends gathered at La Marqueta to toast outgoing board chair and Hot Bread Kitchen champion Joanne Wilson. Below is an excerpt from Jessamyn’s toast and some reflections on leadership and the critical role that a board chair can play.
A Toast to Joanne, from Jessamyn
In 2008, I met with Sara Horowitz, the founder of Freelancers Union and a visionary social entrepreneur. I had a million questions for her, but, as the newly minted non-profit Executive Director, I was most concerned about how to build a strategic board of directors. Sara gave some advice that stuck with me. She told me that social enterprises need a specific type of board, not the same kind of board that might work for other nonprofits; I didn’t need a board to focus on fundraising or gala attendance. A bold social entrepreneur needs a tight-knit group of advisors that helps to focus their vision.
I am grateful to say that Joanne Wilson has led the development of that group of advisors for five years and, under her chairpersonship, I have brought a daring vision to life. Joanne has seen us through rapid growth, two build-outs, two websites, hundreds of clients served, the launch of the incubator program, our first book, awards, a cash crisis, and the building of world-class team. She started as a board member, became my chair and has been a support and cheerleader through the last fast and furious five years.
Joanne and I have talked about everything . . . really everything, but mainly business. My management is peppered with Joanne’s wisdom, but there are three important pillars that I wanted to share for all CEOs of growing businesses.
Balance: Nothing is more important to success than personal balance and Joanne always champions this for me and the other entrepreneurs that she invests in.
I met Joanne in 2009 when I was unmarried, without children and was giving everything I had –literally– to Hot Bread Kitchen. Sensing that Joanne was the game-changing board member that could grow Hot Bread, I made big promises to her about my vision and what we could accomplish. I was about to sign the lease on our space at La Marqueta, which was a turning point for us. I convinced her to join (it honestly wasn’t that hard), we signed the lease, construction started on our new bakery, and I found out I was pregnant. I was petrified to ask my brand-new board chair for maternity leave when I was supposed to be killing it in the new, expensive bakery. I needn’t have been so worried. Joanne got it. She was ecstatic and couldn’t have been more supportive. She assured me that it was the best thing that could happen to me and the company. And she was right. Since then, our staff has had many babies and I bring the same positivity and excitement to their news that she provided to me. I have internalized Joanne’s perspective and firmly believe that there is nothing more important than the personal and professional balance.
Hire slowly, fire quickly: I know she didn’t write it, but she says it and I have internalized it. In the start-up years, I felt eternally grateful to anyone who wanted to do the hard work of getting Hot Bread off the ground. In a scrappy start-up, it isn’t easy to pass up talent. Hiring slowly takes guts, and Joanne always reminded me to hold out for the best people. With that philosophy in mind, I have patiently built the best staff a social enterprise could hope for. Firing is another story, but really trusting that the universe will bring you the right talent to complete your vision was an important perspective that only a serial angel investor could bring to the team. And we are stronger as a result.
Mentorship: Joanne asks tough questions, sometimes at board meetings, which has definitely kept me on my toes. But, in person, Joanne has only ever projected confidence, support and optimism. That belief in me and Hot Bread has propelled us to the place where we are today and, for that, I am truly grateful.
When Joanne started working with Hot Bread Kitchen in 2010, she was invested in a handful of companies. Since then, she has scaled her investments and advisory roles as quickly as we have grown Hot Bread together. Given the number of inspiring female entrepreneurs that can benefit from her support, it only felt fair that I give her the opportunity to transition from the board and share that energy with others. The WE Festival is Joanne’s way of taking her passion and network to a larger group of women. She launched this “off the side of her desk” six years ago and it has, since then, become the most anticipated event for female entrepreneurs. It is coming up soon, so I encourage you to submit an application. Joanne is leading a movement, and I am proud to have been a pioneer.
I am going to miss having Joanne as our board chair and as the bold, supportive, hilarious partner that I needed to grow Hot Bread Kitchen. Thank you Joanne, for all of your support.