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Charles Wilhoite on Meyer Memorial Trust and transparent leadership

Charles Wilhoite spends his weekday working hours  — and often some on the weekend — as managing director for Willamette Management Associates, the financial advisory firm.

But Wilhoite may be better known to Portland-area residents for his service on more than a dozen boards of directors. Those volunteer experiences have helped form his approach to employee relations, especially the recent selection of a new chief executive for the Meyer Memorial Trust.

“Meyer is about the most transparent organization I’ve ever been affiliated with because employees participate in just about everything,” says Wilhoite, the board chairman who was head of the search committee to find a replacement for Doug Stamm, who announced last April he would be departing this year after serving 15 years as chief executive.

Wilhoite and the board decided the CEO search would mimic the trust’s participatory culture. That meant telling employees they would have a direct role in selecting the new chief.

“We put it out there that we’re going to go through a search process. We want your feedback regarding attributes and characteristics and traits you want to see in the next CEO, and not all companies do that.”

A human resources employee joined the board for its candidate interviews, reporting back to the staff. Finalists met with employees for question-and-answer sessions. Employees gave the board written assessments of the candidates.

“It was about as participatory as you can get,” Wilhoite says. “It’s a different kind of management because you’re crossing the line and you’re making it clear that every employee has a voice. And they can exercise that voice and the last thing you want to do is ignore it.”

He acknowledges Meyer’s staff size – about 45 – helped the process work, and a similar process would be impractical at larger organizations. 

That said, from the initial pool of 150 applicants to eight candidates to two finalists, the board made clear to the staff that the final selection was up to the board.

“We picked the candidate who rose to the top after that entire process,” he said.

Michelle DePass, a dean of the New School in New York, who had previously served in the Obama Administration, was set to begin April 30 as the third chief executive in the trust’s history.

This article is part of a feature package on leadership that appears in our May 2018 issue.  To read more in the series, click here.

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