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Packing a new punch Board of NJPAC embracing the fact that its mission, and method of delivery, has changed for the better

Linda A. Willett is a senior vice president at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey in Newark.

Once a science educator herself, Linda A. Willett, now senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, is happy to continue contributing her time and intellect to causes that further education in the state.

“What I’ve looked to do is utilize my background, my experience, whatever talents and skills that I have, and the fact that I’ve been fortunate in life to have good employment to benefit not-for-profit organizations whose missions resonate with me,” Willett said.

That’s why, having been familiar with the organization through her time as partner at McCarter & English, Willett joined the board of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark five years ago:

The organization’s dedication to arts education and diversity is arguably unmatched in the state of New Jersey.

“NJPAC is also a vital part of Newark’s renaissance, so being able to participate on the board has also given me a role in the city’s evolution,” Willett said.

Willett, who had already earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in science education in the 1960s and ’70s, earned a master’s degree in information science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick while teaching biology at a secondary school.

She then moved through a series of positions within the American Cyanamid Co. in Wayne, transitioning from work within its pharmaceutical library to a role as product development manager, before graduating from Rutgers Law School in 1989.

She would join McCarter & English a year later; in four years, she’d be made partner.

Willett went on to join Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1996 as vice president and deputy general counsel. Her international work with that company over the course of 12 years led to her co-founding and chairing The European Justice Forum, an organization of companies focused on the impact of private litigation on European business and economies.

She would then become partner at Sedgwick, Detert, Moran and Arnold in 2008 before accepting her current position with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey in 2010.

In addition to serving on the NJPAC board, Willett also serves as president of The Women’s Forum of New York Education Fund and chair of the Center for Corporate Law and Governance advisory board at Rutgers School of Law, Newark. She has previously served as chair of the board of Legal Momentum, and member of the board of the Learning Spring School for Children on the Spectrum of Autism and the National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C.

Willett recently spoke with NJBIZ about how imperative it is that a board strongly collaborate with senior management in the organization to produce more innovative and lucrative projects.

NJBIZ: How has the role of the board evolved within NJPAC over the last five years?

Linda Willett: Not that the role of the board wasn’t this way five years ago, but I have seen an increased focus in board members actively growing supporters of NJPAC through things such as introducing potential new donors and sponsors, helping to create programs that interest a broader group of stakeholders and increasing our own personal support and sponsorship.

“Through collaboration between our board and NJPAC’s senior management team, including John Schreiber, we have changed the business model to develop and include more diverse programming.”

NJBIZ: What are the most innovative strategies or projects within NJPAC that the board has been involved with?

LW: Our board has grown under the leadership of our president and CEO, John Schreiber, who joined NJPAC around the same time as I.

I would credit John with developing the extraordinarily innovative projects that he’s brought to the board for discussion and review. Some examples would include developing touring shows such as “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” which performed in 12 cities in 2015, including Moscow. This not only provides a new source of revenue for NJPAC, but also gets the brand outside of New Jersey. John also built up a broadcast business at NJPAC by investing in the wiring of the whole arts center and purchasing broadcast equipment to attract television specials such as “Black Girls Rock!” and “America’s Got Talent.” That wasn’t something NJPAC could do until we invested, and now, it allows us to compete against New York venues. John also transitioned the arts education program, which serves nearly 80,000 youth annually, into a strategy to involve young people as creators of art as well as participants.

Many communities now feel right at home with us as we offer performances across a number of genres. But NJPAC has also moved beyond its four walls by partnering with other concert presenters to book and promote performances at the Prudential Center in Newark or the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This innovation came out of necessity, as all of our Friday and Saturday nights were already booked at NJPAC. We had to move into other venues to accommodate additional programming and also ended up increasing revenue.

NJBIZ: What has been the biggest change in the organization since you’ve been on the board?

LW: Through collaboration between our board and NJPAC’s senior management team, including John Schreiber, we have changed the business model to develop and include more, new, diverse programming to significantly improve earned revenue or money generated by ticket sales, food service, rentals, and parking. Prior to John’s hiring, greater than 55 percent of our annual operating budget was funded by charitable contributions. That is not a sustainable model. We are fortunate to have such generous donors across New Jersey, but an organization cannot depend solely on charitable contributions. Through a combination of expanding and layering the mix of programming and attracting broadcast specials, NJPAC will now earn 60 percent of its revenue with the remaining 40 percent funded by charitable contributions. We changed the mix of where the money is coming from.

NJBIZ: The 38 trustees and over 2,000 members of the Women’s Association of NJPAC have also raised over $45 million since 1994 via its annual gala. Can you tell me more about the importance of this association to the future development of NJPAC?

LW: The Women’s Association of NJPAC has played a very strong leadership role in helping to raise funds, not only through the gala but also through a spring luncheon in May, which is a great networking opportunity and fundraiser with several speakers of interest. The annual gala is not only great entertainment, but also, a magnet for business in New Jersey. It is a beautiful, black tie engagement that is always sold out.

NJBIZ: Why did you decide to get into nonprofit board service?

LW: I was working as a partner at McCarter & English when the whole concept of NJPAC came about. My firm got involved with the project, not only in legal work but also on a pro bono basis to help stand up the entire organization. At that time, NJPAC housed an opera — much like it houses the symphony now — and I was on the board for it. I also helped onboard new employees and provided some contractual work for the organization.

I spent my career on the side of management, and so, I wanted the ability to sit on the other side of the table, to be a director with oversight and responsibility. I thought that would provide me with great opportunities to experience business from a different perspective. Serving on not for profit boards not only meant to broaden my own perspective, but also provide the opportunity to help worthy causes.

NJBIZ: What do you feel you’ve personally brought to the board and to NJPAC?

LW: I hope I’ve been able to contribute creative ideas on how to grow support for NJPAC. One of our more significant business offerings at NJPAC is our Business Partners roundtable, which brings businesspeople together to listen to a topic of interest. I would say that most of the time, attendees are about 80 percent male — maybe even 90 percent. Earlier this year, I helped plan a roundtable on gender diversity in the boardroom and invited a panel of CEOs and board directors to talk about the importance of putting women on boards. This drew a nearly 200-person audience of perhaps 60 percent women and 40 percent men. The event met its goal of attracting more women with disposable incomes into the NJPAC community and even resulted in a few donor prospects.

NJBIZ: What do you get from participating on the board of NJPAC and with other organizations?

LW: I get something different from every board I sit on. NJPAC is a particularly fun experience, as we get to hear about the organization’s newest programs and meet artists and leaders in the community that are making a difference.

NJBIZ: In your opinion, what makes a board powerful?

LW: Strong board chairs who work closely together with senior management build strong boards and powerful organizations. The board of NJPAC is extremely fortunate to have John Strangfeld Jr. as our chair, and William Marino before him. With John Schreiber at the helm of NJPAC, the board has become increasingly diverse, talented and more active in carrying out the work at NJPAC.

The NJPAC board consists of some of the most preeminent businesspeople in New Jersey. Sure, we all have very healthy egos, but we all demonstrate an extraordinary humility in our service to the NJPAC mission to bring the arts to all. No matter how important folks are in their daily lives, they come around that table to give generously their time and financial support to ensure a vital cultural New Jersey icon remains relevant.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Inside the board
Organization: New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark
Founded: 1997
Mission: The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, by celebrating diversity, shall be America’s foremost urban presenter of arts and entertainment, a creative and effective leader in arts education for children, a convener of useful and enlightening civic engagement events, and a catalyst for economic development in its home city of Newark.

Board of Trustees

  • John R. Strangfeld Jr. (chair), Prudential Financial
  • John Schreiber (CEO and president), NJPAC
  • Marc E. Berson (treasurer), The Fidelco Group
  • Steven M. Goldman (assistant treasurer), Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
  • Michael R. Griffinger (secretary), Gibbons
  • Donald A. Robinson (assistant secretary), Robinson, Wettre & Miller
  • Raymond G. Chambers (founding chair), U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria
  • Arthur F. Ryan (chair emeritus), Prudential Financial
  • Lawrence E. Bathgate II, Barthgate, Wegener & Wolf
  • Brian T. Bedol, Bedrocket Media Ventures
  • James L. Bildner, New Horizons Partners
  • Dr. Daniel M. Bloomfield, Merck Research Laboratories
  • Ann D. Borowiec, J.P. Morgan Private Bank
  • Linda Bowden, PNC Bank
  • Jacob S. Buurma, Dentons
  • J. Fletcher Creamer Jr., J. Fletcher Creamer & Sons
  • Pat A. Di Filippo, Turner Construction Corporation
  • Robert H. Doherty, Bank of America
  • Brendan P. Dougher, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers
  • Thasunda Brown Duckett, JPMorgan Chase
  • Patrick C. Dunican Jr., Gibbons P.C.
  • Anne E. Estabrook, Elberon Development Co.
  • Leecia R. Eve, Verizon
  • Gregg N. Gerken, TD Bank
  • Christine C. Gilfillan, MCJ Amelior Foundation
  • Savion Glover, actor/dancer/choreographer
  • Veronica M. Goldberg, community leader/philanthropist
  • Steven E. Gross, Sills Cummis & Gross P.S.
  • William V. Hickey, Sealed Air Corporation
  • Judith Jamison, Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation
  • The Hon. Thomas H. Kean, THK Consulting
  • Ralph A. LaRossa, PSE&G
  • A. Michael Lipper, Lipper Consulting Services
  • Thomas J. Marino, CohnReznick
  • William J. Marino, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J.
  • Marc H. Morial, The National Urban League
  • Harold L. Morrison Jr., Chubb Group  
  • Thomas M. O’Flynn, AES Corporation
  • Dr. Victor Parsonnet, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
  • Larisa F. Perry, Wells Fargo
  • Philip R. Sellinger., Greenberg Traurig
  • Jeffrey S. Sherman, Becton Dickinson
  • Susan N. Sobbott, American Express
  • The Hon. Clifford M. Sobel, U.S. Department of State
  • David S. Stone, Stone & Magnanini
  • Michael A. Tanenbaum, Sedgwick
  • Joseph M. Taylor, Panasonic Corporation of North America
  • Stephen M. Vajtay Jr., McCarter & English
  • Robert C. Waggoner, BurrellesLuce
  • Nina M. Wells, state of New Jersey
  • Josh S. Weston, Automatic Data Processing
  • Linda A. Willett, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J.
  • John S. Willian, Goldman Sachs & Co.

NJBIZ: What has been the biggest change in the organization since you’ve been on the board?

LW: Through collaboration between our board and NJPAC’s senior management team, including John Schreiber, we have changed the business model to develop and include more, new, diverse programming to significantly improve earned revenue or money generated by ticket sales, food service, rentals, and parking. Prior to John’s hiring, greater than 55 percent of our annual operating budget was funded by charitable contributions. That is not a sustainable model. We are fortunate to have such generous donors across New Jersey, but an organization cannot depend solely on charitable contributions. Through a combination of expanding and layering the mix of programming and attracting broadcast specials, NJPAC will now earn 60 percent of its revenue with the remaining 40 percent funded by charitable contributions. We changed the mix of where the money is coming from.

NJBIZ: The 38 trustees and over 2,000 members of the Women’s Association of NJPAC have also raised over $45 million since 1994 via its annual gala. Can you tell me more about the importance of this association to the future development of NJPAC?

LW: The Women’s Association of NJPAC has played a very strong leadership role in helping to raise funds, not only through the gala but also through a spring luncheon in May, which is a great networking opportunity and fundraiser with several speakers of interest. The annual gala is not only great entertainment, but also, a magnet for business in New Jersey. It is a beautiful, black tie engagement that is always sold out.

NJBIZ: Why did you decide to get into nonprofit board service?

LW: I was working as a partner at McCarter & English when the whole concept of NJPAC came about. My firm got involved with the project, not only in legal work but also on a pro bono basis to help stand up the entire organization. At that time, NJPAC housed an opera — much like it houses the symphony now — and I was on the board for it. I also helped onboard new employees and provided some contractual work for the organization.

I spent my career on the side of management, and so, I wanted the ability to sit on the other side of the table, to be a director with oversight and responsibility. I thought that would provide me with great opportunities to experience business from a different perspective. Serving on not for profit boards not only meant to broaden my own perspective, but also provide the opportunity to help worthy causes.

NJBIZ: What do you feel you’ve personally brought to the board and to NJPAC?

LW: I hope I’ve been able to contribute creative ideas on how to grow support for NJPAC. One of our more significant business offerings at NJPAC is our Business Partners roundtable, which brings businesspeople together to listen to a topic of interest. I would say that most of the time, attendees are about 80 percent male — maybe even 90 percent. Earlier this year, I helped plan a roundtable on gender diversity in the boardroom and invited a panel of CEOs and board directors to talk about the importance of putting women on boards. This drew a nearly 200-person audience of perhaps 60 percent women and 40 percent men. The event met its goal of attracting more women with disposable incomes into the NJPAC community and even resulted in a few donor prospects.

NJBIZ: What do you get from participating on the board of NJPAC and with other organizations?

LW: I get something different from every board I sit on. NJPAC is a particularly fun experience, as we get to hear about the organization’s newest programs and meet artists and leaders in the community that are making a difference.

NJBIZ: In your opinion, what makes a board powerful?

LW: Strong board chairs who work closely together with senior management build strong boards and powerful organizations. The board of NJPAC is extremely fortunate to have John Strangfeld Jr. as our chair, and William Marino before him. With John Schreiber at the helm of NJPAC, the board has become increasingly diverse, talented and more active in carrying out the work at NJPAC.

The NJPAC board consists of some of the most preeminent businesspeople in New Jersey. Sure, we all have very healthy egos, but we all demonstrate an extraordinary humility in our service to the NJPAC mission to bring the arts to all. No matter how important folks are in their daily lives, they come around that table to give generously their time and financial support to ensure a vital cultural New Jersey icon remains relevant.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Meg Fry

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