Kathleen Boe is Executive Director of the Mississippi Riverfront Partnership in Minneapolis.
After two decades of managing manufacturing operations at three different companies, Kathleen Boe decided it was time for a change. Her last operations position was “an intense job. It involved lots of hours, lots of travel. I thought, ‘I’m going to take a step back.’ I wanted to spend more time doing volunteer work and getting some exercise.”
As it turned out, those personal goals helped point Boe toward a new career. “I had started a hiking club a few years ago. We have hiked every inch of the river in the Twin Cities metro. Because of that, I connected with the director of the Mississippi Riverfront Partnership. I started volunteering over a year ago. Last winter, the Board asked me to step in as Interim Director.”
Leading a nonprofit organization was a major change from manufacturing operations, but taking the role on an interim basis fit the advice Boe received from Executive Coach George Dow. “One of the things he talks about is ‘experimenting.’” The concept comes from a book called “Working Identity” by Herminia Ibarra. Rather than determining an ideal career path, Ibarra recommends actively experimenting with “possible selves” in the process of career reinvention.
The interim experiment was successful, and Boe was offered the position. “This is a unique nonprofit. It’s a public/private partnership. We have representatives from the Park board, City Council and private industry on the board of directors. One of my favorite things about the job is the Board — it’s an interesting group of people who are passionate about the riverfront. Our mission is to promote the coordinated revitalization of the Mississippi riverfront. There are so many ways the river is being opened up to people. It’s fun.”
Another plus for the job is “more of a balanced life,” Boe said. “My current job is not quite a full-time commitment, but I treat it as a one. I make sure that in addition to whatever my current work is, I put a focus on my whole life. It is important for me to be intentional about it. Last September/early October we had a Riverfront Summit. I worked lots and lots of hours in a couple of weeks. On the other hand, I had a fair amount of vacation just before that period. It’s not always perfect every week, but at least there’s an understanding of where there are trade-offs.”
What aspects of your mechanical engineering and operations management background fit well in your new career?
The skills in business I brought to the new role are focus, project management, financial and leadership skills. My business background taught me to be consistent with focus on key priorities over time. I know the mechanics of project planning. In operations, you have to be in the middle of the financials. I think the experience working in various leadership roles helped a lot. Communication is important — knowing how to put together a plan for a board meeting, to present information that’s clear and concise. I think those are all skills you learn in business.
What’s new for you in the role?
One thing that’s new is working in fundraising. We’ve had some real successes, but it’s still something we’ve got to work at every day. Another difference is the process of decisionmaking. We work with a diverse set of constituencies in the public and private sector. I’ve had to adapt the processes that I’ve relied on in business. □