When Executive Director Susan Danish arrived at AJLI in 2003, she brought with her more than 20 years of marketing and management experience in both the business and nonprofit sectors, having worked on behalf of such mega-brands, retailers, and thought leaders as Christie’s, Calvin Klein, Clairol, Express, Procter & Gamble, and The Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College.
As AJLI’s Executive Director you wear a lot of hats. How do you balance your responsibility as steward and visionary with your duties in hands-on, day-to-day management?
It really is a balancing act. I’ve become the Queen of Lists. I have a very clear picture every day of what I need to accomplish and I always make it a mix of things that move us forward and things that are day-to-day must-dos.
Speaking of the day-to-day, what does a typical day on the job look like for you?
As everyone always says, there is no typical day. Right now we are focusing on the implementation of our new Strategic Plan and we’re very excited that League leaders seem to like it and believe that we’re headed in the right direction. We’re beginning to launch the Action Learning Teams and we’re identifying coaches and coordinators and will soon be reviewing applications from Leagues.
We are also working very hard on a whole new curriculum for all League leaders and members that we hope to have finished by the end of the fiscal year. Other initiatives I’m involved in include the new Help Desk we hope to make available right after the first of the year.
And then of course there’s the daily assistance and advice I am asked to provide to League leaders by email and phone on issues they’re working through. I am also very involved with the Board and supporting their efforts, talking with AJLI Board President Delly Beekman daily. Finally I’m getting ready for the National Human Services Assembly Board Meeting. The National Human Services Assembly is the association of the largest and most influential human services nonprofits in the U.S. and it’s an honor to serve on its Board.
Back when you were interviewing for this job, what was it that intrigued you about the organization, its culture, or the challenge that the job entailed?
I came here for three reasons. One is that I am passionate about women’s leadership. I came here directly from running Babson College’s Center for Women’s Leadership. Every business I’ve ever worked in has been female-oriented. I’m really passionate about the empowerment of women, and almost equally passionate about improving communities around the world. These two things are the heart of what The Junior League is all about, so being able to address my two core values on a daily basis was very important. Also, I’m a businessperson with skills in lots of areas, coming from my non-volunteer life. So taking this job provided an opportunity to use all of my skills toward my two passions.
What woman, living or dead, would you most like to sit down with and talk to about her life?
Mary Harriman or Eleanor Roosevelt. If they were around today, I would ask them what they would do to ensure the future of this organization. They were so ahead of their time and they had so much foresight. I would ask them where they see us today and if they would have imagined that their organization would live to be 109 years old and 155,000 members strong.
What do you do when you’re not on the job?
I love western Massachusetts where I retreat to my tiny house in Lenox. It’s a very artsy place in the Berkshires, which in the summer becomes the home of the Boston Symphony as well as ballet and theater. Then in the winter I love cross-country skiing and taking advantage of all the snow. There’s something in the air up there that makes me so happy and it’s just really beautiful.
What’s your dirty little secret or the guilty pleasure that connected readers would be surprised to learn about you?
That I used to be really thin! I love to cook because I find it very relaxing. I do a lot of cooking from the recipes of the various Junior League cookbooks. I have 150 of them. I use the older ones like Charleston Receipts to make things like Chicken Tetrazzini, and the more recent ones when I want to make something without cream or butter. I bring one of these recipes to work as my lunch every day – with a can of Tab of course! Another one of my guilty pleasures is reality t.v. I’m not very fussy about it. I watch “The Apprentice,” “Undercover Boss,” “The Amazing Race,” “America’s Next Top Model.” I’ve never seen Snookie on t.v., but I am really intrigued by pop culture and the concept of overnight celebrity for ordinary people. There’s so much embedded in these shows about what really engages people.
When you look back at the part of your career that you spent at AJLI, what do you most want to have accomplished?
I want us to be known as the very best organization for the development of women as community and civic leaders who make an impact on their communities.