Once again a costly and time-consuming “nationwide search” by Chicago’s public broadcasting bureaucrats has ended up right back where it began.
On Monday, Daniel Schmidt, president and CEO of WTTW-Channel 11 and classical WFMT FM 98.7, promoted Jill Britton to senior vice president and chief development officer of parent company Window to the World Communications Inc. Britton has held various fundraising jobs with the company since 2006, rising from director of development for individual giving to senior vice president.
A WTTW spokeswoman confirmed that the appointment fills the vacancy left by Greg Cameron, who resigned as chief operating officer last June to become executive director of the Joffrey Ballet. Before his promotion to COO in 2011, Cameron’s title had been executive vice president and chief development officer.
Although Britton’s office is steps away from Schmidt’s, the company spent six months and undisclosed thousands to retain the Chicago-based consulting firm of Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt on a nationwide search for Cameron’s successor. The effort included a 12-page document setting forth the duties and qualifications of the position and selling the virtues of “the Midwest’s premier public broadcasting/media organization.”
Requiring candidates to “possess extremely mature and solid management and leadership skills,” the description explained: “This creative and charismatic person must be a recognized star in the development field and have a thorough understanding of all areas of philanthropy, in addition to developed relationships within the greater community. As a key executive in the organization, he or she will play an integral role on the senior leadership team working together to implement WWCI’s new five-year strategic plan while leading the organization in a significant multi-year fundraising campaign.”
Also in the document was this nugget about the company’s plans:
“The organization has embarked on a major fundraising campaign entitled: ‘Imagining More.’ The overall goal of the campaign is to ‘build a leading public media organization for the 21st century.’ Specific objectives, while still in development, center around the development of new content, increasing community engagement between WTTW and WFMT and the region’s leading organizations and technology upgrades for the digital age and long-term sustainability. While the campaign is still in the early, quiet phase, major gifts are being actively sought. The executive vice president will play a leadership role in all aspects of this campaign.”
In announcing her appointment, Schmidt called Britton “an invaluable member of the company’s development team ever since she arrived here,” adding: “We are delighted to acknowledge her leadership, creativity, and dedication, and are looking forward to working with her in this new and important capacity. She has been an essential contributor to the vision and strategy behind the growth opportunities the organization is pursuing.”
The company made a point of noting that Britton, 46, was “the first woman in the history of the organization to be named to this position.”
Sources said the WTTW search yielded five finalists, including four outsiders. When the top candidate turned down the job to accept another offer, the company went with Britton despite doubts expressed by several insiders about her ability to run a $75 million capital campaign.
It’s not the first time public broadcasters have staged elaborate charades to fill positions and then turned them over to well-connected insiders. The result often is a stultifying lack of fresh talent and new ideas.
Chicago Public Media spent more than six months on a nationwide search to replace Steve Edwards as host of “The Afternoon Shift” on WBEZ FM 91.5 last year only to hand the job to Niala Boodhoo, a business reporter at the station. Since July, executive headhunters have been engaged in a similar exercise to find a successor to Chicago Public Media CEO Torey Malatia while interim CEO Alison Scholly waits in the wings.
Even the current boss of WTTW owes his job to the same process: When the legendary William J. McCarter retired in 1998 after 27 years at WTTW, the nationwide search landed on Schmidt — who just happened to be down the hall running WFMT at the time.