After about seven months, the James Beard Foundation has concluded its search for a new leader: Clare Reichenbach has been named CEO, effective February 20. The announcement comes at the end of the Foundation’s first month without its 11-year president Susan Ungaro, who announced in June 2017 that she would finish out her term as president at the end of the year.
It’s worth noting that Reichenbach is not from the food world, but is taking on one of the most powerful jobs in the food world. She founded CJJR Consulting — where she and her team worked with clients like New York Public Radio, NBCU, and Samsung — and is a former executive vice president of Strategy and Business Development at BBC Worldwide and AMC Networks.
“It’s a profoundly exciting time for the Foundation,” Reichenbach tells Eater. “The very powerful marriage of purpose and pleasure, which is unique to the Foundation, is something I’m going to be focusing on and working with the team on how we can deepen and amplify the impact across both those areas.”
She also acknowledges the work to come around the Foundation’s role in addressing the current moment, alluding to #MeToo in the wake of several high profile exposés of sexual misconducts in restaurants: “Increasingly, the Foundation is taking a role as thought leader and taste maker in the food world, and as you know well, this is a challenging time. The opportunity is for the Foundation to strengthen its position as the industry is looking for guidance.”
Per a press release, Reichenbach “will work with the JBF staff and the board of trustees in directing the strategic, programmatic, financial, and management operations of the James Beard Foundation. Her responsibilities will include overseeing the James Beard Foundation Awards; the JBF Women’s Leadership Programs; the James Beard House dinners and events around the country; the Foundation’s scholarship programs; and the JBF Impact Programs, which include the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change, the JBF Food Summit, and the JBF Leadership Awards.”
Hiring a business-world vet suggests the Foundation is serious about the business. Ungaro was known as a successful fundraiser and leader, righting the course after a period of scandal and tumult. She saw the awards ceremony grow in prestige and pomp, spearheading its move to Lincoln Center. (She also played a role in moving the festivities from New York City to Chicago — a boon to the Foundation.)
In Q & A on the Foundation website, Reichenbach says, “My background and experience are in business transformation, strategic partnerships, and brand marketing. These areas of expertise, I believe, will be important in delivering the next phase of growth and ambition for the organization.” She also teases potential avenues for expansion related to her media background, saying she plans to “network to grow the awareness of, and engagement with the JBF brand; especially with the next generation of culinary professionals and food lovers alike.”