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In Conversation With: Brandon Gregory, Executive Director of the American Air Museum in Britain

Brandon Gregory

At DRiWaterstone, we have the privilege of working with amazing clients to help them recruit purpose and mission-driven individuals for their nonprofit and social impact organizations. We recently reconnected with Brandon Gregory, who we placed as Executive Director of the American Air Museum in Britain in 2022, to learn about his time in the role so far, the many initiatives and projects his team is working on at the Museum, and his advice for other executives looking for their next role.

DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Tell us about the American Air Museum in Britain.
Brandon Gregory (BG): The American Air Museum in Britain is located at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in the U.K., and it stands as the memorial for the more than 30,000 U.S. airmen who died flying from England in the Second World War. We also house the largest collection of U.S. military aircraft anywhere outside of the United States.

And then beyond that, we really do an excellent job of telling the stories of the people whose lives were shaped by American airpower from World War I to the present. We have aircraft in the Museum, ranging from a World War I biplane to a Predator drone that was used in Iraq—we have the gamut of aircraft in the Museum.

DRiW: Talk about your role and what you’re responsible for.
BG: It’s a unique role. We work in tandem with the leadership and the team of Imperial War Museums who operate the museum on a day-to-day basis. They also provide us with some significant administrative support on the finance side.

I’ve got the typical responsibilities of a nonprofit Executive Director. I’m charged with leading a really talented fundraising team here in the States. I live in the States, the Museum is “across the pond”, but we’ve got a team here that leads fundraising, and 95 to 96 per cent of our donors are stateside. So that’s the primary focus on my work and our team’s work.  Beyond that I work with our finance and curatorial, conservation, and marketing teams that are based in both London and Duxford in the U.K.

As an Executive Director, I get the opportunity to work with a great Board – we have trustees that range across the U.S., the U.K., and beyond – to deliver our mission. We have a great group that is incredibly committed to the American Air Museum.

DRiW: What attracted you to the position and the organization?
BG: It was an absolute no brainer – it checked all of the boxes for me. It was an opportunity to make the leap from Development Director to Executive Director and lead an organization, a museum, whose mission is to educate and share the stories of our veterans, our heroes.

From a personal standpoint, my grandfather and my two great uncles, his brothers, served in the Second World War. My grandfather and my uncle Hugh were both in the army and served in Europe. My great uncle Paul served as a waist gunner on a B17 called The Lucky Lady with the 381st bomber group that flew out of RAF Ridgewell in the U.K. They were shot down in August 1943, and he spent the remainder of the war as a POW. I can’t think of any better way to honor their service than by the role I’m in now.

Beyond that, it was the opportunity to lead what would amount to another turnaround. Fundraising in the organization had really plateaued, and the Board was looking for someone in the States rather than in the U.K. to lead, given that our donors are here. So that made a lot of sense…I can’t think of a more perfect opportunity than what was presented here. I’ve been with the organization now for about 18 months it’s had its challenges of course, anything does, but it has been a lot of fun and we’ve made a lot of progress.

DRiW: What projects or initiatives have you worked on that you’ve enjoyed?
BG: We’re in a bit of a fundraising turnaround here, and it’s working; it’s going well, but there’s still more to do. Beyond that, everything was U.K. based, the leadership was U.K. based, so making the switch from a U.K. business structure to a U.S. business structure has been interesting. I’ve spent a fair bit of my time working on the necessary details to set us up for success both now and in the future.

I’ve had the opportunity over the last 18 months to work with some donors and we’ve gotten around the country to see them…That has been a lot of fun. Another fun thing we did this past summer at the museum was putting together an event that was more educational in focus, but it was an opportunity to connect some major donors, perspective donors, and our trustees through a panel discussion with the brand new Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff, and our U.S. Air Force General who leads U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Africa, and also has Joint Allied Command. We put together a panel discussion with the two of them for an evening where they were able to share some pretty candid thoughts about what’s happening in the world. That was a neat opportunity and it certainly helped us to meet our education mission while engaging some of the world’s most important military leaders.

DRiW: Describe your experience working with the DRiWaterstone team?
BG: It was the very best experience I’ve had working with a recruiting service.

This started when I was contacted by DRiWaterstone for another position about three weeks before I was contacted about the American Air Museum position. It was not something I was interested in, but the team at DRiWaterstone said “we’ll call back if there’s something else,” and when this came available, I got a call immediately.

The thing that stuck out to me the most was you took the time to ensure that not only were those who were doing the interviewing on the organization side – whether that was staff in the U.K. or trustees or members of the Board – were prepared for everything on the call, but you also made sure that I was prepared. For every call, for every meeting… [i]t was some of the most prepared interviewing that I’ve been a part of. That was incredibly helpful to me.  Further, it was clear that you had taken the time to find the right candidates, so the process was streamlined, and there was really no time wasted. It was a seamless process; it moved really quickly.

For me there’s no doubt if we’ve got the opportunity to hire, as I think we will here in the coming years, that you are who we’re calling. I personally enjoyed working with you and I’ve heard the same from the trustees that were involved in the process, and the staff at Imperial War Museums that were involved in the process.

DRiW: What advice do you have for other executive candidates in today’s job market?
BG: Don’t settle for anything less than a position and an organization that will make you happy – whatever that looks like for you as an individual.

The nonprofit sector continues to grow, and opportunities abound. Before taking this position, I turned down a number of opportunities because they just weren’t right for me or my family. They would have been neat opportunities, but they just weren’t quite right and we were ok where we were. So, we were looking for that perfect fit. I took some interviews and calls from recruiters and organizations that I thought would be a good fit and as it turns out, I wasn’t the right candidate for them. I look back on it now and go: “I think that worked out pretty well.” I think everything works out the way it’s supposed to and for a reason, and I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be in the moment. So, it’s always good to have the conversation, see what’s out there, make sure it’s a fit for you – and if it is, charge hard and go get it.

At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure of working with some of the best clients and candidates in the nonprofit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk!

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Kansas Department of Commerce

As an executive search firm specializing in the nonprofit and social impact space, we get the opportunity to help a diverse roster of purpose and mission-driven clients fill roles that are integral to delivering on their purpose and their strategic goals.

One such client is the Kansas Department of Commerce. We recently sat down with their Chief of Staff, Abby Works, to talk about the incredible work being done at that organization, her experience working with DRiWaterstone on three executive search projects, her advice to other leaders looking to fill a unique role, and more.

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DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Talk about the Kansas Department of Commerce and your role there.

Abby Works (AW): The Kansas Department of Commerce is the state's lead economic development agency, and we have four different areas that we work in: economic development, quality of life, tourism and workforce services (connecting job seekers with employers).

I serve as the Chief of Staff, and I report directly to the Secretary of Commerce. My role is to manage the operations of the agency, but also to work on the high-level goals that the Secretary has and make sure that those come to fruition. I also have touch points with all the different divisions and working groups within the agency.

DRiW: Can you share some recent projects or success stories that you're particularly proud of?

AW: There are several that come to mind.  In 2021, we released the Kansas Framework for Growth, which is the state's strategic plan for economic development. It's the first planthe state has had in over 30 years, so it was a huge undertaking. It lays out the path for the areas we want to focus on in terms of economic development, and also the areas that people might not necessarily think about as they relate to economic development - housing, childcare, broadband, water, etc.

That's been the guiding star for us for the last several years, and has helped us with some big wins. The most notable success we've had is that Kansas successfully recruited Panasonic to open their new EV battery production facility in the state. That's going to bring $4 billion of investment and 4,000 new jobs to Kansas. It’s a huge win and it plants our flag in the world of the EV industry. It says that Kansas is open for business when you land an international corporation like that.

We've also worked to educate people on quality of life, how that impacts economic development, and how the two need to go hand in hand. You need vibrant communities and places that people want to live because if they are interested in living there, they'll want to work there. It’s all interrelated.

DRiW: You’ve now done three searches with DRiWaterstone. Can you share a bit about the roles you were looking to fill?

AW: The first one we did was for the Director of the Kansas Creative Arts and Industries Commission. When we talk about quality of life initiatives, one of the areas that has been buried in Kansas over the past decade was the arts and the role that arts plays in community and economic development. So, when we set out to hire a new director we felt like we needed to look outside of Kansas and to see who was doing great work in other states. We were really looking for a number two at another state arts agency who was looking to take the next career step. It’s a pretty niche market and we needed help figuring out where to even look in some of the other states. DRiWaterstone was really great in helping us scout that talent, and we brought in Curtis Young from Florida, who is now serving as our Director, and who has done phenomenal work.

Our second search was for our Deputy Secretary of Business Development. This is one of the top positions within the agency, and they're tasked with the economic development function of the agency, which is our main bread and butter. Kansas has had record-setting economic development for three years in a row, and Kansas has been recognized as being the top state for economic development on a per capita basis. To continue that momentum, we wanted to bring in somebody who had done great work, who understood what it means to work on economic development projects, and who could come in and lead a team spread throughout the United States but also spread throughout Kansas as well. We hired DRiWaterstone to help us identify talent and we were able to recruit somebody from Arizona whose spouse had ties to the Midwest.

The one that is currently underway is our Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer. This person is tasked with taking the Framework for Growth and implementing it. They are tasked with looking at the emerging fields, like innovation, bioscience, and others that we need to make sure we're monitoring and taking advantage of. So again, this is a very niche position where we had trouble knowing where to look. We had some general ideas, but really needed help identifying the types of peer institutions or private sector groups doing this kind of work. And identifying who would be interested in moving from private sector to public sector – or who wants to come back to the public sector.

DRiW: Why did you choose to work with an executive search firm like DRiWaterstone?

AW: As a public entity, we don't typically engage search firms unless it's a critical position. With these three roles, the reason we engaged DRiWaterstone is because we felt that the roles were crucial enough that we needed to get the right person in, and we couldn't do that by ourselves. We really needed people who do this type of work day in and day out to help us filter through all of the different candidates as well as to identify them.

Why we selected DRiWaterstone was the work that you have done with nonprofits and some of those other different areas. It felt like you would understand the public sector and what it's like to work in the public sector and that you could help sell that to certain individuals as well.

DRiW: What was your overall experience working with DRiWaterstone?

AW: It's been phenomenal. There's a reason we’ve utilized them for three searches. It’s just been a really great experience. You’ve listened to what I wanted, the vision, and then worked backwards from that to figure out the types of candidates that can meet that vision.

I would say that the communication level is great. DRiWaterstone lets us set what we want the communication frequency to look like and how we want to communicate and that's been great.

And the portal you guys have makes it easy. So, while you are scouting talent, I can also be looking at the type of candidates and giving feedback, and I feel like it's more of a collaboration between the firm and me as the person looking to hire. Sometimes it can be transactional, but with DRiWaterstone I feel like it's much more collaborative.

DRiW: What advice do you have for other organizations looking to hire for senior roles in today's market?

AW: I would say having a search firm is helpful, especially if you have a senior level position or a difficult to fill position. They have the time, ability and experience to really dig into candidate pools and figure out who makes the best fit for your organization. And they’re doing the outreach for you rather than having to rely on LinkedIn postings and then whatever applications come through the website. It’s nice to have a search firm engaged on some of these higher level positions because they can help do the selling.

And I think it sometimes helps to have a third party be the intermediary, or at least have that initial conversation, to allow an honest conversation and to help solve some of the questions or concerns that come up.

DRiW: What’s next for the Kansas Department of Commerce?

AW: It’s diving in on that quality of life and quality places piece. Educating our communities on how you present yourself to new visitors, to new companies, to new residents, and what it is they need. We’re having those conversations about how we can help strengthen the communities that exist here, because they all have their unique selling points.

We have the economic development wheel turning, but we want to make sure that we have strong vibrant communities throughout the state and that they know how to market themselves and put their best foot forward to help recruit new talent to their communities as well. It’s focusing on arts and housing and childcare and broadband and all those pieces that play into creating strong communities, which leads to strong economic development.

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At DRiWaterstonewe have the pleasure to work with some of the best purpose and mission-driven clients and candidates in the nonprofit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build your high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk! 

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