by Max Brantley
Jo Luck, who's headed the organization as president and CEO since 1992, will step away from the CEO role to be president and begin work on a book about Heifer.
Retired Little Rock banker Charles Stewart will serve as interim CEO. A search committe will find a permanent successor.
Heifer International announced today that Jo Luck, president and chief executive officer, is beginning a new role, as president, stepping away from her position as chief executive to write a book about her experiences with the global hunger and poverty organization
“Under Jo Luck’s leadership, Heifer International has grown into one of the world’s most prominent hunger and poverty partners,” said Heifer International Board Chair Doug Smith. “But we are very excited by this new opportunity and role, where she will mirror Heifer’s work, Passing on the Gifts of her knowledge and wisdom through a book about her two-decade journey that has taken her around the globe.”
At the same time, Smith announced the board had asked former Heifer board chair and retired Little Rock Regions Bank executive Charles O. Stewart to serve as interim CEO.
“No one should have to follow Jo Luck,” said Smith. “She has been inspiring and motivating staff, volunteers, supporters and beneficiaries of Heifer International since 1989, but Charles is the right person to build upon her strong foundation.”
Smith said he and the board were very pleased that Stewart agreed to help lead the organization during this transition.
“Charles Stewart is a longtime friend of Heifer and former board member. He brings a deep understanding of Heifer’s history and its work to end poverty and hunger to the position and personal experience with helping people pull themselves out of both,” said Smith.
The transition began Jan. 1, 2010, and the board will appoint a search committee to help identify and recruit a permanent successor president and CEO.
“As Heifer International’s president and CEO, I have had the great honor and privilege of being actively involved in—and humbled by—improving the lives of families around the world,” said Jo Luck. “Now it is time to share my experiences, adventures and thoughts with a wider audience.
“As I write intimately about Heifer International, our friends and the incredible families we serve, I hope to spread our mission and empower people to believe that they too can help cultivate a better world. While I will miss serving Heifer International in an executive capacity, I look forward to my new role and all that will unfold as we turn this page in Heifer’s history.
“I know that Heifer is well-equipped to select a new leader who will continue the journey and lead us to even greater impact,” she said.
Stewart said he was looking forward to serving Heifer in a greater role, but acknowledged the big shoes he is stepping into.
“I am excited about the chance to work with Steve Denne, Heifer’s chief operating officer, with program directors, managers, staff and our project partner families around the world,” said Stewart. “I am honored to have been asked to carry on the great work that Jo Luck has provided over the years. I am humbled to be of service in this important time of transition.”
Jo Luck joined Heifer International in 1989 as director of International Programs, and in 1992 was named president and chief executive officer of the organization. That same year she became president of the Heifer International Foundation, serving in that role until 2001.
Prior to joining Heifer, she was then-Gov. Bill Clinton’s first cabinet appointee in 1979 when he named her executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. She served in that post for more than a decade.
She also served as the first executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, an organization modeled after the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and served on the executive committee of the Alumni Advisory Board. In 1999, she attended Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Session on Governing for Nonprofit Excellence.
Stewart, a native of Sweet Home, Ark., recently retired as executive vice president and business development executive for the public funds, institutional and not-for-profit relations (PIN) business segments for Regions Financial Corp. He formerly served as Western regional manager of community affairs for Regions Financial Corp.
He is a former board member of Heifer International and has served terms as the organization’s vice chair and chair. He has made several international trips on behalf of Heifer, leading study tours, representing the board in global discussions or as a member of a smaller board delegation inspecting Heifer’s programs.
At Regions, Stewart directed community development and community investment activities in the bank’s eight-state region. He worked to enhance community development and rural development projects, innovative small business loans, loans to minority and women-owned businesses and neighborhood commercial development.
Stewart is a founding board member and chair of the Little Rock Preparatory Academy, an open enrollment public charter school, and co-founder and chair of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Foundation Inc.
He has served on many state and federal boards, including the Arkansas State Police Commission, Federal Small Business Advisory Council, Arkansas Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Foundation, Arkansas Repertory Theater and an advisory board of the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. He also serves on boards for Philander Smith College, the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), the Governor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Higher Education.
Stewart was the first African American appointed to the board of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, where he served as chair of the marketing committee overseeing the commission’s Brussels, Taipei and Tokyo offices. A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, he also graduated from the Louisiana State University Graduate School of Banking in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He holds an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Philander Smith College and is an Honorary Chief of a Maasai Tribe in Tanzania.
Stewart was the first recipient of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock President’s Award and an inductee into the UALR Hall of Honors. He has been recognized by the NCCJ with a National Humanitarian Award and is the recipient of the Empowerment Award bestowed by Africa Women’s Health Project International. The son of the Rev. Frank J. and Ola F. Stewart, he is the father of two, Sherri and Christopher.
“Jo Luck’s energy, commitment and dedication are an example to us all,” said Smith. “We are fortunate to continue to be able to count on her contributions, and we will benefit—as will all who work with Heifer International—by her working closely with Charles and with Steve (Denne) during this transition.”
“I am appreciative, but also humbled to be commissioned by the board to serve in this very special role,” said Jo Luck. “Writing a book is a daunting task, but then there are so many amazing stories to share that I am eager to begin. My hope is that my contributions will continue to benefit Heifer and the families with whom we work.”