Meet Kate Goodall, Chief Operating Officer at S&R Foundation

February 26, 2016
Washington Business Journal

Kate Goodall grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and moved to Alexandria at age 14. She wanted to be an architect, but after studying world lit and nautical archaeology, she entered the museum realm and never looked back. At S&R Foundation, Goodall helped triple its size and create its key programs, including a new Fillmore incubator to mold socially minded artists.

Biggest current challenge: Email. We’re doing so much, and there are so many things during a day — helping staff, managing committees and boards, strategic thinking and moving initiatives forward, writing, communications — that then I make sure I save enough time to get to all of my email. I generally will do it at night. I try to save the day for all of the other stuff, and then focus completely on the kids, put my phone away, be with the children from when I pick them up from school to bedtime. Then when I have the energy, email comes at night between 8 and 11.

Next big goal: We’re working on the Fillmore. That’s new here. Given Halcyon’s success, we would like to create a similar type of immersive experience with the same sorts of robust support for socially minded artists. I think there is something very special about D.C., both being an international city and also a government city, but being able to access all of the sectors for social impact and civic-mindedness. We also know there’s a big need for support for artists, particularly in D.C. So it’ll be sort of an advanced learning, independent study program. We’re hoping to launch that in full in fall of 2017.

Biggest goal for 2016: You go through these periods where there are things you’re launching, things you’re maintaining and things you’re finishing. And 2016, for me, is making sure that we’re putting enough energy into the system to maintain and grow what we’ve created, and make sure we’re doing things right. It’s very important, I think, that we maintain high levels of quality for everything. It’s sort of an assessment year in that regard, while also planning for Fillmore.

Biggest misconception about the foundation: We’re doing some really serious work and, I think, really valuable work. Just for the Halcyon program, which is only one of about nine programs, the fellows that have come through here have created 110 jobs, they’ve raised over $4 million in investment and they’ve impacted over 70,000 people around the world. And that’s just in 18 months with 24 fellows. And we’re not afraid of taking risks and being innovative, which is very unusual for a nonprofit. All of that said, I think that there is a misperception sometimes that this is a nicety, that it’s a hobby, because it’s coming from a philanthropic point of view. Dispelling that misperception is pretty key — it’s key to partnership building, it’s key to the credibility of the program and everybody that comes through it. So I’ll be working on that.

What are you like to work with? I actually asked my staff — I’m all for self-awareness. Probably the most accurate, is that [I’m] demanding. And I would really agree with that, I am very demanding. There’s no one I’m more demanding of than myself, first of all. Two, I am demanding of people — we hire really smart people, and then we give them more than they think they could possibly do, not in terms of work necessarily, but push them to the next level of their career.

Best lesson from a mentor: One great mentor I have is Marc Pachter, who oversaw the project to renovate the National Portrait Gallery, and he also worked to lead the Smithsonian American History Museum for a while. And he told me, when you lead an organization, you become predominantly a listener, and you need to make sure you have the right information. Not just hear the people that agree with you, but also make sure that you’re protecting everyone as equally as you can, at least in terms of democratic speech. Make sure you’re always protecting the little voices. And then also from Dr. [Sachiko] Kuno, [co-founder of S&R Foundation], who I definitely consider one of my very best mentors, she has taught me the value of patience. Not a trait that I naturally possess at all. I’m very persistent, and she has shown me how you can actually sometimes achieve more if you concentrate on the timing. If the timing isn’t right, don’t just keep charging full speed, take a step back, look for a different avenue. She’s brilliant. Patient and graceful. All of the things, they’re not my natural qualities, they balance each other nicely. I’m sort of gritty and determined, but she really has rounded out my harsh edges, and it’s been such a valuable learning experience.

Best career decision: I guess you reach a point in your career — and maybe not everyone reaches this decision point but I certainly did — you decide whether or not you’re going to go big or go home, right? It means sometimes painful self reflection — in order to lead you have to, I think, assess, and learn from situations. And you just switch on that mindset, that I’m not less capable than anyone else of doing this. That was a big pivot point for me, that maybe I’d been thinking a little too small about things. That was around 2008. I wanted to be a museum director, and I think I said to my mentor at the time, “Maybe I’ll lead a small museum,” and he said, “Why small? Why are you adding that adjective?” I sort of set that as my north star, that I did want to run a large or important cultural institution.

Hardest lesson learned: When I moved from England to the States in high school. I was 14, which is a tough age to move, you’re pulling away from all of your friends, which as a teenager are kind of your family. And it was a very difficult lesson in cultural adaptation. But it was almost the most shaping and valuable lesson, because I think I learned how to be adaptable.

Where in England did you grow up? St. Albans in Hertfordshire, about a 20 minute train ride north of London. My mother met and married an American, so we moved over to Alexandria. I went to high school at West Potomac.

What do you miss most about England? Probably the food. I know most people don’t say that about English food, but whenever I go back over there, I grab scones with jam and cream, sausage rolls, and fill my suitcase with English chocolate. I try to go back every couple of years.

What keeps you up at night? It’s always either work or kids, that’s pretty much it. But I sleep pretty well.

Most memorable moments with S&R Foundation: Certainly the launch of Halcyon was really amazing, to have taken what was just a vacant house and done the research to create what we hoped will be a very impactful program. And, to go through a selection process, to find out that we actually had lots of people that wanted to apply. We consistently get 200 applications for each eight spots. And then, to meet those people and find out they were really amazing people and we were going to have the honor of supporting them.

Biggest success in career: I think it would probably be working with Dr. Kuno over the past three years to grow the foundation. We have basically tripled in size in that three years: We’ve tripled the number of programs, we’ve tripled the budget, we’ve more than tripled the staff. And just to be part of that trajectory has been fantastic.

Biggest mistake in career: Hiring the wrong person is definitely the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, and I only had to learn it once. I always take my time in hiring now, as it’s the most critical factor in the health and success of an organization.

Biggest missed opportunity: Real estate. Selling what I shouldn’t have sold and not buying what I should have bought.

Your earliest memory: I had a pretty idyllic childhood. I will caveat that and say that I lost my father when I was 3. And I would’ve very much liked to have known him better. But despite losing him, we were surrounded by such tremendous family and friends. I was raised by about 12 people and grew up on a street where we had lots of children together, and anyone’s parents could discipline anyone’s children. So I have lots of fond memories of growing up, from tree climbing to building go-carts to riding on bikes, picking blackberries. It was definitely like a village rearing.

Guilty pleasure: I may not look like it, but beer and bad bar food. Two of my favorite bars, and they’re a little juxtaposed: one is ChurchKey, and that’s got some great mac and cheese sticks and a great selection of beer. Even more “divey” is The Bier Baron in Dupont Circle, also an amazing selection of beer and bad chicken and mozzarella sticks, and whatever you could want.

What one word would you use to describe yourself: Let’s say “complex.”

If you had $1 million, you would: Probably save most of it, and the rest would go to my children’s education in some form. And then I might buy a sailboat. I love sailing.

Businessperson you most admire: Dr. Kuno, which you probably guessed. I also really respect Teresa Carlson. She’s with Amazon Web Services, and she is a woman who is a very respected leader despite being in a very male-dominated field. And similarly to Dr. Kuno, she leads, but in a very charming way.

Personality in high school: I was very much a social butterfly. After the move, I had to re-form my social group, so I just got out and met absolutely everybody. And because I wasn’t weighted down by relationships from middle school or elementary school, I really could get to know everybody. And the English accent always helped. I’ve always been a complete extrovert, like wildly so, so that certainly stood me in good stead.

What did you want to be when you grew up? An architect. And then I found out that you needed to take at least seven years of school. No one warned me that I’d probably do that anyway. But as a 14-year-old, you think, “Oh gosh, I don’t know.” And I also realized I would be building buildings that would weigh upon the Earth, and I was a little environmentally friendly.

Why nautical archaeology? I think I very naively made the decision to do a graduate degree in nautical archaeology. I just really liked scuba diving. But I didn’t want to be a scuba instructor, I wanted to apply it in some way, but I didn’t think ahead of that. It doesn’t sound like a program that would have transferable skills. It teaches you not to panic. When you’re 100 feet down, panicking will actually kill you. So you learn literally to erase that instinct, and to take a deep breath, count to three, really assess your situation, and make a logical decision despite pressure. In terms of leading an organization, I think you really do need to have that same mannerism. So I’m really glad I did it. I sort of parlayed it to get into the museum field, because of course working with artifacts in a historical context, that’s not completely unrelated. But I honestly didn’t know going in, what I would do on the other side.

Favorite art form: I love visual art. I just had a wonderful visit to the Broad Museum out in L.A. It’s one of the most incredible museums I’ve ever been to. I used to love the Renwick. I love it even more now, and I just think that particularly, modern art is extremely fascinating, especially when it’s displayed in such a palpable way as to dedicate whole rooms to one artist, which both museums do in different ways. You can immerse yourself in a particular thought process for a moment, as a viewer.

Go ahead, you can have a second: I also don’t know what the world would be like without music. I think it’s important for children to do when they’re young, to ignite certain areas of the brain. Most people probably would argue that it’s almost as valuable as food or water in their lives in some form. Lots of our artists that we support, our musicians, will talk about experiences they’ve had where music has bridged cultural divides. I think there are few things in this world that can work this way.

How do you deal with funding constraints? I think a lot of cultural institutions do a lot that people aren’t aware of. Places like the Kennedy Center have very far-reaching community outreach programs that nobody really knows about, or the Strathmore has a very involved program with the Maryland Youth Orchestra. These things don’t get shouted from the rooftops enough. So people think it’s this ivory tower place that doesn’t do anything, and truly they are. For a long time, museums had the issue of being perceived as these elitist institutions, and sometimes even a facade can be quite intimidating to people who feel they don’t belong there. But I do think that museum professionals and arts institutions are getting more and more aware of that, and are working to change that. It is going to mean that some of the old ways of thinking are probably going to have to change a little bit, but I think arts organizations actually do a tremendous amount given tiny budgets.

Favorite hobby: Anything on the water and anything involving speed I love, so any kind of water sports. Sailing. Snorkeling. I also like hiking with my children. We live really close to Rock Creek Park, so we know that park really well. Also, the Billy Goat trail. Old Rag [Mountain in Shenandoah] if we’re feeling a bit more adventurous. I think it’s important for little boys to get muddy.

Go-to karaoke song: We just had a karaoke staff party, so I can actually answer this from experience. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Favorite book: Being from England, I love Shakespeare. I used to voraciously read anything by John Irving. A very influential book that I read in college was [Mihaly] Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow.” He’s a Romanian philosopher, and it’s the basis now of a lot of current thinking, but it was really novel back then. It’s all about how you find your ultimate work in life and it’s usually right on that boundary of comfort and discomfort, and where you skill set is, so just taking yourself to the edge of where you think you can be to a place of happiness and concentration and focus.

Favorite childhood show: They’re all English so no one will know them. “Blue Peter” — no one will know that here. “Dr. Who” — there we go, I loved “Dr. Who.” My brother and I used to fight because in England you had four channels. And at the same time “The A-Team” was on and “Dr. Who” was on. Thank god my mom broke down and bought a VCR is all I have to say.

Favorite movie: “ Mary Poppins”

Favorite movie star: Orson Welles

Favorite local restaurant: It changes. The Rye Bar and The Grill Room at the Capella. And that’s probably just by virtue of vicinity. But it’s great.

Favorite place outside of the office: South of France or Italy, hands down.

What do most people not know about you? I can be quite demanding and pretty gritty. I don’t think many people get to see me with my children, or as a mother or maybe sort of my softer side. But I can be pretty kind and gentle. I also whistle really well.

Pet peeve: Cruelty and malicious intent. Everything else I can abide.

What’s on your iPod? I listen to all kinds. I just looked at the ABC section: Arcade Fire, Beyoncé and Bartók. That’s as diverse as you get, I think.

Kate Goodall

Chief operating officer, S&R Foundation

Age: 38

Education: Bachelor’s in world literature with minors in French and film, North Carolina State University; master’s in maritime history and nautical archaeology, East Carolina University

Residence: Cleveland Park

Family: Sons Jasper, 10, and Felix, 7

First job: A paper route when I was 10, and that was great because I had to get up really early and learn a little bit about responsibility. I made pretzels once — it was called the Pretzel Mill in Old Town, Alexandria — in high school. That was cathartic. There’s something about that repetitive motion. I think I was 16.