CLEVELAND, May 1, 2023: The Cleveland Foundation Board of Directors have announced that Lillian Kuri has been unanimously elected as the organization’s 10th president & CEO, effective Aug. 1, 2023. She will succeed Ronn Richard, who will retire this summer after a 20-year tenure at the helm of the foundation.
Kuri, 53, was promoted to the newly created position of executive vice president and chief operating officer at the foundation in March 2021. Just a year earlier, she was elevated to senior vice president for strategy for her work on the planning and design of the foundation’s new home in MidTown at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 66th Street.
“Lillian brings a proven track record and a sense of creativity to the way she looks at the work of the foundation and its role in the community,” said Constance Hill-Johnson, chairperson of the Cleveland Foundation Board of Directors. “She knows the city like the back of her hand and has an amazing ability to foster and build relationships – to really put people at ease. Furthermore, her heart is always in the right place, and we are confident in her ability to lead the foundation in service to the residents of Greater Cleveland.”
Kuri joined the foundation in 2005 as a project consultant for the revitalization of Greater University Circle – including a comprehensive set of anchor institution development strategies and the launch of Evergreen Cooperatives, where community members have an ownership stake. These efforts have been cited as a national model by outlets such as The Guardian, Forbes, CNBC, U.S. News & World Report, and Fast Company, among others. She officially joined the foundation staff in 2007 as a program director and in 2016 was promoted to vice president for strategic grantmaking, arts & urban design. In that role, Kuri focused her work on arts, culture and placemaking, including the foundation’s arts mastery initiatives, which bring year-round, rigorous, mastery-based programs in theater, music, and visual arts to 5,000 underserved children each year.
Over the last several years, Kuri has also played a key role in the foundation’s support for development in under-resourced neighborhoods to benefit longtime residents; economic and workforce development efforts; and environmental initiatives in historically red-lined communities. She also co-leads the foundation’s impact investing strategy, which now includes a portfolio of nearly $385 million in direct and indirect investments that deliver both a financial and social return.
“I am humbled and grateful to have been selected by the Cleveland Foundation Board of Directors,” said Kuri. “I firmly believe that this is an exceptional moment for Greater Cleveland. We have a new generation of local leadership that includes civic, government and nonprofit leaders who are bringing fresh perspectives to their jobs and a track record of working together – even before taking on their new roles. I am excited to be joining their ranks.
“This moment is much larger than the Cleveland Foundation, and we must rise to the occasion by finding new ways to collaborate and convene,” continued Kuri. “It is critical that we leverage the move to MidTown to create an environment at the foundation in which every member of our community sees a piece of themselves reflected in the organization and the work we do.”
An ad hoc committee of the foundation’s board of directors had been working with a transition consultant to develop a CEO profile since Richard announced his retirement plans in January. The consultant interviewed all 15 board members, as well as senior staff and leaders in the community to create the profile.
“We recognized a lot had changed in the 20 years since the foundation last conducted a CEO search,” said Hill-Johnson. “We felt that to be completely objective, it was crucial to work with the consultant to define what qualities we were looking for. To be clear, this was not a job description, and after multiple rounds of intensive interviews with Lillian, we felt we didn’t have to look any further because not only did she check all the boxes, she surpassed what was required and truly embodies the characteristics and qualities needed to lead the Cleveland Foundation’s next chapter.”
“When the board informed me of the decision to name Lillian as my successor, I was thrilled,” said Ronn Richard, the foundation’s current president & CEO. “During her time at the foundation, Lillian has been a trusted advisor to me, and I have seen firsthand that she has what it takes – and more – to successfully lead the foundation into a new era. I can’t imagine a better person for the job.”
Kuri will become the first woman in the 109-year-history of the foundation to hold the president & CEO position full time, but this marks the second time the organization has had a female CEO. Barbara Haas Rawson was appointed in an interim role from mid-1973 until early the following year. Although brief, Rawson’s tenure was critically important, as it included spearheading the foundation’s efforts to save the Playhouse Square theaters from the wrecking ball.
Prior to joining the foundation, Kuri was the executive director of Cleveland Public Art and held positions as the project manager for the City of Cleveland’s Citywide Plan under Mayor Michael R. White, as well as project coordinator for the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. She is a licensed architect in Ohio and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-accredited professional.
Kuri earned a Master of Architecture in urban design from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Kent State University. As part of her post-graduate work at Harvard, she participated in the planning of the redevelopment of Beirut’s waterfront, while working at the same time for the City of Boston in affordable housing. A member of the Cleveland Planning Commission since 2007, she was named chair in January 2022 – becoming the first woman to ever hold that role.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and a Northeast Ohio native, Kuri lives in an intergenerational home in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood and has a daughter, Sidney, and a son, Mason. She found her interest in architecture and cities through extensive national and international travel. She also has a love for the region’s parks and natural systems through a passion for walking and kayaking.
Richard, 67, will conclude his tenure on July 31, 2023, as the second-longest serving CEO in the foundation’s history, behind only Leyton E. Carter (1928-53). During Richard’s tenure, the foundation’s endowment doubled and grantmaking increased to record levels, with signature investments in public education and postsecondary education access, advanced energy projects, innovative economic and workforce development initiatives, and vibrant arts and cultural opportunities.
“On behalf of the entire board, the foundation staff and our donors, I’d like to express deep gratitude for Ronn’s two decades of service to Greater Cleveland,” said Hill-Johnson. “His vision and leadership have made a lasting impact on our community.”