By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In September of last year, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee learned that it’s president was resigning. Vincent Lyles who had been with the BGGM since 2011 announced that he was stepping down to spend more time with his family, Milwaukee Business Journal reported.
However, after a nationwide search that spanned several months, the BGCGM was pleased to announce its new president and CEO. Kathy Thornton-Bias, who will begin her new position on Mar. 1, is the 15th person to be named the new leader of BGCGM. She is the second female to become the organization’s leader after Annabell Cook Whitcomb, the first executive director. Whitcomb founded the initial club in 1887.
“Like Annabell Whitcomb, I am driven by faith and purpose, and I see promise in the vision she set forth with when she founded the organization,” Thornton-Bias said.
During the search, BGCGM’s board made sure to include a number of employees and community partners in order to find a president who would best fit the role. Susan Ela, a former BGCGM board chair, was named interim president and CEO during the search. Bob Mikulay, the former executive vice president of marketing for the Miller Brewing Company and BGCGM vice chair, lead the search.
According to the press release, the search committee looked at a range of candidates all with diverse backgrounds. While some of the candidates lived in other parts of the country, BGCGM made sure that they all had a connection to Milwaukee.
Thornton-Bias’s vast experience made her the best fit. She is best known in the business and retail space as a “highly respected executive.” Her impressive resume and work ethic has taken her all over the country.
Thornton-Bias graduated from the University of Virginia where she received a degree in Rhetoric and Communications. From there she became the first African-American to become Vice President for Divisional Merchandise at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. She later went on to become the President of the Retail Division for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) before becoming president of Bang & Olufsen’s.
Eventually, her career brought her to Milwaukee. According to the press release, Thornton-Bias became the president and chief operating officer at Verlo Mattress franchise. She also began serving as a board member for the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Thornton-Bias’s work made her a notable name in the world of business. Ebony Magazine included her name on the “Power 100” list as did Essence Magazine for its “Game Changers” list.
According to Scott Wrobbel, a BGCGM board member, Thornton-Bias expressed an insightful vision for the future of the clubs. The board also admired her “passion for servant leadership,” which made her the right choice.
“In all our conversations, her past experiences were never about her, they were all about the organization she worked for and its people,” Wrobbel said.
Wrobbel believes that Thornton-Bias will quickly become a respected voice for the BGCGM and the children in Milwaukee.
“I plan to focus on four important trajectories as I work toward my vision of the future: greater reach, greater relevance, great impact and greater unity,” Thornton-Bias said.