The W.K. Kellogg Foundation named La June Montgomery Tabron as its next president today, marking the second time this year that a major foundation has promoted to the top job an African-American who grew up in modest circumstances.
Ms. Tabron joined the foundation 26 years ago, at age 24, as its controller, and after numerous promotions now oversees all internal operations, including grant-making strategies and execution. She will be the first woman and the first African-American to head the 84-year-old foundation, which has more than $7-billion in assets.
She will replace Sterling Speirn, who is stepping down on December 31. Mr. Speirn enacted a major overhaul of the foundation in 2008 to concentrate on specific cities and states and sharpen the foundation’s focus on helping vulnerable children and families.
In an interview, Ms. Tabron said that she doesn’t foresee any broad strategic shifts but said she will work hard to help the foundation achieve its existing goals.
She thinks her background will help. She grew up as one of 10 children in what she describes as a “large and loving” inner-city Detroit family. Neither of her parents attended college—her father worked in the automotive industry, and her mother worked for Detroit public schools—but they emphasized the importance of education. Eight of the 10 children in the family are college-educated, Ms. Tabron says.
“I clearly understand the obstacles and the issues that children face,” Ms. Tabron says. “As the foundation has gone deeper into communities, what I’ve learned is that I have the ability to connect on that level as well. It allows us to just do much more authentic work.”
Ms. Tabron has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
In June, the Ford Foundation named Darren Walker, an African-American who grew up in Goose Creek, Tex., as its next president.
Ms. Tabron said the two appointments are noteworthy not just because they add greater racial and socioeconomic diversity at the highest realm of foundation leadership but also because in both cases boards tapped an internal candidate.
“It marks real progress on how we are thinking about what leadership should look like in these organizations,” she said.
In a statement, Mr. Speirn described Ms. Tabron as the “perfect choice” to take over the foundation. “The board’s decision to choose 'home-grown’ talent speaks volumes about La June’s ability to lead the implementation of this work,” he said.