With a shared vision and much encouragement from the Virginia Leadership Association — a statewide affiliation of community leadership programs across the commonwealth — and sparked by a call to action by Virginia’s then-Governor Mark Warner, a small group of Virginians began informally exploring the feasibility of a statewide leadership program in the commonwealth. This loosely organized cadre of educators from several leading universities, leaders of community leadership groups and representatives of local chambers of commerce, evaluated statewide leadership programs in more than 30 states.
Research showed that these statewide programs offer a proven model for creating a network of senior-level leaders to address statewide challenges and create a better future for residents and future generations. In 2004, the increasingly enthusiastic group organized as a steering committee, debated best practices and decided on basic constructs for the program to be known as Lead Virginia.
The steering committee clearly understood that to be successful, the venture must be a public and private collaboration, drawing on the strengths and resources of each. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce wholeheartedly embraced the initiative, offered office space during an incubation period for the organization and opened doors to the broader business community.
Lead Virginia's first organizational board meeting was held March, 2005 at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond, Virginia. G. Slaughter “Sandy” Fitz-Hugh Jr., then-president of Bank of America, Virginia, served as chair of the board from 2005-2008. Program and curriculum responsibilities were directed by John P. Thomas, DPA director of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, along with regional curriculum committees for each of seven regions. Lead Virginia's first president & CEO, Susan Timmons, hailed from the Lynchburg area. Her background in adult education and as an alumnus of Leadership Lynchburg served the program well during its organizational phase.
Inaugural Class of 2005
In April, 2005 the inaugural class was launched in Colonial Williamsburg with 39 participants. Founding sponsors Bon Secours Richmond Health System, HCA Virginia, Philip Morris USA, Bank of America, Norfolk Southern, SunTrust and other financial and in-kind contributors stepped up to support the effort, while regional curriculum committees worked to create the seven sessions that remain the hallmark of the Lead Virginia program content and curriculum. Three key themes were addressed in the first three years of Lead Virginia: economy, education and transportation. In 2008 the three curriculum themes were modified with health taking the place of transportation. Transportation became one of six perspectives woven through the program content, along with economic development, demographics, technology, growth management and quality of life.
By all measures, the initial venture was a resounding success for Lead Virginia's inaugural Class of 2005. This first class then demonstrated their commitment to the program by personally recruiting many members of the Class of 2006, contributing to scholarship support for future participants and organizing an active alumni committee. After much success in working with the board of directors during Lead Virginia's founding and its first two classes, Timmons announced her departure in late 2006.
A New Era of Leadership
In March 2007, Susan Horne, then-president and CEO of Leadership Fairfax Inc., was hired as Lead Virginia's president and CEO. Horne brought with her more than 15 years of experience with Virginia’s largest regional community leadership program -- located in the Northern Virginia region -- as well as her public sector experience as vice mayor for the town of Leesburg, and stepped into the role of taking Lead Virginia into its next phase of growth and development. Additionally, Horne was a graduate of the Lead Virginia Class of 2006 and was a member of Lead Virginia's original steering committee and board of directors, serving as secretary of the board. Since early 2007, Horne has advanced Lead Virginia's role and influence, recruiting an impressive caliber of leaders each year from across Virginia; enhancing the Board’s representation, impact and diversity; expanding and strengthening alumni engagement through an annual alumni conference, Conversations with Leaders series and regional gatherings; and sustaining the program through a scholarship endowment and corporate support.
Horne has been recognized by Leadership Fairfax as an honorary member and by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce with its Blue Diamond Award for Corporate Citizenship. In 2011 she was named one of the 25 best connected people in the state by Virginia Business Magazine.
Lead Virginia was honored in 2009 by the Virginia Commonwealth University L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs with its Community Enhancement Award. In 2010, Governor Robert F. McDonnell recognized Lead Virginia with an official proclamation on its fifth anniversary and for the organization’s contributions to the Commonwealth.
Lead Virginia Today
In 2015, now in its tenth year, Lead Virginia's imprint on Virginia’s history is being made across the state, with 450 community and regional leaders now counting among their credentials completion of this prestigious program. Lead Virginia alumni serve on statewide boards and commissions, appointed by Governors seeking high caliber individuals with a broad, statewide view. Alumni are becoming increasingly engaged with Lead Virginia by serving on its board of directors and regional program committees. Today, Lead Virginia graduates represent over 50 percent of the organization’s board of directors as they step into stewardship roles for the organization.
Through their roles as community and statewide stakeholders, Lead Virginia alumni are influencing policy, perspective and innovation at all levels in their private and public sector roles and are truly shaping Virginia’s future.