2017 Powered by Women
From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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Terri Harwood // Katie Bowman Coleman // Amy B. Robinson // Monica Martinez
Lilly Epstein Stotland // Christine Sitek // Tricia Ruby // Sara Blackmer
Amy B. Robinson
Vice President, CFO, and CAO • The Kresge Foundation, Troy
Employees: 100 • Assets Under Management: $3.5B
Amy B. Robinson has been surprised at the turns her career has taken over 22 years at The Kresge Foundation.
The most recent turn was her additional appointment as chief administrative officer of the foundation in January. A CPA by training, she has been vice president and CFO since 2009, as well as secretary and treasurer of Kresge’s board of trustees. “A lot of CFOs tend to be really heads-down,” she says, “but I’ve been able to do a ton of different things here.”
One of her recent steps as CAO, which includes oversight of program and data information management operations, was to hire Wendye Mingo as managing director of information technology. Mingo, who came to Kresge from the automotive industry, is notable because she’s an African-American woman in IT.
“She was clearly the best candidate,” Robinson says, noting that Mingo’s hire also helps fulfill the foundation’s objective of increasing diversity in its ranks. “It was really icing on the cake.”
Robinson readily admits that IT is a challenge. What’s her strategy to tackle the oversight of unfamiliar assignments? In part, hire smart people like Mingo — and openly admit when she doesn’t understand something.
Robinson’s oversight also includes facilities, and sometimes very big ones. In 2015, she and her team led the expansion of the foundation’s Troy headquarters. The new $9.5-million, 6,000-square-foot addition incorporates an 1852 fieldstone farmhouse on Big Beaver Road, just west of Coolidge Highway, that was Kresge’s original headquarters. Robinson explains she “dabbled a little bit” in a related 2006 project, which prepared her for the 2015 expansion that was “absolutely a stretch. I lived and breathed with that building every day for almost two years,” she says. “I felt like it was a huge achievement. It was just kind of cool to fit the old with the new.”
The addition sits partially below grade, and is surrounded by vegetation, wetlands, and other natural features — which helps explain why a fox periodically visits the lily pond outside Robinson’s office.
Robinson doesn’t confine her attention to her workplace. She sits on the audit committee of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, a role that earned her a Women to Watch award from the Michigan Association of CPAs this year.
The conservancy was formed in 2003 to transform the Detroit River shoreline from the Ambassador Bridge to the MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle into a pedestrian-friendly riverwalk with parks and other recreational offerings. The Kresge Foundation was a key player in supporting the redevelopment.
It’s just one part of a transformational strategy in Detroit that also saw the foundation support and provide funding for the QLine light-rail system now offering service along Woodward Avenue. Other projects the foundation has supported include the conversion of Eastern Market into a publicly-owned, privately-operated organization; the creation of the New Economy Initiative; the Motor City Mapping project; and Detroit’s Grand Bargain — where the collection from the Detroit Institute of Arts was maintained rather than sold off to pay creditors from Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2013.
Apart from civic projects, last year Robinson was appointed to the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Not-For-Profit Advisory Committee. Federal and state accounting boards, along with the national CPA organization, all look to the FASB for establishing national financial, accounting, and reporting standards for industry and nonprofits.
With Robinson’s experience as CFO and CAO for one of the nation’s Top 50 foundations, it’s natural to wonder if she might be eyeing Kresge CEO Rip Rapson’s job or considering taking the top spot at another foundation. “If something came along that was really intriguing,” Robinson muses, adding: “I don’t want to limit my abilities, and I always feel providential and want to be open to whatever comes along, but I just can’t imagine what that would be.”
Robinson says Kresge is unique in doing the complex, important work it does, and she’s still challenged by her work and excited about Kresge’s 2015 commitment to making $350 million in social investments by 2020. The strategy was new for the foundation at the time, and expanded its investment tools for promoting social change for low-income people in America’s cities. “And, quite frankly, Rip is the best CEO I’ve ever worked for,” she says. — Ilene Wolff