The next leader of Foundation for the Carolinas knows Charlotte and the organization well: After searching for a year and a half, the community foundation’s board has named Cathy Bessant as its next president and CEO.
Bessant plans to retire from Bank of America in December after more than 40 years with the company. She currently oversees global strategy at the bank. Bessant chaired the foundation’s board between 2009 and 2014 and has helped lead several community initiatives, including helping guide redevelopment along North Tryon Street and coming up with a strategy to increase housing and reduce homelessness.
“Cathy brings remarkable credentials, both from a civic and professional perspective that will add incredible value to the foundation and our region,” said Arrington Mixon, the foundation’s chair.
Foundation for the Carolinas distributes grants to a wide range of non-profits, including those that work in the social services, education, arts and the environment. The initiatives it has helped launch include the Carolina Thread Trail, Read Charlotte and Project LIFT. The foundation has more than $4 billion in assets. Most of that is in funds that donors control.
Bessant says it helps to have a good understanding of the city and foundation’s history, but she says she doesn’t plan to be “tied to the past.”
“This is a time for the foundation to participate with the rest of the community in being very forward looking and being on the forefront of ensuring that what happens in our region is of course special here, but special in a way that is a beacon to the rest of the United States,” Bessant said.
Bessant calls the position her “dream job.” After deciding to retire from Bank of America, she says she checked in with the foundation to see if the search was still underway.
The position drew a strong and diverse set of candidates, according to board member Jada Grandy-Mock. She says the search committee reviewed hundreds of applications. Bessant’s name, she said, kept coming up when speaking with community members.
“The Foundation wants someone who can look at the landscape, be smart enough to assess it, be sensitive to the people, implications, and the importance of the mission at hand, and to get after it with every bit of passion and energy that’s humanly possible,” Bessant said.
Bessant succeeds Michael Marsicano as the foundation’s CEO. He led Foundation for the Carolinas for 24 years, greatly expanding its influence during that time. Bessant begins in January.