Kripalu CEO Lipsius to step down; search to be launched for successor
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STOCKBRIDGE — For the fourth time in just more than five years, a reshuffle is underway in the executive suite of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the retreat and educational campus overlooking Stockbridge Bowl.
The 14-member board of trustees is set to launch a national search for a successor to David Lipsius, 46, who was appointed chief executive officer in September 2013 after serving as chief operating officer since late 2011.
During a conversation in his office on Thursday, Lipsius explained that it was his decision to leave his nearly $300,000 a year post.
"Kripalu has realized its potential as an organization," he said. "It's ready to fly and for me, I've completed many of the things I set out to do."
Lipsius said that he had declined a board offer for a three-year renewal of his contract, which expires on Sept. 30, for "personal reasons." He declined to elaborate or to disclose his plans.
Noting that the center is midway through a five-year strategic plan, he maintained that "a lot of the juiciness of that plan is happening right now, so I'm really invested in every day that I've got at Kripalu."
Lipsius emphasized that "we have an extraordinary team of people who are fighting for social impact. It's really not dependent on one person."
"For the first time in our history, we've got over the last five years an aligned board of trustees, management and staff," he said. "Our guests are receiving the benefit of that alignment. We're more successful than we've ever been before on every measurable front. So, Kripalu is kind of rocking it right now!"
"A single person making a transition is a personal decision," he added, "and it shouldn't reflect necessarily on how stable the organization is and how it's going. The board of trustees and I have formed a relationship that will be lifelong and aligned."
"The financial picture here is quite strong," said Vice President for Finance John Gillespie, a former consultant to nonprofits and for-profit businesses in New York City and Washington. He joined Kripalu in November 2014.
"I view what we're doing as very thoughtful and intentional, not trying to over-reach and making sure that we have a very stable foundation to launch from," he said.
Gillespie acknowledged that he had been "shocked at first" about Lipsius's intention to step down. "I think he felt that you get your work to a certain point, and then you have to pass it on, to pay it forward," said Gillespie. "He's planted the seeds, now let those seeds flourish."
Lipsius succeeded Richard Faulds, who filled the CEO post for one year after 30 years at Kripalu that included the board chairmanship and attorney. Faulds had replaced David Surrenda, whose contract was not renewed after 18 months as CEO for undisclosed reasons.
Lipsius acknowledged "some leadership turnover several years ago, and I was here running the ship while that was happening, keeping it steady and ultimately got the opportunity to become CEO and make sure we were on a good, stable growth trajectory."
"Yoga teaches us to actually just be in the present and I take that practice pretty seriously," he said. "I'm very confident that this is the right time for a leader like me to pass the torch to somebody else."
"We would have loved for him to stay," said Christine Fuchs, of Boston, a board member who's leading the search committee for a new CEO, working with the national executive search firm Viewcrest Advisors. "It was truly his personal decision."
"You never like to see a great CEO leave," she said. The search team Fuchs is heading includes board Chairwoman Carol O'Neil of Natick and three other board members.
"There's a good likelihood the candidate will come externally rather than internally," Fuchs added. The board is working on a job description and a salary range.
For Lipsius, the priorities for his remaining time focus on a "great expansion of offerings for our yoga students who want to go deeper into their practice."
He also pointed to a "really massive research project, an evidence-based program we've been offering to community members and others outside the community on a scholarship basis to really determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Kripalu approach to living a healthy life."
Measurements include "positive mental feedback, reduction of negative mental thoughts, feelings of empowerment, stress reduction, connection of mind and body and enhancement of mindfulness," he said.
"We're moving into a new era," said Erin Peck, senior vice president for people, culture and programs. The Berkshire native who joined Kripalu seven years ago from a post at Shakespeare & Company said that "this is the most thoughtful, coordinated CEO transition I've been through here."
Under Lipsius's leadership, she added, the organization has become "very well-run, professional, with a goal of social impact, fulfilling our mission to help people and communities realize their full potential through the wisdom of yoga."
Peck said she was saddened by Lipsius's decision to move on. "It's a real loss. I want to be able to carry his work forward, so his legacy can continue."
She acknowledged that staff morale had been low before his arrival in late 2011, with very high turnover because half of the employees were "disengaged."
A top strategic priority has involved "shifting to a more positive, collaborative, supportive culture. Staff engagement and job satisfaction are really high, 75 to 80 percent," she pointed out. "We're now poised to be an employer of choice for people who live in this area. Being able to have a solid employee base has been really important so we could stabilize, which we've done."
A compensation plan launched in 2012 yielded adjustments, with an update planned this year to make sure wages are competitive in the Berkshires, an area Peck described as "tough for a lot of people."
With the hourly minimum wage at $10 in the state, she noted that Kripalu's minimum is now $11 an hour. Staff turnover had been reduced to 11 percent during the final quarter of 2015.
For Jill Bauman, vice president of strategy and growth, the focus has been on "bringing yoga to more people" by enhancing the retreat center's education and training program as well as increasing Kripalu's involvement with area schools and other groups.
Bauman arrived at Kripalu seven months ago after a first-time visit to scout the job opening after managing the national YogaWorks chain's six studios in Manhattan.
"When I got here, I was surprised, this is great, these are my people," she recalled.
Summing up the evolution of Kripalu's Stockbridge facility, which opened 32 years ago, Peck said: "When I was growing up, it was kind of that weird place up on the hill that I had never come to. Now, it's not my childhood Kripalu. Now we're being recognized nationally as the greatest retreat center in the U.S."
By the numbers ...
Payroll: 450 (about half part-time)
Overnight capacity: 653
Overnight paid guests, 2015: 52,475; 2012: 36,000
Revenue (2014): $33,800,000
Surplus (2014): $2,209,000
Endowment (restricted funds): $1,646,722 (12/31/15)
Payments in lieu of taxes
Town of Stockbridge: $37,093 (2015)
Stockbridge Bowl Association: $4,500
Stockbridge Fire Department, Stockbridge Police, Lenox Ambulance, Stockbridge Bowl Association, Berkshire Natural Resources Council ($2,500 each)
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