Kripalu names former Goddard College president as new CEO


STOCKBRIDGE >> Following a six-month national search that attracted an initial 200 inquiries from potential applicants, the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health has plucked its new CEO from the halls of academia.

Barbara Vacarr, the former president of Goddard College, a 700-student private liberal arts school in Plainfield, Vt., will become Kripalu's fourth leader in six years as of Aug. 15. David Lipsius, the current CEO, will depart the day before, having announced his resignation in January for unspecified personal reasons after three years in the top job and five years on the campus.

In its announcement on Friday, the center now billing itself as "the American university of yoga" stated that its new leader "brings to Kripalu the skills and wisdom of a distinguished career in higher education as Kripalu continues to advance its leadership position as the gold standard for education in yoga, and as a global vehicle for social impact."

"Since Kripalu is an educational center, someone with so much experience in that area was important as we create innovative models to help people become lifelong learners," said board Chairwoman Carol O'Neil in a phone interview from her home in Natick.

O'Neil, who joined the Kripalu board in 2010 and was named chairwoman at the beginning of this year, served on the five-member search committee.

Viewcrest Advisors, a national executive search firm, narrowed the flood of applications down to 25, and four candidates were interviewed in person by the search committee, O'Neil said. Two finalists emerged.

Asked about the frequent shuffles in Kripalu's executive suite, O'Neil responded that "the board is hoping for a long-term relationship" with its new leader. Details of Vacarr's new contract, including her compensation package, were not disclosed. Lipsius had been earning close to $300,000, according to IRS Form 990 documents filed for the nonprofit organization.

O'Neil emphasized that Vacarr is "a lifelong meditator and has a passion for yoga's benefits to help people become their true selves. We're very excited and fortunate to have her."

Vacarr, who was not available for an interview this week, stated in an e-mail message that she has been "a long-term admirer of Kripalu's commitment to continuous learning that seeks to develop human beings and human potential and to catalyze conscious, connected and compassionate communities."

Noting that she is "deeply impressed with the direction of Kripalu's evolution, expanding its reach and most recently focusing on understanding and evaluating its social impact," Vacarr explained that she pursued the leadership position "at a time in my life when I feel an increasing impulse toward legacy, to leverage the experience of my life and career in service of an important mission."

She described herself as "a passionate ambassador for social missions," adding that "there is much about this position that builds on the motivation behind, the work and the expertise I have developed over the course of my career."

Prior to her nearly four-year tenure at Goddard College, Vacarr served as founding director of the Ph.D. in Adult Learning program at Lesley University in Cambridge, where she developed and led programs in human development, mental health counseling and organizational leadership. According to her biography, she acted "as a change agent to build sustainability and to regain the school's historic leadership role in higher education."

O'Neil explained that while Kripalu's 150-acre, 254-room retreat center that attracted 52,475 guests last year "is still very much a part of what we do, our desire to educate has certainly expanded."

The facility, one of South Berkshire's largest employers, has adopted a university model, she pointed out, that includes the Kripalu School of Yoga, the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, and the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy.

"It's an epicenter, bringing together all traditions of yoga," O'Neil said. "The schools truly represent the best in education for those practices."

Vacarr emphasized that her experience in higher education, mental health and human services "makes me acutely aware of the challenges to remain faithful to values and vision that organizations and institutions face in today's increasingly competitive and complex marketplace."

In her view, "Kripalu has managed both to stay relevant and responsive to the challenges of a changing society, and committed to its values."

However, she acknowledged, "such a balancing act doesn't come easily: doing well by doing good demands constant attention and innovation, continual reorientation and adjustment."

Addressing the organization's increased emphasis on its social mission, Vacarr noted that "Kripalu's aspiration to be a catalyst for culture change by developing individuals, schools and communities is increasingly serving a vital social role. This is a time of tremendous opportunity and I would consider it a tremendous honor and privilege to serve Kripalu's mission at a time when it is most needed in the world."

O'Neil stressed that Kripalu seeks "to be accessible to as many populations as possible, including the underserved. We have a lot to offer in self-development and well-being and Barbara will be a tremendous fundraiser for the mission, reaching more and more people."

Nearly $500,000 in scholarships are distributed annually to support increased accessibility and to strengthen outreach to diverse populations, O'Neil said.

As she works on a three-member transition committee prior to Vacarr's arrival on campus, O'Neil asserted that apart from "her credentials, experience and many accomplishments in higher education, she aligns so well with the values of Kripalu. She's very warm, welcoming, caring, compassionate, calm, very thoughtful and very present, an excellent communicator."

"She has tons of qualifications but fits perfectly as to what we're trying to exude into the world," O'Neil said.

Kripalu, which originated as an ashram founded by Yogi Amrit Desai in 1972 at two remote locations in Pennsylvania, relocated to Stockbridge in 1983 on the site of the former Shadowbrook Jesuit novitiate, which was closed in 1970, 14 years after the original 1893 mansion was rebuilt following a devastating fire.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

Kripalu by the numbers ....

Payroll: 459 employees (48 percent part-time)

Rooms: 254

Overnight capacity: 653

Overnight paid guests: 52,475 (2015); 36,000 (2012).

Revenue: $36,196,725 (audited, 2015)

Surplus: $521,638 (audited, 2015)

Endowment (restricted funds): $1,646,722 (as of 12/31/2015)

Payment to Stockbridge in lieu of taxes (PILOT): $37,093 (2015)

Sources: IRS Form 990 tax filings; Kripalu administration


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