Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Sam Zell is an incredible entrepreneur, a wonderful Jewish philanthropist who I first met when we were cabin-mates at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as young boys. As the new owner of the Chicago Tribune Company, Zell has been touring his newspapers where he has engaged with his staffs in every venue in the candid and coarse manner for which he has become known as he has grown as a public figure. Yesterday he met at the Tribune Tower with Chicago Tribune personnel where he was criticized for "...his profanity-laced remarks elsewhere (which) raised concerns among staff..." Zell's response, quoted in his newspaper today, would seem appropriate to UJC's situation, with only minor changes:

I'm trying to make everybody uncomfortable. This (organization) has been eroding
before your eyes and you're worried about my (criticism)?...Everything I said was
with an intent to get everybody to get off their [behinds] and understand this is a
crisis. We've got to save this business. We've got to make this work. And we've got
to prioritize...If we keep operating the way we've been operating, there is no future.

If Sam Zell challenged our system in the way he has challenged his Company, would our system respond? Or would we commission another management consultant or another branding consultant for an organization that has been more studied by more consultants over a shorter period of time than any in history? UJC appears to be waiting for the ultimate consultant's study whose conclusions are those with which its transient leadership agrees.

Is there a need for a Zellian call to respond to a crisis at UJC? Our leaders seem very satisfied with its direction and reorganization. Others agree. Yet, as many federations have made clear, they object to the size of the Budget (and the consequent dues), UJC moves to "freeze" its budget at the very levels about which more and more federations complain and object. While JAFI and JDC suffer ever-growing deficits and move to cut deeply into programs for children and the elderly, UJC refuses to acknowledge that falling allocations from our system are, at the least, part of the problem; UJC announcing instead that these "partners" received $410 million in 2007, so what are they complaining about? (That gross number in JAFI's case includes Government [Israel and U.S.] funding, funding from campaigns in Canada and the Keren Ha'Yesod countries around the world, proceeds of asset sales [which reduce JAFI's and UIA debt] and, inter alia, direct contributions of Israeli philanthropists and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and Pastor John Hagee.) Contrary to the agreement at the core of the merger which created it, there is not even an acknowledgment of any UJC interest in advocacy for increasing the allocations to JAFI and Joint core budgets. When Federation cash payments to UJC for the Agency and the JDC reduced as at December 31, 2007, by another $3.5 million, the response was "what about the $410 million" -- "we got ours, sorry" seemed to be the attitude among some.

There are some great things happening within UJC (I hope to write about an UJC Conference I attended earlier today), but wouldn't a pep talk to leadership and ownership by Sam Zell be refreshing?



hmm said...

Great piece...absolutely agree about that pep talk

hmm said...

I appreciate your comment and agree with you. I'm waiting for that pep talk, too.