“You can be perfect for a job based on your resume, or you can be perfect for a job based on culture, but rarely do you find both,” proclaims Jeff Romig as we settle into our interview. As the executive director of VOX ATL for the last four years, Jeff is confident his successor, Susan Landrum, will keep promoting the power of voice to the teens they serve (and we couldn’t agree more). Since 2014, Susan has shifted from development director to program director to associate director, and besides being a teen at VOX, has held a role in just about everything they do.
We sat down with the duo to discuss the proverbial passing of the torch, Jeff’s favorite part of ED life at VOX, and what Susan hopes to accomplish once she takes the helm.
Jeff, how has your role as Executive Director been and what is your vision for Susan once she takes the helm at VOX?
VOX has done a lot in four years. We’ve had great people from the day I got here with the board, staff, volunteers, and of course, our teens, who have been active in all of the changes we’ve made. We needed to strengthen our infrastructure. From that came strategic planning and from that came a program redesign and from that came new stories to tell about VOX. It was sort of an evolution.
Last year we started talking about how change and growth are different things. For awhile we were changing and then we got to a place where we were growing and that’s still happening now. My goal as Susan and I work together in the next four and a half weeks, is to do everything I can to leave her with a place where she can hit the ground running. To not have to do as much of the change part and focus more on the growth part; that her work with various teams is continuing to move the ball forward.
At the end of this fiscal year, we will be halfway through our strategic plan and it’s a good plan. It’s still chugging along and we’ve laid baselines around moving to digital, creating more organizational sustainability, changing our message, and being more visible in Atlanta…but there’s still work to do. Susan will dig into that and own it with her team and board. I know she’s going to do a fantastic job infusing her ideas and building on what we’ve built together for the last four years.
What’s been your favorite part of this job that you’re excited to see Susan do?
We’ve talked about this a lot lately. The only people that understand the job of an executive director are people who have been an executive director. It’s kind of like, ‘welcome to the club’ and getting to see behind the curtain in some ways. I have a group of ED friends and everybody knows what the other one deals with because there’s a lot of our job that’s just not visible. It’s nice to have more people join the club.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how Susan’s leadership plays out in a different role because she’s been excellent as a development director, excellent as a program director, and excellent as an associate director, so I’m really excited to see how she puts her stamp on her time at Vox in the executive director role. Other than the true operational stuff she’s done everything else, which is why she’s so perfect for the job. You can be perfect for a job based on your resume or you can be perfect for a job based on culture but rarely do you find someone who is both. That’s why Susan is so perfect for the job.
Susan, you’ve done so many different roles. How are you going to utilize that knowledge moving forward as the executive director?
The thing that best prepared me to do this was to understand all the different community members and stakeholders that make VOX, VOX. It truly is an organization that started with community ownership with Rachel and a team of teens around a table figuring out what the city needed. Being development director and program director and associate director, I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know how the different people who care about this mission can engage with it and help be a part of growing it.
Of course, everything comes back to the teens who come through those doors every day, who we serve in the community and continue to serve in an increasing capacity digitally through readership. How are we going to truly be the place where teens speak and Atlanta listens? Being prepared to understand how everyone fits into that fabric has been really great.
Stepping in the door as executive director on day one to looking forward 90 days, what’s your vision? What do you hope to accomplish?
In these next few months, VOX is in a really great place to think about what we need for next year. From Jeff’s point earlier, continuing to not change everything but grow everything. I think we have questions to ask ourselves about what that means for publishing, for being present digitally. Does that mean we need to think about an app for VOXATL? Really doing touch bases with our strategic plan and having conversations with the board as we head into this next year. Thinking through what it means for us as we launch our 25th anniversary. We have so many exciting things ahead of us. We have conversations we need to have before we start the hard work of those things like planning and coming around a table and thinking through what we need. We have a really good strategic plan that offers great guideposts along the way. How we live into that creatively and innovatively are the things I’m looking forward to tackling.
Of all the roles you’ve held and the hats you’ve worn, what has been your favorite and what is something you’re looking forward to doing as ED?
I have absolutely loved everything I’ve gotten to do but getting to understand the programming at VOX, what makes it unique, getting to work with our teens in growing the programs has been the most life-giving. That is what motivates me to continue to grow this organization. To see teens stepping into leadership roles, teens writing about things they care about, getting them to a place where they can see the impact they can have on their communities is incredible. I think working directly with them and for them and bringing other adults into that work and saying, “This is what we can do together. We can continue to support these amazing kids because they are coming up behind us and are doing everything from writing articles, to protesting, to running for political office.” All those things are what VOX prepares young people to do.
VOX ATL equips teens with the tools needed to use their voices, take action, and utilize resources to enrich their lives. Want to get involved with VOX ATL? Find out how you can be involved here, donate, and/or along on their journey via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Tumblr.
Photos are property of VOX Teen Communications.