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Kauffman Foundation CEO Wendy Guillies On Kansas City And Declining Startup Rates

Alyson Raletz
Wendy Guillies was named President and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation. She served as interim president since July 2014.

These days, it’s hard to find someone who has stayed at one job longer than a decade. For many, exciting opportunities draw them to different companies and new careers.

But for Wendy Guillies, the last 15 years with the Kauffman Foundation have been anything but boring.

“It’s the same foundation, but it’s felt like a lot of different jobs. It’s exciting — we’re continuously innovating and looking to make a difference and sometimes that means pivoting and changing, so it’s been really exciting,” she told Steve Kraske on KCUR’sUp To Date.

She hopes to stick around the Foundation for a while longer, this time in a new role as President and CEO.

After serving as acting president since July 2014, she was named to her new position in June after a national search to fill the position.

Guillies joined Kraske to discuss her new role with the Kauffman Foundation. Here are some highlights from the interview:

On how her time working with marketing and communication at the Kauffman Foundation prepared her for this role

"I got a really good opportunity to work with almost every person and every program in the Foundation, so you have a really good window on all that is happening, a really good view. [You’re] trying to help those programs, those people achieve their goals on behalf of the foundation, so it was a great training ground for that.

"As the years when on, I worked very closely with the CEO’s … and I built some programs along the way." 

On how Kansas City figures into Kauffman’s vision

"I like to say we're a local foundation that has national impact. Kansas City is our hometown, it is our backyard and it is absolutely fundamentally important to what we do here. And a majority of our funding has and does stay in Kansas City.

"We’ve always been committed to this community. I think we have a more intentional focus now with our new plan to be able to talk about what we’re doing in Kansas City and so we’re trying to communicate openly and transparently as we can." 

On Kauffman Foundation research that the number of new startups has been declining over the years

"What we’re seeing is a decline, actually, in the number of startups and that’s worrisome. I don’t know if it's because the economy has bounced back and so there’s not as many people that are losing their jobs, which is a good thing obviously. Or maybe we’re getting anti-risk in this country, I’m not sure. But we’re worried because I think that if we don't have a steady supply of new job creation and growth, I worry about the future of the economy going forward.

We’ve seen [the numbers] over the last four or five years, this steady decline in startups and we haven't quite bounced back to pre-recession startup rates ... In addition to supporting programs that help entrepreneurs we do quite a bit of research trying to understand this phenomena. What is happening in the community, what is causing this decline in startups and is there a role that policy can play to overcome that?" 

On being a journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and switching her focus to public relations.

"I think I was an outcast at the journalism school at Nebraska ... I was a News-Ed major, so I did all the training that you would to be a newspaper reporter, but I decided my junior year that I wanted to try something different and I got an internship in corporate communications at Mattel Toys out in Los Angeles and I kind of got the (PR) bug from that and stayed in that general field." 

Lisa Rodriguez is an associate producer for KCUR's 'Up To Date.' Find her on Twitter @larodrig

In addition to being KCUR's afternoon newscaster, Lisa Rodriguez covers city hall and other news around Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.