Ellen Krohne has announced she will retire from her post as executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois by the end of the year. She was appointed to lead the member-based economic development organization that serves St. Clair and Madison counties in July 2012. Last week, business writer Will Buss sat down with Krohne in her office to discuss her decision and reflect on her work:
Why are you leaving?
“It was a very difficult decision, mainly because I really appreciate and love the work that this organization does and I like the people I work with very well. There are so many strong leaders and volunteers at the Leadership Council, and I think we’ve made really good progress in helping to complete our mission in uniting the region for growth. So it was a really hard decision to say now is the time for me to step down, but it is the right time for me to retire for my family. We have three grandchildren, and we’re going to have a fourth in January, and I want to meaningfully help them like my mother-in-law helped me. I want to be there for grandkids and my family at this time.”
What are you most proud of about your tenure at Leadership Council?
“I think that the Leadership Council makes a difference. Some of the pieces that we put in place in the last three years helped us to move that forward. So we put a strategic plan in place in 2012 when I got here and we said were going to accomplish these things, and we have gotten almost all of them done and a little bit more. So I think we got a lot done for the organization. We set up the Scott Air Force Base Task Force with St. Clair and Madison counties; it’s a tri-chaired task force. I think it’s doing great work to help us to keep Scott growing. I think the levees are moving forward really well, and the Leadership Council supports the flood prevention district council and all of its work. We have grown our membership from 145 to 210; so we have made really good progress in growing the membership and in having members really engaged in helping get the work done because that’s really how the Leadership Council works. It’s our members that are part of our board members, they all help and work, many of them support us financially and all of that has helped us move ahead in the region and helping with economic growth. We have recently been working with our manufacturers to launch programs to help with their entry-level workforce. I think all of our communities are really working well together. Our public policy committee has been working with our legislators in good ways. So I am proud that we have got a lot of work done, and the board has helped us and has really made that happen.”
What lies ahead for your successor?
“It feels like we’re kind of on a real tipping point for growth. If you look at freight, we’ve done a lot with our site committee with transportation distribution, we released a freight study and we’ve helped with our regional partners to launch the freight district. I think making those things happen now is kind of the next step. We’ve got a lot things that we’ve laid that were foundational, but now taking the actions that are recommended from the freight study will be the next thing that happens, and I think my successor will have a lot of work ahead of them to make all of that happen.”
How has Leadership Council impacted the metro-east economy?
“The Leadership Council has been here for 33 years. It’s always been a very strong driver of economic growth in the region, and it’s an organization that’s kind of in the background. We support our economic development organizations in the county level; we support our county board chairs; we support the cities that are doing economic development; and we really take care of the regional issues that stretch across Madison and St. Clair counties and the Southwestern Illinois region. I think we’ve stepped back and said what are the things that we need to identify to make sure that those move forward? And the site committee, the task force at Scot Air Force Base, the levee improvements and working with our legislators, those were all things that we identified as that’s what we need to do to bring the organization forward and for it to really have an impact. And I think those are the things that we worked hard to do to get done.”
What have you learned from this job?
“I learned a lot. I learned from my board members. I learned a lot about Scott Air Force Base. I didn’t have much knowledge about the military or how it all works and what they do there. So I have a very different kind of deep respect and love for the military than I had before, and I will value that and treasure that. I got to meet lots of really wonderful people, board members and partners across the region, that I probably would never have gotten to know as well as I have if I hadn’t taken this role. I think I was able to use a lot of the experience that I gained through my career at Illinois Power as an executive there and through consulting for many years and I was able to kind of take that and use lots and lots of it to make things happen here. I learned a lot, not just about Scott, but I learned a lot about public policy and how to move that forward. I didn’t know anything about levees when I started. So I had to learn about that, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot as a person from learning about issues after working with the people that I got to work with.”
What was your background prior to joining Leadership Council?
“I worked for Illinois Power for 27 years. I started as a union customer service rep straight out of high school and I went back and did all of my schooling at night. Not the way I would let my kids do it, but that’s the way it worked. So I just kind of worked my way up the ranks as I went back to school and got my degrees. I was the vice president of customer service, then I was the vice president of assisted developmental strategy. I left them when Ameren bought Illinois Power. In search for a new adventure, I found one and went to work as a consultant based in Paris, France. I got to travel all over the U.S. and all over the world helping companies with strategic change and helping them to implement that change. So strategy and change management was really kind of what I consulted with and so I got to use that at the Leadership Council when I came here.”
What are your plans in retirement?
“We’re moving back to Okawville, and I plan to spend a lot of time helping my daughters with their children as much as I can. I’m looking forward to traveling. My husband and I have a long list of places that we want to go. I have some passions that I want to volunteer in that I haven’t had much time to do. Another passion of mine is coaching, executive coaching, so I would like to do a little bit of that as I move forward. And I’m going to write a book.”
What will you write about?
“It’s actually a book about grief. My mother passed away when I was 14. I have seven brothers and sisters, and we all dealt with that a little bit differently. One of the places where I volunteer is Heartlinks Grief Center in Belleville. It’s a not-for-profit organization that helps parents who have lost parents, children who have lost parents and children who have lost siblings to work through that grief that they have when that occurs. My book is going to be about how the seven of us went through that cycle of grief and the way that we coped with it, or didn’t, because there is not a book like that out there. So we thought, in working with Heartlinks, we thought that would be a book that would maybe help people in the future.”
What have you enjoyed most about your role?
“It’s been an honor to serve as the Leadership Council Executive Director. I would like to say thank you to all of the Leadership Council board members and the executive committee and the people who worked on committees and the staff here. Amanda Horncek and Liz Happold are wonderful. The people who worked at Leadership Council, they volunteer and spend a lot of time helping the region and it’s a very kind of behind-the-scenes organization. They do it because they know it’s the right thing to do. And I kind of think that’s one of the secrets of Southwestern Illinois. We just get things done. We see issues that need to occur that need to be changed or need to be fixed, like the levees or helping Scott grow or growing freight. Whatever the issue is, we see it and say, ‘We can do that. Let’s just get it done.’ And we do. So I think that’s what is very special about this region.”
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 618-239-2526.
Job: Executive Director, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois
Outlook: “I kind of think that’s one of the secrets of Southwestern Illinois. We just get things done. We see issues that need to occur that need to be changed or need to be fixed, like the levees or helping Scott grow or growing freight. Whatever the issue is, we see it and say, ‘We can do that. Let’s just get it done.’ And we do. So I think that’s what is very special about this region.”