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American Red Cross names new leader

/ Source: The Associated Press

The American Red Cross named a veteran executive who teaches at Harvard Business School as its new president Tuesday, filling a post vacated last year because of a sex scandal.

Gail J. McGovern, a professor of marketing, previously held top management positions at AT&T Corp. and Fidelity Investments.

She will take over June 23 as replacement for Mark Everson, the former head of the Internal Revenue Service. The charity's board of governors demanded Everson's resignation in November because he had an extramarital affair with an official from a local Red Cross chapter in Mississippi.

Since November, the Red Cross has been led on an interim basis by Mary Elcano, who will return to her posts as general counsel and corporate secretary.

Everson's departure continued a trend of rapid turnover atop the Red Cross, which has had seven permanent or interim leaders in the past seven years. The two women who preceded Everson as president both resigned amid friction with the board of governors — Bernadette Healy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Marsha Evans in 2005, after the Red Cross' widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.

Faced with the perception that it had become too bureaucratic and unaccountable, the congressionally chartered charity then underwent extensive changes. It overhauled its disaster response system and cut its 50-member board by more than half.

The board's chairman, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, said Tuesday that McGovern "brings outstanding leadership skills from the private sector, coupled with a deep commitment to volunteerism."

'Making a difference'
McGovern, 56, worked from 1974 until 1998 at AT&T, where she began as a computer programmer and rose through the ranks to become executive vice president of the consumer markets division.

She then joined Fidelity Investments, overseeing a unit serving 4 million customers with $500 billion in assets. She joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 2002.

She also has extensive fundraising experience, a potential asset at a time when the Red Cross is cutting hundreds of jobs at its Washington headquarters while grappling with a $200 million budget deficit.

McGovern, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, indicated that the turnover affecting her predecessors was not a deterrent.

"It's all about making a difference in the world," she said. "I would not want to take a job that didn't have challenges."

Noting her background in marketing, she said the Red Cross "is a brand to die for. ... When people see it, they know that help is on the way."

Paul Light, a New York University professor of public service who studies charities, noted that McGovern had no professional experience with disaster relief or with blood-supply management — the two biggest missions of the Red Cross. But he said her experience in corporate governance, telecommunications and fundraising should prove valuable.

"She'll have to take wise counsel from inside and move up the learning curve very rapidly," he said. "She's got some real challenges, but she also has some real strengths."