New Leadership at Leadership RI—Ritz Steps Aside, Carr Steps Up

Mike Ritz (LRI  ’07), Executive Director of Leadership Rhode Island (LRI), has accepted a position at Gallup, a global analytics firm headquartered in Washington, DC.  As the Executive Director of a new government leadership institute, he will lead the company’s strategic effort to introduce strengths-based thinking and development to employees of the federal government.

“Leading this institution of more than 2,700 alumni from all sectors and industries has been an absolute privilege,” said Ritz, who will step aside in late July.  “I can confidently depart knowing Michelle Carr (LRI ’14), our Deputy Director, is more than ready to take over. We have worked in tandem for almost eight years, growing and evolving LRI. She is the perfect person to lift this organization to new heights,” Ritz added.

“On behalf of LRI’s Board of Governors and four decades of alumni, we are grateful for all Mike has done for Leadership Rhode Island and all it has accomplished under his stewardship,” Nicole Benjamin (LRI ’13), board chair, said.  “His legacy will live on through our strong, stable and forward-thinking organization for years to come.”

Benjamin said the board voted unanimously to promote Carr, who has long been the planned successor to the organization’s top job, “because she’s the right leader at the right time to lead us forward.”

Carr, an LRI alumna, joined the LRI staff in 2014 as Director of Programs, overseeing the organization’s two primary offerings: a 10-month leadership development program for emerging and established community leaders and a two-semester program for college students and recent graduates. She was elevated to Deputy Director in 2016.

Prior to LRI, Carr, a Cuban-American, spent nearly 7 years at the International Institute and the merged Dorcas International Institute, nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of Rhode Island’s immigrant and refugee populations.

As Executive Director, she will oversee the organization’s two leadership development programs, fundraising, alumni relations and Make RI Stronger, a strengths initiative. She also will preside over the implementation of a record-breaking $1.7-million Papitto Opportunity Connection grant, and the development of a strengths-based equity training to be offered to clients this fall.

Carr will take the helm on July 25.

During the 12 years of Ritz’s leadership, LRI’s operating budget and net assets increased more than threefold, staffing grew from 2.5 individuals to an 11-member team, more than 1,000 of Rhode Island’s established and emerging leaders graduated from its leadership programs, and thousands of workers and managers in businesses, nonprofits and government agencies discovered their “Top Five” strengths and learned how strengths can be used to improve the workplace.

LRI embarked on its Make RI Stronger initiative in 2014 in response to a Gallup report that Rhode Island had the highest percentage of “actively disengaged” workers in the nation. Three years later, after LRI had coached workers and supervisors throughout the state about the value of strengths-management, Gallup executives were stunned to find that worker engagement had experienced dramatic and unprecedented improvement in Rhode Island.

As a result of that work and a long-term relationship between LRI and Gallup, Jim Clifton, until recently Gallup’s CEO who continues as its board Chair, recruited Ritz to pull off a strengths enterprise at the federal level similar to the statewide initiative LRI successfully pioneered – and still runs – in Rhode Island.

The strengths initiative is one of several Ritz-led activities that raised LRI’s public profile as a “go to” organization.  He also partnered with the Providence Journal and Rhode Island College to create the award-winning Publick Occurrences, an annual series of public discussions in which balanced viewpoints on current, often controversial, topics were presented.

In 2012, he sent a volunteer force of nonpartisan problem-solvers — 59 members of that year’s Core Program class and dozens of alumni — into then-bankrupt Central Falls to find out what the community’s organizations and stakeholders most needed. LRI stayed for 18-months, increasing civic engagement and making an impact on nonprofits, businesses, and local government.

Common Cause RI gave LRI its 2013 Excellence in Public Service Award for its work in Central Falls.

“There’s no question in my mind that Leadership Rhode Island has been a powerful force for positive change in the state,” Ritz says.

He adds: “Any contribution I have had to that success has been built on the efforts of our alumni and Board of Governors. And I am equally sure that those achievements will be dwarfed by that which Michelle and her team accomplish.”

“I’ll still be living in Providence doing my part as an active LRI alumnus and good citizen while working with Gallup in our nation’s capital to make our country stronger.”