When Patricia "Trish" Wellenbach got the nod to lead the Please Touch Museum, the Office of the United States Trustee in Philadelphia, which oversees bankruptcies, had to weigh in. (Click here to read an Inquirer story about the trustee's involvement.)
That's because Wellenbach's fiance, Dilworth Paxon partner Lawrence McMichael, was representing the museum in its bankruptcy. The plan was that Wellenbach, who had been a consultant at the museum, would become a strategic adviser and take over as chief executive when the bankruptcy was over. The trustee gave his approval as long as McMichael's firm, Dilworth Paxon, didn't charge the museum for legal fees related to Wellenbach's employment. The museum emerged from bankruptcy in March and Wellenbach began as chief executive in April.
Question: What led up to you being offered this job?
Answer: They came to me. I had done some consulting work for them several years ago when I had my own consulting practice, and had helped them on some business and strategic planning work.
I knew the organization obviously for years through being a mother bringing her children here. Then I knew the leadership here. I knew Nancy [Kolb]. I knew Laura [Foster]. I knew Lynn [McMaster], who directly proceeded me. I knew the board leadership. Several years ago they asked me to come in and work on a strategic plan with them, which I did, and at the time they were still carrying the tremendous financial challenge of the debt burden.
When it looked like they were going to be able to have a solution to that they approached me, because they knew Lynn was wanting to go back to Canada to resume her family life and to continue her career back in Canada. I was actually looking at another job in the city; another big job in the city.
Q: You started your career as a nurse and later moved into nonprofit managing and consulting, but your experience did not include leadership at a children museum. Did you ever wonder why the museum's committee didn't do a search in that field. After all, the board chairwoman, Sally Stetson, runs an executive recruiting firm, Salveson Stetson Group.
A: I don't think I asked them, `Do you think you should do a search?' I think they were an organization in crisis. I was a known entity. She and [former board chair Elizabeth] Cartmell approached me. I was known to the organization. When they had done a search when Laura stepped down [prior to Lynn McMaster taking the job]. They asked me if I was interested, and I declined at the time. So, we had some history.
Q: How long was Lynn McMaster at Please Touch?
A: I think her whole tenure was about three years. I think that's about right. Before they hired Lynn they approached me and said would you consider putting your resume in.
Q: So you felt they had had a good chance to look at the landscape fairly recently?
A: Correct. I think they felt confident about that. I think, in all fairness, that they were in a mode of crisis where they needed, or they believed that they needed someone who was a known entity in this city, who could quickly raise them the money and begin the turnaround. They had a commitment and a consequential decision around the bankruptcy to out of the bankruptcy by the middle of March, and raising $10 million in a short period of time was going to require someone that they felt was bankable. I think they thought I was bankable.
Next: Standing on the brink in a bankruptcy.