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OC’s Largest Nonprofit Harvests New Chief Exec

John Bon Jovi once said, “Who says you can’t go home?” Well how about twice?

Vanguard University graduate Nicole Suydam just proved the Jersey singer prophetic. She’ll leave her post as chief executive of Second Harvest Food Bank to head the county’s largest nonprofit, Goodwill of Orange County.

Goodwill had been using a team of senior leaders since Frank Talarico Jr. stepped down in April after running the job skills and employee placement entity for six years. He now runs his own consultancy, Talarico Advisors.

Suydam’s last six years as boss of Second Harvest, the county’s lead nonprofit feeding the hungry, is stellar by any metric—and a six-month search led by Irvine-based McDermott & Bull proved the point.

Suydam increased Second Harvest’s revenue by 55% to $54 million, fifth in the county among nonprofits, up from seventh a year ago, according to Business Journal data. She grew volunteers at the food bank to a record 26,000-plus, and perhaps best in the eyes of donors, scored Charity Navigator’s four-star rating this year for the first time, for fiscal responsibility and effectiveness.

It’s a good time to be Suydam, last November Business Journal OC 500 entrant, and in May one of five Business Journal Women of the Year at our 24th annual feting.

Suydam earned the accolades, worked her way up and produced. After graduating from Vanguard in Costa Mesa, she did her initial stint at Second Harvest at 23, in public relations and marketing. Work at a Washington, D.C., charity preceded a 10-year first run at Goodwill as director of development, the nonprofit euphemism for chief money tree shaker.

Shake, shake, shake …

Reluctant Boss

She’s a first-generation college student, a Santa Maria native and a product of divorced parents. As she first ascended the executive ladder at Second Harvest, she had doubts. First as chief revenue raiser at Goodwill, then as Second Harvest chief executive, a job she snared in 2012, “I wondered if the board would still see me as a 20-something out of college,” she told the Business Journal in May. “[But] I had evolved, grown in my leadership and was ready.” In her six years back at the food bank, Suydam:

• Increased philanthropic support, as 70% of resources come from individual and one-time gifts. “Mazda is a fantastic supporter, Bank of America, Walmart … we now have a pick-up program at Starbucks,” Suydam said.

• Almost doubled meal deliveries from 14 million to 25 million per year.

• Increased nutritious food with the fresh ideas of refrigerated trailers and Park-it-Markets. “The truck gives us a way to keep the food safe and fresh,” she said. The 25 million meals per year puts Second Harvest in sight of its goal of 30 million meals by 2021 that studies show would seal the “meal gap” here.

“I don’t move around a lot,” Suydam said of her career, “but it was just a thoughtful and prayerful moment, new challenge. Goodwill is celebrating 95 years in 2019 … I was hesitant, love the work at Second Harvest … but it’s in a really good place. Good board, good team, if ever there was a time to leave.”

Fired, Hired, Unretired

One of the board members was newly retired banker David Coffaro. From him, Second Harvest gets 26 years of food-bank experience and two stints on the board. Naming Coffaro interim chief executive meant firing him as executive vice president. Good thing they did it quickly; Coffaro doesn’t seem the type to retire well. “I’ll serve as long as they need me … put on hold what I’m pursuing next—could be 90 days, little less, little more … timing was fortuitous.” Kate Klimow, UCI Applied Innovation’s chief administrative officer, took over as board chairwoman in July.

The banker will helm the operation as the food bank launches a national search on the cusp of its 35th birthday, the last nine or so at the old El Toro Marine base—a 105,000-square-foot distribution center—and light years from the humble beginnings on Almond Street in Orange in 1983.

But the culture formed in Old Towne. “What I wasn’t aware of … is that there’s another OC, Coffaro said, people who choose between filling the car up with gas or putting food on the table.”

He credits lawyer John Heffernan of Heffernan & Boortz’s Newport office and a past board member of both Goodwill and Second Harvest. “I visited the old food bank on Almond in Orange,” recalled Coffaro. “I loved the way the food bank engaged community resources to serve those in need. We took people to the food bank to pack food.”

Moss Grows Here

Suydam is 45, Coffaro 59. They share much in common—OC roots long and strong, and friendship fostered by two groups that work together often; Second Harvest hires a number of Goodwill clients.

“People write nice notes to staff all the time, and I got my first one as I’m leaving,” Suydam laughed. “It was from a new hire from Goodwill.”

Coffaro’s working life has been in banking, the last 18 as head of Wells Fargo’s Trust & Fiduciary Services—think Sarbanes Oxley and myriad other state and federal compliance rules financial institutions have grappled with since 2000.

Nicole and Michael Suydam, her husband of 17 years, raise two daughters, 10 and 13, in Aliso Viejo. Similar-size families, but Suydam and Coffaro moved in opposite directions with respect to the staff they’ll manage. Coffarro’s group at Wells Fargo topped 2,400; his staff at Second Harvest is 78.

Goodwill isn’t only OC’s largest nonprofit in revenue at $122.5 million. Its payroll is nearly the size of Blizzard Entertainment, OC’s biggest software maker—easily the biggest employer among nonprofits at 1,629, according to the Business Journal’s ranking in March. No other nonprofit employs a third of that.

A few years ago, it branched into military veterans services with help from Tom and Elizabeth Tierney. It serves about 22,500 clients a year, a sweetly similar figure to Second Harvest’s client tab.

Suydam starts her new job on Oct. 15, feeling she’s leaving the old job in good hands with Coffaro.

“Dave has a lot of history and background with the organization,” she said.

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