Foundation For The Carolinas names Bank of America exec as new CEO

Foundation For The Carolinas names Bank of America exec as new CEO

Cathy Bessant. Courtesy of Foundation For The Carolinas

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Civic leader and banking tycoon Cathy Bessant is the next president and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas.

  • She starts in January.

Why it matters: A widely known and respected community leader, Bessant brings a banking acumen to one of the most powerful positions in Charlotte.

  • The Foundation distributes billions in charitable donations to nonprofits, tackling issues from affordable housing to boosting the arts. It’s the fifth-largest nonprofit community foundation in the U.S.
  • Bessant will oversee the restoration of the 1927 Carolina Theatre on North Tryon into a civic space. She said she’s also eager to continue the organization’s work in housing and homelessness as well as education.

Zoom out: Bessant succeeds longtime CEO Michael Marsicano, who retired earlier this year.

[Go deeper: Read Michael Marsicano’s love letter to Charlotte, the city he never intended to call home]

Details: In December, Bessant will retire from Bank of America’s executive management team. She’s been working in Paris and will return to Charlotte.

  • Laura Smith, who has served as the Foundation’s interim president and CEO, will return to her role as chief operating officer in 2024.

A committee with the Foundation conducted a search with firm Russell Reynolds Associates before selecting Bessant.

  • “As we spoke with community members, Cathy’s name just kept coming up,” Foundation board member Jada Grandy-Mock said. “It was mentioned multiple times as a candidate that we should consider.”
  • Bessant said she asked board chair Arrington Mixon if she could be considered for the role after she decided to leave the bank.

What they’re saying: “I get the benefit of fresh eyes,” Bessant said of the Foundation’s next chapter. “I get to ask people questions about where our community is today and where it needs to be going forward.”

  • But she says she will not come into the leadership role making any sweeping changes.
  • “I’ve built my career on racial equality, on economic equality and on social justice,” Bessant said. “You can expect me to leverage the work that’s been done and to work very hard to take it forward.”

Zoom in: Today marks 42 years since Bessant first walked into the financial institution that is now Bank of America. She has held a range of senior leadership positions, most recently as vice chair of global strategy.

  • A former board member and chair, Bessant has a deep knowledge of the Foundation’s work.
  • During her tenure, she oversaw the move to the Foundation’s headquarters in Uptown. She was board chair when the Foundation reached $1 billion in assets. It’s now $4 billion.

Between the lines: Bessant’s resume as a civic leader is extensive and includes co-chairing the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homeless Strategy and serving on the McColl Park Committee, among other endeavors.

“Cathy brings remarkable credentials, both from a civic and professional perspective that will add incredible value to the foundation,” Mixon said.

The intrigue: On top of Bessant’s long resume and host of awards, including the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine, she’s also a breast cancer survivor, summited Mount Kilimanjaro and is a national leader in field hockey.

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