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Improving Our Community for Future Generations with Tammy McCleod

 How many of us can say we think we have the best job in Arizona? Our next guest does. She is proof that when your career aligns with your passion, it combusts in an exciting way and the ripple effect is satisfaction and determination.

On today’s Arizona Achievers, Tammy McLeod, president and CEO of the Flinn Foundation, shares the inspiration behind the foundation which is simply ‘to improve the quality of life in Arizona for the benefits of the future generations’. She also shares the story of how it has been impacting lives and still does for over 50 years.


Eric Sperling: Hello, everyone, welcome back to Arizona Achievers where we are all about empowering leaders and joining us today we have Tammy McLeod, she is the President and CEO of the Flinn Foundation. Tammy, thanks for being here.

Tammy McLeod: Thank you for having me.

Eric Sperling: You just got done telling me you have the best job in Arizona. So, tell us a little bit about the Flinn Foundation.

Tammy McLeod: Well, that’s a true story. The mission of the Flinn Foundation is to improve the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations.

Eric Sperling: Sounds like a big mission.

Tammy McLeod: It’s a big mission, but one that it’s easy to commit to every single morning when I get up, and I love the work. The foundation has been around for over 50 years, focused predominantly in the bio sciences, but we also support arts and culture, higher education and civic leadership.



Eric Sperling: So for those who aren’t familiar with what a foundation really does is there’s and I’m sorry, the gentleman’s name?

Tammy McLeod: Robert Flinn.

Eric Sperling: Robert Flinn.

Tammy McLeod: Dr. Robert Flinn.

Eric Sperling: Dr. Robert Flinn, right? He sets this up and then it’s your, your mission, your goal to kind of fulfill the wishes, correct?

Tammy McLeod: That’s right. So we obviously always refer back to donor intent, which was, the foundation was set up by Dr. Flinn and by his wife, Irene Flinn, who also deserves a lot of the credit in the setting up the foundation. Irene was a patron of the arts, but most of the wealth of the endowment of Flinn Foundation actually came from Irene because she was an early shareholder in IBM.

Eric Sperling: Oh, wow. Okay, so that’s right.

Tammy McLeod: Right.

Eric Sperling: Let’s talk about the foundation and its mission and what you guys are doing and you know, one of the common themes when we have CEOs and business owners sit up here is just is leadership, right? And, you know, talking to you for 20 minutes just before this interview, that’s sort of at the foundation of everything you do is leadership and cultivating leaders and try to be a magnet for leaders, right? And tell us a little about that, and how it how it also spreads across all those four areas you were talking about?

Tammy McLeod: Absolutely. So we do have four areas of bio science, arts and culture, higher education, and our civic leadership program. And in each one of those, I think the work that we’re doing at the Flinn Foundation to catalyze and to bring forward important work for Arizona is about the leadership and each one of those pillars. For example, in the arts and culture space, we bring in programs that help our largest arts and culture organizations focus on creative and financial health. And in doing so, it deepens the skills of each one of those leaders, but also then places them into a cohort of other leaders so that they have a strong network on which to depend.



Eric Sperling: And that’s one of the things I mean, again, we’re talking about common themes here, but building a network and knowing who to call when you need to call somebody, right. And that’s something that you guys, you mentioned being a catalyst for that, something you guys really helped develop, right?

Tammy McLeod: It is. And I think the interesting thing about that is that it’s actually been a byproduct of the focus of the work.

Eric Sperling: So, what’s the focus?

Tammy McLeod: The focus of the work was on really building that leadership. But as a natural outcome, once you’ve done that you have, in fact a network of leaders, and how do we now continue to cultivate and nurture that network, so that it remains strong and that people remain engaged in it so that they can access it quickly, to find other people who are like minded, or better yet who aren’t like-minded so that they can actually test out an idea or drive something forward, whether that’s an arts and culture or civic leadership or in the bio sciences.



Eric Sperling: And people are always looking for opportunities. And you were telling me that you’re really looking for those people who want to be public servants, who whether, again, whatever field that is, but those are the people that you’re attracting, right? Tell us about what the need is stories that are developing. We talked about networking, but some of those influential people in our community have kind of come through your door, so to speak.

Tammy McLeod: Yeah. That’s been a lot of fun to see. And, you know, all the credit for that program development happened at Flinn before I was there for sure. But one of the programs that we really focus on is the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership that was developed just over 10 years ago at Flinn and the precipice of that program is really the Flinn Brown Fellowship. That is a series of nine consecutive weeks that individuals from around the state of all backgrounds come in and learn about policy. It’s really deep policy education, so that then they can take that and put it together with their own experience and go out and influence and cultivate change that may not quite have occurred, how they got in there.

Eric Sperling: And some of the specific examples where if somebody’s really passionate in astrophysics or something, and they want to, you know, conserve the environment and you know, have darker skies, you know, they don’t know anything about policy behind that.

Tammy McLeod: That’s right, that’s right.

Eric Sperling: So you help put them on that path of understanding.

Tammy McLeod: We do, to try to put them on that path, but also to make them aware of other individuals out there who might help them along that path.

Eric Sperling: Right.

Tammy McLeod: And so, I think that’s what the network does for them, it really is a way for them to reach out, whether it’s finding someone that has a different skill set than they do, or someone who can give them an opinion on how to take something forward. But yeah, that’s a terrific example, we’ve actually had someone like that, who is an astrophysicist, you know, very much in their own world, working on things, but wanting to make a bigger impact because of that work that they do. So how do you keep the skies dark? How do you work together with others around the state, because you can’t just do it for one small community, but in fact you’ve got to do it for a broader organization?



Eric Sperling: You’ve been leading the charge over the Flinn Foundation for a little over two years, right?

Tammy McLeod: That’s right.

Eric Sperling: And you came from APS.

Tammy McLeod: That’s right.

Eric Sperling: Tell us a little bit about what you did at APS.

Tammy McLeod: I was at APS for a long time, and I always joke with people that I had almost every job there. I started there originally as a group, a very small group of people that were helping the company prepare for what we call retail wheeling and that was when electricity was about to be deregulated, and they wanted some folks with different backgrounds to come in and help them prepare for that. That had a different outcome than everyone anticipated in the state but nonetheless, it was a terrific place to launch a career. We’ve got very involved in the customer work there.

Eric Sperling: Exactly.

Tammy McLeod: So really spending time listening to customers, developing customer programs, working in tangent with the Arizona Corporation Commission to develop outcomes that were good for the customers and ultimately good for the company as well.



Eric Sperling: And a lot of big businesses, whether you’ve read stories about a business that was tanking and turned around or had major issues with customer service, all seem to follow this common theme of, and it sounds like common sense, but just listening to the customers, right? And then you’ve been able to do is sort of use that experience at APS, bring that into the foundation world a little bit. Tell us a little bit how the customer service experience at APS is now helping you in the current role as the CEO of the Flinn Foundation.

Tammy McLeod: I think that that’s exactly true that the customer work is a real common thread in what most of us do for a living. It’s just realizing that and bringing that in. That customer work was very involved in listening to customers, in realizing that our employees who were servicing the customers probably had better ideas than I did a lot of the time. In the early days at the Flinn Foundation, I brought in everyone together, and we sat together, regardless of what your job was, so we had the receptionist together with the vice president of bioscience research together with the individual who manages our building facility.

Eric Sperling: And so these people are meeting and are talking for the very first time.

Tammy McLeod: Yeah, they knew each other but they didn’t really ever work on a common project. We brought them together, had a couple of days of design thinking training, to understand how do you do empathetic listening and listen to a customer. Who our customers? Brought in then individuals who had actually received grants from the foundation and let you know, the facilities guy meet with somebody who had received an arts grant. And you know, again, a first time conversation, but really to understand that perspective to perform an empathetic interview, so that then they could take that and say, ‘how could we improve upon this process or develop something that would better serve this grantee of ours?” who in fact, is a customer.

Eric Sperling: You said the phrase, ‘you know, we shut down for a couple days’ and as a business owner or leader of a department, you know, you go ‘oh, I can’t shut down for a couple days’. But the importance of actually doing that to focus on, you know, it’s called a design thinking, the impact that had on the foundation.

Tammy McLeod: What I think the impact was, was probably something I didn’t intend, which is really the beauty of it. It was to me in fact, let’s learn what design thinking is, what it in fact did for us was get everybody together in a room and saw that we could work collectively on something that wasn’t necessarily our area of expertise. It also then, you know, so developing some teamwork there but getting people to think more horizontally, about something that they could impact, starting to understand what everyone’s strengths were in the room. Regardless of what they’re working on, there’s somebody else there that they could go talk to about their project, about their program that will perhaps make a contribution to it. And then keeping everyone focused on you know, ‘what is that outcome?, Who are those customers that we’re trying to serve?’

Eric Sperling: And was that I don’t want to say was it cloudy before, but was there a sense of clarity that came out of that where suddenly there were employees who cared a lot more about coming to work every day?

Tammy McLeod: I think what we can say for sure, is that it gave everyone an expanded sense of what we do.

Eric Sperling: Okay.

Tammy McLeod: These are customers. We didn’t have a reason sometimes for everybody to meet a grantee in the arts, but everybody got to sit down with customers, with grantees and really understand from their perspective how Flinn impacted them. And they heard, certainly some areas where we could improve, but they also heard the great work that we do. So yes, I would say that, in fact, in the end, they were happier to come to work every day, really sort of had a more emboldened sense of the mission.




Eric Sperling: Yeah. And if you spend time on your website, you know, your, your jaw drops a little bit for all the stuff that you guys are doing. Tell us what you’re most excited about. What are the things that you see happening now around the horizon that you’re really, really passionate excited about?

Tammy McLeod: We do a lot of fun stuff. It’s hard to pick one thing out. For me personally, the fact is, the reality is that I go to work and I learn something every single day, because we are doing something in so many different areas. I have been really excited about the fact that we have brought in this design thinking internally, so that people can work together on things. I have been really excited about the fact that we have done more statewide in recent years, so that we’re really getting out and impacting some smaller organizations, some smaller communities than we’ve done before. That we are realizing that we do have common threads amongst the programs and if we really focus on some of those realities on a horizontal fashion, that we can perhaps drive even further outcomes for our programs. Focusing on that leadership. Focusing on that idea that we build networks within both of those. Focusing on the idea that mentorship is important in those, I think that will in fact, that’s exciting and will impact Arizona even more.



Eric Sperling: Speaking of mentorship, you were telling me one of the most things you’re passionate about is improving the K through 12, right? It is impacting that world. What are some of the things over at the Flinn Foundation that are being done in that area?

Tammy McLeod: We see education as a continuum, P-20, which is starting in the early year’s preschool age till going through university. We look at that entire segment, and I think one of the things that we’re working on right now that’s really exciting, is what we call TRIF, which is part of what was Proposition 301. There are 12% of the dollars that are dedicated directly to the universities for their research capacity, and each of the universities uses that in a slightly different way, but that is really building research capacity, which doesn’t just benefit that university, but what we’re seeing is that it’s a magnet for additional dollars to come into the state. And then ultimately, those dollars that come into the state are a way for the state to recruit additional leaders in those areas.

Eric Sperling: Sure.

Tammy McLeod: We’re really excited about the impact of TRIF, which is the Technology and Research Initiative Fund.



Eric Sperling: And am I miss speaking or one point did you say to like some of that research is making sure that things go from the lab to the bedside as fast as possible.

Tammy McLeod: Yeah.

Eric Sperling: So it does impact all of us.

Tammy McLeod: It really does. We believe that a lot of the work that we do, especially in the bio sciences will have a positive impact in the health system in Arizona. We are looking specifically at those researchers that have developed something, whether that’s a product, a process, a discovery that we can move away from the bench to the bedside, and hopefully with our dollars, do that somewhat quicker, so that we can get it out there. Also, to cause them to collaborate with other entities in the state. A lot of the research that we’re funding is research that is, in fact, collaborative: we believe that will accelerate the ability of getting those discoveries out of the lab much faster when it is collaborative.



Eric Sperling: Because we’re on the subject of collaboration right now, the roadmap that you were telling me about, that you’re really excited about and it was almost 20 years ago. Tell me a little about the roadmap that was designed.

Tammy McLeod: Obviously this predates me at the Flinn Foundation but previous leaders that Flinn had terrific foresight, and the Board of Directors had terrific foresight to really step back. We were largely committed to health care but what was a way that we could take the dollars that we were spending in health care and make the biggest impact on Arizona. It lined up nicely with a time that TGen was actually coming to fruition in Arizona. But leaders came together from business, from the nonprofit world, from the universities from healthcare, all the way, you know, government, and they came together as a collective, which we call the Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, and they really developed a plan, which has, came to fruition in 2002. It’s still in existence today and we see it going on further, that really focused on “what do the bio sciences mean to Arizona? How do we develop that as a place so that predominant research is coming out of Arizona, that’s attracting other strong leaders that’s cultivating a strong bioscience ecosystem, so that companies are bubbling up in life sciences and these great jobs for those graduates that we want to retain in Arizona. It’s got a lot of implications in different ways. We believe that it’s the longest standing such roadmap in the nation.

Eric Sperling: And you got to feel proud about I mean,

Tammy McLeod: Yeah, it’s terrific.

Eric Sperling: That’s exciting. Well, we should all feel proud because it’s affecting all of us here.

Tammy McLeod: It is. And it’s not the Flinn roadmap, which I think is a really important thing but it’s Arizona’s roadmap, and that’s evidenced by the people that come together every single month to work on it. We have folks that work on different aspects of it, and it’s really exciting to see people in the community just come in and engage around the goals of this roadmap.

Eric Sperling: That’s fantastic. Well, Tammy, thank you so much for stopping by and visiting with us.

Tammy McLeod: Thank you for having me.

Eric Sperling: You know, the Flinn Foundation is doing, as we just mentioned, incredible things for Arizona. So thank you so much.

Tammy McLeod: Great to be here.

Eric Sperling: Thank you. We’ll see you next time.

Final Thoughts:

When passion is mixed with focus and commitment, the results are phenomenal. “It’s a big mission, but one that it’s easy to commit to every single morning when I get up. I love the work.” – Tammy McLeod. This is the attitude every business person should adopt. Contribute to your community because the biggest support you can have is from the community. It is through the community that you can create a better future for all.

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