Published: July 13, 2021

CESR’s new executive director brings a passion for the environment, and a career in social responsibility, to Leeds.

Executive portrait of Kathryn Wendell, dressed in a dark jacket.

Kathryn Wendell brings a leadership career in sustainability to the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. Her experience includes assignments at the World Bank, Chevron, Stanford University and, most recently, the nonprofit Kennebunkport Climate Initiative. 

In its search for a new executive director, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at the Leeds School of Business wanted an accomplished strategist whose insights and global connections can help CESR advance on the world stage.

That’s exactly what they’re getting in Kathryn Wendell, an experienced leader in sustainability and social entrepreneurship, who will join the University of Colorado Boulder in August.

“I’m at a place in my career where I can leverage my networks to enable others to go out and make a difference,” Wendell said. “That’s important for this position, but it’s also very meaningful to me.”

Wendell’s career in sustainability has spanned the for-profit world (Chevron and Levi Strauss), the public sector (World Bank and Peace Corps), and higher education (Stanford University). Prior to joining Leeds, she was a director at Stanford’s Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies—known as Stanford Seed—which enables social entrepreneurs in Africa and Asia to grow and scale their businesses. 

Currently, she serves on the board of the Kennebunkport Climate Initiative, a national nonprofit working to empower youth voices for climate action. She helped to launch the organization, collaborating with senior executives in Silicon Valley, New England and across the nation to advance its mission.

Bringing CESR 'to the next level'

That variety will serve her well at CESR, said Julie Waggoner, the center’s interim director.

“Kathryn has a lot of experience getting people excited about an idea and moving in the same direction,” said Waggoner, who is continuing on as CESR’s director of operations. “In the work she did for Kennebunkport, she was bringing together a lot of people with different, but related, interests and getting them committed to solving a problem—and that's really what what we're looking for in this role. 

“We have many of the pieces to become a top 10 institution, in terms of sustainability, and I think Kathryn will really help us take it to the next level.” 

Wendell’s experience leading corporate social responsibility initiatives at Chevron should serve her especially well, Waggoner said. In this role, Wendell led global initiatives to foster economic development in regions where the energy giant did business. In Bangladesh, she helped train local vendors and organizations to be able to supply Chevron, which imported virtually everything—even cafeteria food—from abroad.

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“We are going to see a lot of change over the next decade. ... For business students, it's an incredible time to learn about the issues and identify innovative solutions.”

Kathryn Wendell, executive director, CESR

An ability to build capacity is important for CESR, which aims to be the recognized leader and authority for innovative education in ethics, social responsibility and sustainability. 

“Leeds is already doing amazing work—in terms of research and education—when it comes to business solutions to environmental challenges, diversity and inclusion, and ethical leadership,” Wendell said. “Where I see myself able to make an impact is in building relationships with influential businesses and organizations, to see how we can work together toward common goals.”

While she’s new to Leeds, Wendell already is a Boulder resident; her husband, Mike McGehee, is a professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Wendell is a firm believer that the engineering and business disciplines have much to learn from one another as they try to solve problems related to clean energy and the environment. 

The environment, of course, was what drew her to Boulder in the first place.

“I love to ski and backpack, and I’m an avid trail runner,” she said. “One of the main motivations to come to Boulder was to be able to appreciate the outdoors, and be surrounded by people who deeply care about the environment.” 

When she’s not in the mountains, Wendell enjoys travel—she has lived, worked or studied in more than 80 countries—which has given her a great network, but also a worldly perspective that’s crucial to solving the kinds of challenges confronting the business world.

“We are going to see a lot of change over the next decade, especially as companies integrate climate, diversity and ethics into their core business strategies. For business students, it's an incredible time to learn about the issues and identify innovative solutions,” she said. “It’s an honor to join Leeds as CESR advances our understanding of the challenges and offers the fresh ideas and best practice models that the business world seeks.”