Wilder's MayKao Hang is one of 2017's Most Admired CEOs

Wilder Foundation President and CEO MayKao Y. Hang has been named a 2017 "Most Admired CEO" by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Read MayKao's profile below.
MayKao Hang, President and CEO, Wilder Foundation
Photo by Nancy Kuehn
When MayKao Hang stepped in as CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in 2010, she was charged with re-energizing the foundation in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn.
"There was a tall order for me as CEO," she said. "I was to downsize the organization and also create excitement and energy for Wilder's future."
It wasn't an easy feat, but Hang made it happen through effective communication with Wilder's staff, board and the community. Today, Wilder continues to debut new programs and initiatives that serve the community's most vulnerable residents.
General Mills Inc. CEO Ken Powell, who sits alongside Hang on the board of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, believes that it's Hang's mix of empathy and rigorousness that makes her a stand-out leader.
"[She has] an emotional connectedness and empathy for many different groups, coupled with this very rigorous and analytical way of thinking," Powell said. "She is a person who is very much head and heart, and it’s interesting to watch her operate on both levels."
One of Hang's particular focuses has been on increasing the diversity of the Wilder workforce. 
"We needed to represent the community that we are actually serving, and I knew that was not happening in a way that we could be authentic about," she said.
As a result, Hang has led a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives at Wilder. Today, people of color make up 43 percent of the Wilder staff — leaps and bounds ahead of many organizations.
She cites her identity as a Hmong American woman as an influential aspect of her leadership style and success.
"I grew up during an era when Hmong women weren't really encouraged to go to school or have a public life or be a leader in any way," she said. "I see challenges with adversity as opportunities to do better, so I have a lot of hope and optimism.
Hang also grew up in a collectivist culture, which puts value in teamwork and helping others.
"I lead from a place where I feel like anything is possible if we try together," she said. "I didn't grow up thinking that I was the best person out there, or even being super competitive. No, we win when we all win."

More from Hang…

What does leadership and being a leader mean to you? Values-based decisions with a learner’s mindset, authenticity, and deep listening to motivate others to do things previously thought to be impossible. Of course, the skills and competencies to execute my job duties well.
 
What is the most pressing issue facing our region? Social and economic segregation.
 
What factors most helped you get ahead in your career and contributed to your success? Parents who taught me that without sacrifice and hard work, success is not possible. The state of Minnesota, because it invested back in its children with a strong public education and higher education system that could support pathways out of poverty. Philanthropy and nonprofits with practical programs to develop youth leaders; a strong network of people who gave me the confidence to try, to fail, to learn and succeed in the workplace.
 
Describe the vision you have for your organization. Our beloved community is a place where everyone can live and be well, thrive and achieve our dreams. It is possible if we help each other.
 
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Did it work? What did you learn from it? One of the biggest risks I have taken is to further dramatically reduce spending and re-position Wilder toward a new set of services to deepen community engagement and grow solutions to address complex community issues. Some of these efforts have been risky and failed, others have worked. What we have learned is that we need to dismantle old paradigms or ignore them as we build new ways of working together.
 
Share one thing about yourself people would be surprised to learn. My last Thanksgiving dinner had at least 200 people at it. I have cooking pots that can fit a small toddler. When I tell my assistant I have to go home and cook for the family over the weekend, she understands I’m not talking about dinner for 10.
 
Who is a CEO you admire, and why? I admire Ken Powell, CEO of General Mills Inc. I have watched him as a colleague and friend to the board of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, and he’s built a strong culture at General Mills. He’s taken the company through rough times, made hard decisions, and continued to evolve into new lines of business by accelerating innovation. Most of all, I like that he is humble and authentic in everything that he does.
 
What is your theme song? "Love Will Keep Us Alive," by the Eagles
 
​​Each year the Most Admired CEO award recognizes 10 executives throughout Minnesota who demonstrate strong leadership and integrity, manage impressive financial performance for their company, and show a commitment to our community.
 
Article reposted with permission from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
 

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 Fast Facts About MayKao

 
Age: 45


Years with the Wilder Foundation:
10

Years as CEO: Seven

Education: Bachelor of Arts, psychology, Brown University; Master of Arts, social policy and distributive justice, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; doctorate, public administration, Hamline University

Family: Married 21 years to Lao Lu Hang; son, Fuchi (18), daughters, Faith (16), Luasee (15) and Chachoua (12)

Hobbies: Up to 18 miles on my long run and training for Grandma’s Marathon, reading, and watching movies

Board memberships: Board chairwoman, Federal Reserve Board of Minneapolis; trustee, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners; chairwoman, Coalition of Asian American Leaders; adviser to John S. and James L Knight Foundation; national advisory chairwoman to the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Program with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Year the Wilder Foundation was founded: 1906 (Wilder's story actually began in 1828!)

Employees at the Wilder Foundation: 400 staff and 1,600 volunteers annually