Lorna Utley

Lorna Utley spoke to students in January as part of the Krannert Executive Forum. (Photo by John Underwood)

Executive Encore

Soon after accepting a buyout from General Motors Corp., Krannert alumna Lorna Utley embarked on what she calls her “second act” — president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit.

Utley recently visited the Purdue campus and spoke to faculty and students about her transition from for-profit to nonprofit management. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, she received BSM and MSIA degrees, both with highest distinction, from the Krannert School of Management.

After spending 28 years in various human resources roles at GM, Utley rose to the position of president of the GM Foundation and director of corporate diversity initiatives. When she left GM, Utley explored other corporate opportunities but instead followed her passion for service. Goodwill was a perfect fit. She was named CEO in 2008 — a time of unprecedented unemployment in the Motor City.

“I had always done nonprofit work as a volunteer throughout my career and had served as board chair of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit,” she says. “I felt passionate about Goodwill’s mission of helping people learn a skill to help themselves rather than just receiving a handout. It’s sustainability built around helping someone long-term.”

Utley finds that the skills needed as a nonprofit leader aren’t that different from those she learned at GM. “You may have a different mission and you don’t have stockholders in a nonprofit, but you still need to operate in the black,” she says.

Unlike the GM Foundation and other corporate philanthropies that disperse a percentage of their income, Goodwill earns about half of its operating budget from supply contracts with industrial and automotive companies in the area. The remainder comes from government grants and fee-for-service work it provides.

So what advice does she offer today’s students as they ponder a career path? Find a job you feel good about doing every day,. “It may not be exciting every day, but it has to be something you are interested in, whether it’s in the for-profit world or nonprofits,” she says.

Be flexible and the “captain of your own ship,” she advises, adding, “I never dreamt that I would be where I am today. Nobody cares more about your career than you.”