World Central Kitchen CEO quits abruptly amid nonprofit organization’s rapid growth

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Nate Mook remembers when José Andrés asked him to run World Central Kitchen. It was January 2018 and the nonprofit had largely transformed into a disaster relief organization following its groundbreaking work in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. At the time, Mook recalls, Andrés said he needed someone he could trust to lead WCK.

But Mook said he would only accept the general manager position if the organization followed the plan WCK invented on the fly in Puerto Rico. “A lot of organizations go after the money first, then they do the work. Right?” Mook said during an interview with The Washington Post. “I said [to Andrés]”What we did in Puerto Rico and what I saw in Puerto Rico, we do the work and we figure out how to pay for it.”

“We’re going to get big,” Mook told Andrés, “and we’re never going to make decisions based on how we’re going to make money. We’re going to do the work, and we’re going to let the work do the talking. of himself. And if people don’t want to support us, so be it.

José Andrés delivers flour to Ukraine as World Central Kitchen expands operations

People, of course, backed WCK as Mook, a former filmmaker and entrepreneur, led the group through disaster area after disaster after becoming CEO in February 2018.

Launched in 2010 after a massive earthquake in Haiti, WCK focused on a few small programs with a budget well under $1 million. But when the organization landed in Puerto Rico in 2017 and began feeding the hungry, its revenue soared to $21.6 million, according to financial reports. Then in 2020, as the pandemic kicked into high gear and WCK launched a program to feed Americans while activating idle restaurants, the organization saw its revenue soar to $270 million.

Revenue is expected to exceed $400 million in 2022, Mook said, largely due to WCK’s work in Ukraine after the Russian invasion. As Mook put it, WCK has been “cooking somewhere in the world every day since September 25, 2017.”

It seems that in his four-plus years at the helm of WCK, Mook has found himself a job. Earlier this month, the organization’s board and Mook agreed to go their separate ways. The announcement came in the form of a short statement on August 2. The announcement provided no justification for the change in direction, and WCK’s press office declined interview requests.

Plus, the press release expressed only token gratitude to a guy who hasn’t taken a day off in years,” the board said in the announcement. he administration named Erich Broksas, chief operating officer, and Erin Gore, senior vice president of development, as interim co-leaders.

A WCK spokeswoman said the organization will soon hire a global search firm to find its next CEO. The process, she said, would take at least a few months.

Mook said that regardless of the opaque tone of the announcement, he and WCK parted ways on good terms. Both parties knew it was time to move on, although Mook said he would stay on for an unknown period to guide the transition.

“An organization that grows from less than $1 million a year to $400 million a year becomes a very different entity,” Mook said. “It matured, and I’m so proud of that because, you know, if I left and the organization fell apart, then clearly I wasn’t doing my job to build it.”

“The organization, I think, is in a different position right now in terms of what it needs and where it’s going. And so it seemed like the right time,” Mook continued.

A potential concern for the board may have been WCK’s decision to set up operations in Ukraine, a humanitarian effort that has been stretching for months. A war zone is very different from a disaster zone, Mook said, and the former CEO said he had many conversations with board members and Andrés about WCK’s efforts in Ukraine. , where the organization provides 2 million meals a day, but not without some scary ones. close moments and calls.

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“You have to find that balance between responding to the need and the urgency of the situation while keeping everyone safe,” Mook said. “José and I had a lot of discussions about it. Sometimes it was tense discussions about: Where are we going? How to move safely across the country? How do we work closely with trusted local Ukrainian partners who know what’s going on? How do we ensure that we inform our board of directors and that they know that we are taking the appropriate measures? »

As the war drags on, WCK will have to review how it is progressing in Ukraine, Mook said. WCK is a relief organization, designed to work for set periods after a disaster. To continue its work in Ukraine, Mook said, the group could try to secure government funding or perhaps even hand over its operations to a United Nations agency.

On Wednesday, more than a week after the announcement, Andrés tweeted his personal thanks to Mook. “I met Nate over 12 years ago…12 years ago WCK was created,” Andrés wrote. “Almost 5 years ago, he came to Puerto Rico with me! changed our lives… and the lives of many! We will miss you at @WCKitchen but can’t wait to see what you do next… Gracias amigo!”

Andrés also texted The Post on Wednesday, “He’s moving on…he’ll do great things,” Andrés wrote of Mook. “WCK is moving on…and we’ll be doing things together soon.”

Mook confirmed that he would work more with Andrés and WCK in the future. He wouldn’t divulge what those things might be.

‘We Feed People’ spotlights chef José Andrés’ relief efforts

In the meantime, Mook said he was going to take some time off. He says he hasn’t taken a vacation since July 2019. He will likely attend the Emmys in September as Ron Howard’s World Central Kitchen and Andrés documentary ‘We Feed People’ is nominated in two categories. . (Howard’s doc, in fact, used a lot of footage Mook shot as a producer and filmmaker for production company What Took You So Long.)

Mook hopes to take what he learned with WCK and apply it to other causes. “I never really had time to say, ‘How can I bring my experience and my expertise and the kind of thing that brought José and me together in the early days that got us to where we are now. .how can I bring that to other things I’m passionate about?”

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