Christine Amer Mayer met Rob Briggs when she was 17 years old and he was the local alumnus interviewing her for entry to Duke University.
Amer Mayer went on to attend Duke for her undergraduate degree.
Over the course of the next 23 years, Briggs became Amer Mayer’s mentor and she would follow in his footsteps to the Ohio State University law school, the Akron law firm Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs and the GAR Foundation.
On Sunday, Amer Mayer again followed Briggs by taking over as his successor as president of the GAR Foundation.
Briggs, 70, has been preparing Amer Mayer to succeed him for several years.
“After her first year or so at the foundation, I knew she would be my successor,” Briggs said of Amer Mayer, who started at GAR part time in 2001 while still working at the law firm, where she specialized in commercial litigation. “I feel great about it. That’s one of the responsibilities and biggest challenges of a CEO in any organization and that is to have a succession plan. It’s a lot more difficult than people imagine. Because of the age difference and her practice of law, it just worked out beautifully.”
The private GAR Foundation was established in 1967 as a charitable trust by Galen J. Roush, co-founder and chief executive of Akron-based trucking company Roadway Express, and his wife, Ruth.
The foundation has distributed more than $200 million to nonprofit organizations and has assets of about $140 million. The foundation primarily focuses on Summit County, though it also supports Northeast Ohio organizations with a top priority being educational grants. The foundation also supports health and social services, arts, civic engagement and nonprofit enhancement.
GAR is the 11th-largest grant-making foundation in Northeast Ohio, according to a ranking of grants by Crain’s Cleveland Business based on 2010 figures.
Amer Mayer will be paid the same as Briggs was as president, $210,000.
With Amer Mayer’s promotion, Kirstin Toth, senior program officer, will become senior vice president. Amer Mayer said the organization will have seven people on staff and will look to hire a part-time person to help with grants,
Transition to new role
Briggs, who has served the foundation for 20 years, including 15 as its leader, is not calling his departure a retirement, but a transition. Briggs will move to the volunteer role on the foundation’s five-member distribution committee, in addition to his many community commitments, including chairman of the national John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Amer Mayer, 40, said taking over for Briggs is “daunting because of the figure Rob is and his presence and his community credibility. At the same time, one of the best things about his leadership and his mentorship of me over the years is he has really put me out there to do a lot of things, so I feel like as far as the work is concerned, I’m very prepared to take it on and very excited.
“I’m honored to take on the role in such an important community organization. I’m happy to have him in the background on the distribution committee so I can go to him for counseling.”
Kitty Dindo, chairwoman of the GAR’s distribution committee, said Briggs has “left an indelible mark on Akron and all of Northeast Ohio.”
Amer Mayer has been well prepared by Briggs and is the right person for the foundation’s next stage, Dindo said.
“She’s a young mother and she’s dealing with a family. She’s an attorney and a very logical thinker and can help us look through the greatest demand and find our greatest benefit,” Dindo said.
Amer Mayer has three children: Julia, 11; Elizabeth, 9; and Jimmy, 6. She and her husband, Rick Mayer, president of Engineered Concrete Structures, live in Solon.
Amer Mayer, the youngest of 10 children of Al and Mary Ellen Amer, is a West Akron native and graduate of Our Lady of the Elms High School. Al Amer owned and operated Amer’s West Hill Marathon station at Market Street and Merriman Road and his son, Jim Amer, now owns it. Eight of the Amers live in Ohio, with a few in Akron, Columbus and Cleveland. Al Amer is a cousin of Akron attorney and community leader Ann Amer Brennan.
“The Amer name is synonymous with West Akron,” Briggs said.
Briggs said that while there are many female leaders of philanthropic organizations, Amer Mayer might be the youngest at the top.
Brad Whitehead, president of the Fund for Our Economic Future, a collaborative of philanthropic organizations in Northeast Ohio to advance the region’s economic competitiveness, said Briggs and Amer Mayer have been a “highly functioning team” during the nine to 10 years he has worked with them.
Briggs was among the leaders to conceive of the fund and served as its founding chairman.
Both Briggs and Amer Mayer have been involved in various aspects of the fund from the beginning, Whitehead said.
Amer Mayer has not only extraordinary intelligence, but she also has a great emotional quality, he said.
“Not only does she get the respect for the way she thinks about things, but people trust her and want to work with her and find a way to work with her,” Whitehead said.
“Rob is secure enough that he was able to give the space. It led to a very productive relationship. I think the Akron community need have no worries about this transition.”
Fund is high point
Asked what he was proudest of during his work at GAR, Briggs didn’t hesitate in citing the founding of the Fund for Our Economic Future.
“Being involved with a collaborative of so many bright, talented people with full plates to take their time and energy to put together this never-before-done-in-America-project and nobody caring who gets credit has just been a terrific thing for everybody who’s been involved,” Briggs said.
Briggs said he will remain active in local and national pursuits, including as a board member and former co-chairman of OneCommunity; a board member and chairman of Invent Now Inc. – the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation — and a board member of FirstMerit Corp.
Briggs is also chairman emeritus and former chief executive of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs and plans to work more on client relations and strategic planning at the law firm.
Briggs also said he’s very excited about work at the Knight Foundation, which recently expanded its board. Briggs will also spend time with his three children and five grandchildren and fiancee Alyssa Lenhoff, a professor and director of journalism at Youngstown State University.
A part-time farmer, Briggs said he will also spend more time at his home, a Hartville farm he bought in 2003. He has a part-time employee who helps him raise cattle.
“There’s a lot of things you delay until you get more time,” said Briggs, adding that he’s also a hoarder of files and he will be sifting through his basement, which is packed.
Briggs’ leadership has positioned the GAR Foundation well with its strategic priorities and strategic framework for grant work in place, said Amer Mayer.
“I view the next chapter as helping grantees and foundations — ourselves included — to innovate and figure out new ways to get work done more efficiently. I’m an optimist like Rob, but I don’t think that economically we’ll be back to where we were pre-recession anytime soon, and yet the community needs to continue in a significant way. We have a lot of really talented, high-energy nonprofit leaders in Akron. GAR will need to find innovating ways, through planning grants or convening them or communicating to tell their stories, to help them find creative ways to innovate their way to the next level,” she said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.