The new executive director of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, Janet Greenlee, doesn’t have a name familiar to most USHJA members. Greenlee, 59, has spent her career in communications and business management largely outside the equestrian world. She’ll start her tenure at the Association on Jan. 2, but is attending the USHJA Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Ga., held Dec. 8-12.
Greenlee is originally from California, but grew up in the Washington D.C. area, earning her bachelors in journalism from George Mason University (Va.). She started her career in journalism, working at the city desk in Boston at the Christian Science Monitor, and she also worked at KYCA radio station in Prescott, Ariz. Early in her career, she took a break to serve as a rescue skipper in the United States Coast Guard.
“That was in the mid- to late-‘70s when women weren’t in the Coast Guard,” she recalled. “That’s relevant because it taught me how not to take no for an answer and come out of my shell. There’s some real communication involved when you’re trying to convince five burly guys that you’re in charge.”
She’s worked in communications and marketing at Ketchum Communications and San Francisco French Bread Company, then at FleishmanHillard Public Relations with a focus on agribusiness. (At Ketchum, she notably worked to develop the dancing raisins for the California Raisin Advisory Board.) At FleishmanHillard, where she worked for 16 years before branching out on her own a year ago, she expanded into healthcare and the equine world, working with the Bureau of Land Management to market mustangs and also eventually serving as a trustee of the Mustang Heritage Foundation. She’s also worked on the American Horse Council’s It’s Time To Ride initiative.
Greenlee used to fly airplanes for fun (her three brothers are all professional pilots and her father was flying until he was 86) but she swapped from planes to horses later in life. She got her start riding Western, but switched to English tack four years ago when she was looking for a boarding barn and met Colleen Brombach of Silver Fox Farm in Wimberley, Texas. She has a 4-year-old investment project, a Westphalian named SFF Potenzial, who she’s developing along with Brombach.
Greenlee is in the process of moving from Wimberley, Texas, to Lexington, Ky. She will replace the spot left vacant by Shelby French, who resigned from her post as Chief Executive Officer in February. Greenlee has two adult children, Caitlin and Austin Greenlee, and she’ll be bringing her chow mix, Banjo, and her cat, Bailey, to Lexington.
How did you find out about the position?
Through the USHJA website. My friend Patti Colbert (who runs the Mustang Heritage Foundation and founded the Extreme Mustang Makeover) told me about it as well, but she said it in the sense of, “Don’t you dare apply to this, I need you too much.” She was joking of course, but I had to call her and say, “Not only did I apply, but I got the job, too.”
But no one at USHJA recruited me—how would they? I wasn’t on any committees and didn’t know anyone.
What was your relationship with the USHJA before accepting the position as the executive director?
I had been a member so my horse and I could compete, but I wasn’t active with the association in any other sense. My trainer is active and involved in the professional aspect of course.
I’m fresh; I’m not known as well. But I do believe that there were quite a few people on the search committee who did a lot of due diligence, and I’m hoping people in the industry can say, “They saw something of value.”
I’m not coming in as a member of the industry, or coming up through the ranks—I’m definitely a perceived outsider. But a fresh perspective isn’t always bad. My goal is to listen first and foremost, and facilitate and guide, and that’s something I’m very comfortable doing.
When I left FleishmanHillard an associate I’d worked with recruited me to help with marketing at an energy firm. I said, “I don’t know energy at all,” and she said, “It’s not the industry you need to know, it’s the communications ability.” I was able to help manage a very disparate team, and help everyone sing from the same song sheet.
I’m hoping that will be my asset, and that I’ll prove my value. I’m really excited to learn about the professional side. The organization has been doing wonderfully and it has its own stride. The directors we have in place are good; if anything, I don’t want to come in and mess things up. I hope to find areas where we can build strength, and if there are weaknesses or communication needs or structural anomalies we can fix those.
Do you have any idea what those weaknesses are?
No. I haven’t started yet. Again, my first mandate is to listen to voices—not just the staff and leadership, but from the membership—and from there plot a course for action. If in fact action needs to be taken it needs to be from a consensus view. I’m quite confident that’s something we can work on together—that’s my area of expertise. If I can’t help with communications resolution, I haven’t been practicing very hard for all these years!
In Atlanta [at the USHJA Annual Meeting] it will be all about me listening. I’m not going to formulate any quick fixes and no one opinion is going to give me a story.
What’s your understanding of what you’ll be doing at the USHJA?
A little bit of everything. I’ll be managing the staff and running the office. The management side of things is very comfortable to me; you do that no matter what the industry is. It’s the same tools I’ve developed in my other experience.
Another responsibility will be supporting the boards and committees and their processes. I know that I want to be able to formulate direction by consensus building, which is also something I’m very comfortable with. We’re working on a strategic plan that will answer questions as far as figuring out “what does this organization want to evolve into, what should we make sure it doesn’t evolve into,” and talking about what boundaries we want to set.
For example, I’ve been to many organizations that think they want to grow. Well, what does that mean? Why do you want to grow if you don’t know what that means? Could growth be a detriment? I’m a big person on asking “Why?” In the interview process I talked a lot about executing decisions, and I was very strong and clear in saying that I need to understand the why of things. I want to be able to communicate decisions to everyone else in a very positive manner. When you do that you’ll solve a lot of issues.
The USHJA is an organization representing many different constituents, from grassroots and elite, amateur and professional, across a huge country. How do you unite differing interests in an organization like that?
I want to understand what the current listening mechanisms are before we start, and I don’t have a full grasp of that yet. This will be part of the discovery. It’s important to me that we not only have processes in place to gain someone’s opinion, but also to help them understand that their opinion has value.
I have to learn and understand what’s been going on before changing anything—I don’t go in and just plot things on top of what’s already happening. I think it’s best to understand where we are before getting involved.