Villegas moves on from the Waukesha County Museum
Is the first female leader in the Wisconsin Builders Association's history
Kirsten Lee Villegas is optimistic.
Optimistic for her future, which now includes running the Wisconsin Builders Association as the new state executive officer. She's also positive about where the Waukesha County Museum, a place she spent the last five years as the chief executive officer and president, is heading.
Villegas resigned from her position with the museum on Sept. 27 and started her new Madison-based job three days later.
"It's not too often you get to lead a state-wide organization and the opportunity is very exciting at this time in my career," Villegas said from her new office last week. "I had gotten the museum in a place I wanted it to be. We've created a lot of new streams of revenue, finally got the Les Paul exhibit that we set out in the start of a three-year plan.
"We put in a new vision plan. We have a solid plan that anybody can step in and follow the plan I left behind and be successful."
Success is what her new employer sees in Villegas.
"Kirsten brings a unique set of skills to the WBA," said Craig Rakowski, WBA board president. "The hiring task force was impressed with her excellent communication skills as well as her proven ability to grow revenue, generate positive exposure and creatively develop brand awareness. We are confident she will take the WBA to the next level in the years ahead."
This is what she wanted to accomplish at the museum when she started in 2008 after replacing former executive director Sue Baker.
Before Villegas came to the museum, progress for the Les Paul exhibit to honor the Waukesha music legend, was moving slowly. But Villegas led the push to make this long-awaited feature a reality.
The exhibit opened this summer and has been a main attraction for the museum.
"That clearly is No. 1," Villegas said on her achievements. "It was the cherry on top of the sundae. It was a huge accomplishment. where we got significant corporate and individual donations. We completed it on time and on budget."
The museum's overall budget, however, were concerns during Villegas' final days as CEO.
She pleaded to the Waukesha County Board in August to give the museum the same funding in 2014 as it did in 2013 and became emotional when discussing the struggles the museum has encountered with less financial support over the years.
The museum received $150,000 from the county, half of what Villegas asked for.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jeff Scrima called the museum's leadership "rudderless" and said the museum should consolidate to the Waukesha Public Library.
While Scrima's comments and the financial questions left Villegas frustrated, she said it didn't cause her to flee.
"No, it didn't," Villegas said. "Those kinds of things come along. With any job you have things you're dealing with where there's challenges. This opportunity came my way during that period of time, but it just made sense for me career-wise."
Villegas said she learned during this process many people are "misinformed."
"Some people have inaccurate information and part of what we were trying to do is provide accurate and full information," Villegas said. "Once people had the real information and the facts, they fully understood what we were asking for was reasonable and nominal compared to other items in the county budget."
So how can the museum operate with less moving forward?
Villegas said a market feasibility study, which focuses on a long-range plan to make the museum a 21st century regional and cultural center, has yet to be released.
"Even though we were on a declining schedule, we were able to make up that revenue from our earned revenue, from the education department, fundraising and grants and new plans have been done on how to make the museum more relevant to the community," Villegas said. "It was an enormous task and took a great effort from many.
"I think there are several options that they can explore at this point for continuing to be successful."
For her, the blueprint is already there for her successor.
"It's one reason I felt OK about moving on," said Villegas, who adds she's going to miss "the wonderful people" at the museum who "have so much passion."
Tom Constable, the museum board chair, will miss Villegas as well.
"We believe that Kirsten's leadership has strengthened the museum and significantly improved services to residents of the county and beyond," Constable said. "She has introduced traveling exhibits, supported a significant improvement in educational programs offered to Waukesha County schools, led the development and the completion of the long-promised Les Paul exhibit. She has been a constant champion of the museum, its programs and services."
But she moves on feeling good about her future.
"My background is very varied," said Villegas, who has more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit and private sectors. "I have worked in many types of industries and because of that it gives me a broad viewpoint, a fresh set of eyes. Something I'm looking forward to is getting the word out about the Wisconsin Builders Association in many ways."
Villegas, who beat out 60 applicants in a statewide search, becomes the first female leader in the WBA's 66-year history.
"It is very exciting," Villegas said. "I'm an Alverno College alum and to be able to be the first female in this job is a vote in confidence in my skill set. For me personally, I can already see so much opportunity and growth in the organization."
She has advice for her successor at the museum.
"Take the vision plans and run with them, because they're very exciting," Villegas said. "And we've proven what a tremendous positive impact the museum can have within the county."
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