“Golf,” quipped Huntington Library President Steve Koblik when asked what he will do to fill time when he retires on June 30, 2015.
Though gifted with a relentlessly positive attitude, Koblik occasionally gripes that he doesn’t get as much time on the links as he would like. When his fourteen-year tenure ends next year, he will only have himself to blame if the condition remains.
“It feels right,” Koblik said in earnest. “The Huntington has been absolutely supportive of me. There is always a good time to leave and this is a good time. I have enjoyed a nice length of tenure. We have good relationships with our neighbors and with the city and it just feels right.”
Koblik acknowledged that his departure was carefully chosen to follow the grand opening of The Huntington’s Education and Visitor Center project, which is slated for an April, 2015 move-in.
“Right now we are within budget and a little ahead of schedule,” said the president, 72, who started in September, 2001 after nine years as president of Reed College in Oregon. “That is a part of my timing. It’s the largest project of my tenure and I want to see it through to completion.”
“Steve’s visionary insights and tireless efforts, along with the spectacular team he has assembled, have significantly strengthened The Huntington and have propelled it to unprecedented levels of national and international stature in all of its endeavors,” said Stewart Smith, chair of The Huntington’s five-member board of trustees and a San Marino resident. “His leadership has been so masterful, it’s hard to envision the institution without him. The board, and The Huntington community more generally, owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. What an amazingly successful run.”
At The Huntington, he inherited an institution in the early stages of a renaissance period following many years of fiscal instability; he was brought in, Smith says, to further strengthen The Huntington financially.
“The institution had really been struggling,” said Smith. “Steve was brought in to follow then-president Bob Skotheim’s good work in trying to put it on better financial footing. In some sense, Bob teed the ball up for Steve, and then Steve swung, and strategically and brilliantly hit a hole-in-one. It’s rare, extremely rare, that you see something this seamless happen in a leadership transition. For all these years, I’ve been in awe of him, his team, and the institution’s many accomplishments. It’s a model for nonprofit growth and sustainability.”
The Huntington raised some $700 million under Koblik, and the endowment grew from $153 million in 2001 to $450 million by December, 2013. In 2010, The Huntington received more than $100 million from the Frances L. Brody estate, the largest single gift to the institution since its founding by Henry E. Huntington in 1919. Last year, Charles Munger gave more than $30 million toward the Education and Visitor Center. The project will cost approximately $75 million, nearly all of which has been raised.
“This level of fundraising is testimony to the degree to which people have placed their trust in Steve,” said Smith. “They see and agree with his vision—that this institution is remarkable, has great momentum, and is entirely worth supporting.”
Koblik told The Tribune he has a couple of book projects on the horizon and wants to help people.
“At this age you want to help other people,” he said. “I am in great health, have a very positive outlook and there will be other things that will come up. which I can help people with. I have been so blessed to work at The Huntington. I would love to come every day for the rest of my life, but someone else deserves the right to do that now.
Kevin Starr, a USC history professor and former California state librarian, said Koblik has guided “a wonderful evolution of the Huntington in broader vistas” as well as “an intensification of its scholarship.”
During a December, 2013 conversation, Koblik told this reporter of his “passion for K-12 education.”
In recent years, Koblik has encouraged The Huntington to establish partnerships with schools and school districts, focused in large part on helping teachers adapt to the new Common Core curriculum.
Koblik will work with the Huntington’s board of trustees as it organizes the search process to find a suitable successor.
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