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After international search, Asia Society Texas Center finds new director close to home

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Bonna Kol Asia Society Texas Center December 2013
Bonna Kol has been appointed executive director of the Asia Society Texas Center. Photo by © Anthony Rathbun
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Martha Blackwelder stepped down from the executive director post in March. Courtesy photo
Asia Society Texas Center Names New Executive Director
Asia Society Texas Center building designed by architect Yoshio Taniguchi. Photo by Paul Hester/© 2011 Hester + Hardaway
Bonna Kol Asia Society Texas Center December 2013
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Asia Society Texas Center Names New Executive Director

After a nine-month international executive director search, the Asia Society Texas Center has found its new leader close to home. University of Houston graduate Bonna Kol, who was unanimously approved by the board of directors, will assume the post from interim director John Bradshaw Jr. in January.

 "Bonna's strength in management and building organizational capacity overshadowed any other candidate in our international search," John Bradshaw Jr. tells CultureMap.

 "I am honored to be selected to lead this outstanding organization," Kol said in a written statement. "As a second generation Cambodian-American and longtime Houstonian, I have personally seen how diverse perspectives strengthen our city."

When she was president and CEO of Catholic Charities from 2006-2012, Kol supervised the creation of a strategic plan that would expand senior services and housing development. But during her tenure, Catholic Charities was accused of deliberately misleading federal officials when an 8-year-old immigrant boy was discovered to have been sexually assaulted by two other boys, ages 10 and 11, at one of its shelters. 

The attempted cover up was widely reported in the media, an ordeal that Kol recently told the Houston Chronicle, "reinforced that it's important to always do the right thing, whether you're being recognized for it or not."

She resigned from Catholic Charities in February 2012, four months after the incident was exposed.

"Bonna's strength in management and building organizational capacity overshadowed any other candidate in our international search," Bradshaw tells CultureMap about the decision to offer her the job in spite of the incident. "Her track record speaks to her being a strong, seasoned leader."

Kol holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Before accepting the Asia Society position, she was the chief advancement officer at Kipp Houston Public School, where she managed operations that served more than 10,000 students.

Kol is charged with bringing a sense of stability to an organization that has experienced ongoing changes.

Since the Asia Society Texas Center opened its signature building designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi in 2012, the rapid growth in staff and budget brought on many changes, including the departure of key personnel. Fritz Lanham, who served as director of programs, director of communications and director of business and policy initiatives, left in December 2012 after three years with the nonprofit. Executive director Martha Blackwelder, who led the successful capital campaign for the new building, stepped down in March.

Most recently, senior director of programs and exhibitions Sabrina Motley accepted a job at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C.

The search was chaired by Eddie Allen and conducted by recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates.  Members of the search committee included Albert Chao, Charles C. Foster, Y. Ping Sun, Gordon Quan, Marty Goossen and Milton E. Rosenau Jr.

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