Expanding Komen’s reach

By Rah Bickley

Five years ago, Hala Moddelmog was blazing a trail in the corporate world.

The first woman to head an American fast-food chain, she was leading Church’s Chicken to record sales and profits.

When she wasn’t carrying out her executive duties, she was serving on the boards of high-profile Atlanta nonprofits.

Then she was diagnosed with stage-II breast cancer.

Through the ensuing ordeal of a double mastectomy and nauseating chemotherapy, she turned again and again to The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation for clear information, the latest cancer research, the support of other survivors, and hope.

She got the chance to repay that debt in September, when Komen’s founder and directors tapped Moddelmog as its new CEO.

“I feel very fortunate to be working with a group whose mission is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease,” she says.

As Komen’s new chief executive, Moddelmog plans to continue the group’s mission of eradicating breast cancer through funding medical research, education, screening and treatment.

“We’re not resting until we find a cure,” she says. “That’s what Nancy promised her sister, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Nancy Brinker founded the Komen Foundation in 1982 after her sister, Susan, died of the disease at age 36.

Started with $200 and a shoebox full of supporters’ names, the foundation raised $209 million in 2005, has about 120 affiliate organizations across the U.S. and is known for its Race for the Cure, the largest registered 5K race in the world.

Moddelmog also intends to expand the foundation’s reach, making more women aware of Komen’s resources, she says.

Among her targets are immigrant workers who don’t speak English, poor or uninsured women and older women, who are less likely to receive standard breast-cancer treatment than their younger peers.

“The time is absolutely right to take Komen to the next level and get to those underserved markets,” says Moddelmog.

Hala Moddelmog

Job: CEO, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; immediate past CEO, Catalytic Ventures LLC, an investment and consulting firm; former president, Church’s Chicken

Born: Hartwell, Ga., 1956

Family: Husband, Steve; children, Ty and Kierstin

Education: B.A., English, Georgia Southern University; M.A., journalism and mass communications, University of Georgia

Hobbies: Pilates, waterskiing, walking, “which will be wonderful, because when we do these Races for the Cure, I’ll be the one walking and I can’t wait to get out there.”

Favorite song: Amazing Grace. “It’s a beautiful song I’ve grown up with. My son plays it on the piano for me and tries to make Mom get a few tears.”

Best trip taken recently: “I went to Paris to turn 50, because I couldn’t bear the big 50 unless I was doing something fun.”

Currently reading: “You’re in Charge – Now What?” by Thomas J. Neff and James A. Citrin. “I’ve been in a book group for 17 years. It’s one of my very favorite things.”

That means more people will benefit from the foundation’s services, which include helping people know the questions to ask, a helpline manned by volunteers, many of whom are survivors, and message boards that host discussions about topics like different medications.One reason Moddelmog was picked for the post was her deep understanding of franchises, or chains, according to Rebecca Gibson of the Komen Foundation.Unlike most foundations, Komen operates somewhat like a franchise, with about 120 U.S. affiliates.

Those smaller local foundations, which bear the Komen name, raise money and contribute 25 percent of it to the national group annually.

Moddelmog’s unusual name disguises her Georgia roots.

The surname comes from her husband’s German ancestors, and Hala comes from her mother’s name, Mahala, she says.

She grew up in the small town of Hartwell and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Georgia before launching a 20-year career in industry.

She and her family will say goodbye to the state when they move to Dallas, where Komen is headquartered.

The timing of Moddelmog’s career move is powerfully symbolic.

Not only has she started a new job in the foundation world, but she also passed a crucial milestone in September, becoming a five-year survivor of breast cancer.

She says she plans to tackle her newest challenge with same gusto that made her a winner in the corporate world.

“If you have faced a disease with mortality associated with it,” she says, “you want to make sure you’re living every day to the fullest.”

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