World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook departs amid nonprofit’s growth

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Nate Mook remembers when José Andrés asked him to run World Central Kitchen. It was January 2018, and the nonprofit organization had largely transformed itself into a disaster relief organization following its groundbreaking work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. At the time, Mook recalled, Andrés said he needed someone he could trust to lead WCK.

But Mook said he would take the chief executive job only if the organization followed the blueprint that WCK had invented on the fly in Puerto Rico. “A lot of organizations go after money first and then they do the work. Right?” Mook said during an interview with The Washington Post. “You said [to Andrés]’What we did in Puerto Rico and what I saw in Puerto Rico, we do the work, and we figure out how to pay for it.’”

“We’re going to go big,” Mook said he told Andrés, “and we’re never going to make decisions based on how we’re going to make money. We’re going to do the work, and we’re going to let the work speak for itself. And if people don’t want to support us, then so be it.”

José Andrés delivers flour in Ukraine as World Central Kitchen expands operations

The people, of course, did support WCK as Mook, a one-time filmmaker and entrepreneur, led the group into one disaster area after another after he became CEO in February 2018.

Launched in 2010 after a massive earthquake in Haiti, WCK focused on a few modest programs with a budget well under $1 million. But when the organization landed in Puerto Rico in 2017 and started feeding the hungry, its revenue ballooned to $21.6 million, according to financial reports. Then in 2020, as the pandemic kicked into high gear and WCK started a program to feed Americans while activating idle restaurants, the organization saw its revenue soar to $270 million.

Revenue is expected to top $400 million in 2022, Mook said, largely because of WCK’s work in Ukraine following the Russian invasion. As Mook said, WCK has been “cooking somewhere in the world every single day since Sept. 25, 2017.”

It would appear that, during his four-plus years at the helm of WCK, Mook worked himself out of a job. Earlier this month, the organization’s board of directors and Mook agreed to part ways. The announcement came in the form of a short statement on Aug. 2. The announcement offered no rationale for the change of leadership, and WCK’s press office declined interview requests.

What’s more, the press release expressed only token gratitude for a guy who hasn’t taken a day off in years: “We thank Nate for all of his hard work and steadfast commitment to our mission of bringing meals to those in need around the world, ” the board said in the announcement. The board named Erich Broksas, chief operating officer, and Erin Gore, senior vice president of development, as interim co-executive leaders.

A spokeswoman for WCK said the organization will soon hire a global search firm to find its next CEO. The process, she said, would take at least a few months.

Mook said that, regardless of the announcement’s opaque tone, he and WCK split on good terms. Both sides knew it was time to move on, although Mook said he would stay on for an unknown period to guide the transition.

“An organization that grows from under a million a year to $400 million a year becomes a very different entity,” Mook said. “It has matured, and I’m so proud of that because, you know, if I left and the organization collapsed, then clearly I wasn’t doing my job in building it.”

“The organization, I think, is in a different place right now in terms of what it needs and where it’s going. And so it just seemed like this was the right time,” Mook continued.

One potential concern for the board may have been WCK’s decision to set up operations in Ukraine, a humanitarian effort that has stretched out for months. A war zone is far different from a disaster zone, Mook said, and the former CEO said he had numerous conversations with board members and Andrés about WCK’s efforts in Ukraine, where the organization is providing 2 million meals a day, though not without some scary moments and close calls.

World Central Kitchen partners recovering after attacks in Kharkiv

“You have to find that balance of meeting the need and the urgency of the situation while also keeping everybody safe,” Mook said. “Jose and I had a lot of discussions about this. Sometimes they had tense discussions about: Where do we go? How do we move safely across the country? How do we work closely with trusted local Ukrainian partners who know what’s going on? How do we make sure that we’re informing our board and making sure that they know we’re taking the appropriate steps?”

As the war drags on, WCK will have to examine how it moves forward in Ukraine, Mook said. WCK is a relief organization, designed to work for set periods after a disaster. To sustain its work in Ukraine, Mook said, the group may try to secure government funding or perhaps even hand off operations to a United Nations agency.

On Wednesday, more than a week after the announcement, Andrés tweeted his personal thanks to Mook. “Met Nate more than 12 years ago…12 years ago WCK was created,” Andrés wrote. “Almost 5 years ago he came down to Puerto Rico with me! changed our lives…and the lives of many! We will miss you at @WCKitchen but I can’t wait to see what you will do next..Gracias amigo!”

Andrés also sent a text to The Post on Wednesday: “He is moving on…he’ll do great things,” Andrés wrote about Mook. “WCK is moving on … and we’ll do things together soon.”

Mook confirmed that he will be doing more work with Andrés and WCK in the future. He wouldn’t disclose what those things might be.

‘We Feed People’ spotlights the relief efforts of chief José Andrés

In the meantime, Mook said he’s going to take time off. He says he hasn’t taken a vacation since July 2019. He’ll probably attend the Emmy Awards in September given that “We Feed People,” Ron Howard’s documentary about World Central Kitchen and Andrés, is nominated in two categories. (Howard’s doc, in fact, used a lot of footage that Mook shot as a producer and filmmaker for the production company What Took You So Long.)

Mook hopes he can take what he learned with WCK and apply it to other causes. “I never really had time to sort of say, ‘How can I bring my experience and expertise and the type of thing that brought José and I together in the early days that led us to where we are now … how can I bring that to other things that I’m passionate about?’”

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