Executive Director

Pilot Light is a burgeoning nonprofit organization that was developed to inform and enhance the relationship that children have with the foods they eat. Building from the belief that education reform is the civil rights movement of our generation, Pilot Light was conceived to address the gross inequities that have arisen in relation to knowledge about and access to healthy food and other nutritional resources. The organization was founded by four visionary Chicago-based chefs: Paul Kahan, Matthias Merges, Jason Hammel, and Ryan Poli. Chef Kahan is the Executive Chef / Partner of Blackbird, Big Star, Avec, The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Nico, and is the 2013 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef. Chef Merges is the Chef / proprietor of Yusho Restaurant, Billy Sunday, A10, and Folkart Restaurant Management, and the Former Director of Operations and Executive Chef of Charlie Trotter’s Restaurant. Chef Hammel is the Chef / Owner of Lula Café and Nightwood. Chef Poli is the former Executive Chef/Partner of Tavernita Restaurant.

Pilot Light’s mission is to: empower children to make healthy choices for themselves and their communities by developing skills, knowledge, and attitudes through the integration of culinary education within school standards, curricula and culture, and to develop and influence policy that will impact children’s long-term relationship with food. Pilot Light’s vision is to: provide standards, curriculum and professional development focusing on food and its integral role in students’ lives, and to inform policy and decision-making to foster informed nutritional choices, reduce childhood obesity, and improve the well being of our country’s youth. Pilot Light intends to leverage its strategic connection to the culinary community to support kids in developing a healthy relationship with food and a broader understanding of the world.

In order to meet and support the organization’s mission and vision, the following Pilot Light goals will serve as initial areas of focus and achievement:

  1. The meaningful incorporation of standards and curriculum focused on a healthy relationship with food as a core subject in CPS K-12 schools.
  2. The reduction of childhood obesity through the promotion of informed nutritional choices at school, at home and within the greater community.

Pilot Light is now looking for an Executive Director to drive the initiative and ensure its successful growth and sustainability within the Chicago community and beyond.


Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director (ED) will have overall strategic and operational responsibility for Pilot Light (PL) programs, expansion, and execution of its mission. In the start-up phase of Pilot Light, the Executive Director (ED) will be responsible for research, due diligence, and the development of a strategic plan to refine and implement programmatic scale-up and growth. The ED will establish partnerships with key stakeholders and manage a team of talented, passionate individuals as PL grows; he/she will be accountable to the Board of Directors for developing a program that reflects Pilot Light’s mission and vision, and implement this program in a replicable and sustainable fashion across Chicago Public Schools (CPS); he/she will plan and lead a fundraising effort to support the launch of Pilot Light and raise funds to sustain annual budget requirements. The ED will work with the Board of Directors to establish a culture of rigor, trust, and continuous improvement at all levels of the organization.

Start-up & Strategic Planning:


  • Conduct due diligence to identify and analyze competitive/complementary landscape to inform decisions for scaling
  • Develop and implement 3-year strategic plan, focusing on growth and development of the organization:
  • Refine PL Standards, developing grade-level performance indicators
  • Develop PL curriculum for implementation during growth phase and at scale-up
  • Create and execute professional development plan to support schools and chefs
  • Develop chef engagement plan that aligns with curriculum implementation during growth and scale-up
  • Provide deliverables outlined in the plan according to established deadlines
  • Evaluate progress toward goals as outlined in the plan; create metrics to support longitudinal program evaluation
    • Work with CPS to further hone and modify scalable plan for Pilot Light program in schools using best practices, challenges, and theory of change for PL. Plan should reflect growth toward serving all CPS students
    • Determine strategic alignment/partnership with national and local programs that support mission-driven ideal to provide students a greater understanding of food and to eliminate childhood obesity
    • Develop a working knowledge of significant developments and trends in the fields of culinary arts as well as education, specifically as they relate to health and wellness
    • Work with IBM analysts to create data repository to collect information from multiple schools as initiative begins to serve citywide students at scale

Leadership & Management:


  • Ensure ongoing local programmatic excellence, rigorous program evaluation, and consistent quality of finance and administration, fundraising, communications, and systems; recommend timelines and resources needed to achieve PL’s strategic goals
  • Actively engage and energize PL volunteers, board members, event committees, partnering organizations, and funders
  • Support a strong board of directors; serve as ex-officio of each committee, seek and build board involvement with strategic direction for ongoing local operations and possible national rollout
  • Recruit, lead, develop, and retain high quality leadership team; create and implement evaluation processes, conducting regular performance reviews and providing timely feedback to staff and reports to board
  • Ensure effective systems to track scaling progress, and regularly evaluate program components, so as to measure successes that can be effectively communicated to the board, funders, and other constituents
  • Develop key partnerships with stakeholders to ensure programmatic sustainability and focus on students’ nutrition and access to healthy alternatives


Operations & Budget:


  • Develop program budget and appropriate revenue sources through diverse funding streams (local, State, Federal stakeholders; foundation and philanthropic support)
  • Ensure operational integrity of PL including adequate compliance with all applicable laws, regulatory reporting, contractual obligations and donor restrictions

Fundraising & Communications:


  • Expand local revenue generating and fundraising activities to support existing program operations and regional expansion
  • Act as an external local and national presence that publishes and communicates program results with an emphasis on the successes of the local program as a model for regional and national replication
  • Use external presence and relationships to garner new opportunities; establish strong partnerships with public and private organizations as well as individuals to meet fundraising targets
  • Deepen and refine all aspects of communicationsfrom web presence to external relations with the goal of creating a stronger brand
  • Create targeted communications plan to attract and retain core stakeholders and advocates
  • Develop collateral materials for presentation to stakeholders, using data to inform subjective targeting (policy makers, schools, parents, news outlets, funders, etc)


The ED will be thoroughly committed to Pilot Light’s mission. All candidates should have proven leadership, coaching and relationship management experience. Concrete demonstrable experience and other qualifications include:

  • Advanced degree, ideally an MBA or MPA, with at least 5 years of senior management experience; track record of effectively leading and regionally and/or nationally scaling a performance- and outcomes-based organization and staff; ability to point to specific examples of having developed and operationalized strategies that have taken an organization to the next stage of growth
  • Unwavering commitment to quality programs and data-driven program evaluation
  • Excellence in organizational management with the ability to coach staff, manage, and develop high-performance teams, set and achieve strategic objectives, and manage a budget
  • Past success working with a board of directors with the ability to cultivate existing board member relationships
  • Strong marketing, public relations, and fundraising experience with the ability to engage a wide range of stakeholders and cultures
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills; a persuasive and passionate communicator with excellent interpersonal and multidisciplinary project skills
  • Action-oriented, entrepreneurial, adaptable, and innovative approach to strategic planning
  • Ability to work effectively in collaboration with diverse groups of people
  • Passion, idealism, integrity, positive attitude, mission-driven, and self-directed

The ideal candidate will also have:

  • Experience or working knowledge of culinary arts, the food industry and/or food education
  • Experience or working knowledge of education and curriculum development
  • Exposure to or formal background in childhood obesity issues
  • Ability to navigate and partner with large government organizations; experience or working knowledge of school systems, preferably CPS
  • An understanding of the academic and health needs of Chicago communities; experience working on behalf of underserved individuals


Salary range commensurate with experience.

Application Instructions

The review of candidates will begin immediately. Applications should be submitted electronically prior to March 2014 and should include a cover letter and resume. Applications or inquiries about the position and/or the search process should be directed to the following address:


Subject: Pilot Light ED

Chicago, Illinois
Pilot Light