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“I think she brings the same compassion to her family as she does to sitting down with a family in a developing world to talk about their children,” said Brian Meyers, who is Stern’s chief of staff and has been her co-traveler for the past six years. “I don’t know if it’s a female or male trait, but something I’ve learned from her.”
Naomi Mazin, who is Stern’s former ADL colleague and has been her close confidante since the women were 12, said that Stern’s compassionate side is part of her effectiveness.
“When we were young she was a writer and an artist,” Mazin said. “You never expected her to be the businesswoman. But the compassion part makes sense.”
Stern is not sure what lies ahead.
When she joined UNICEF in 2006, she promised to stay only seven to 10 years. This year is her seventh. Her decision to set a deadline was a strategic move: She did not want the organization to grow too dependent on one leader. “I want to leave a healthy, strong organization, and I want to leave with shoulders still strong enough to hold somebody else up,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s healthy for an organization to have a CEO for more than [seven to 10 years].”
Her philosophy contrasts with the modus operandi of many of the longtime leaders of American Jewish organizations, such as her former boss, Foxman, who has been at the ADL for 29 years.
Stern says that after UNICEF she would like to move into another leadership position, perhaps returning to the field for a longer period when her kids have left home. “It’s hard to find a job that has all three: [strong] values, [the vision] to make a difference and [the chance to] earn a real living,” she said.
In the end, Stern does have one diva request.
“I want Meryl Streep to play me in the book’s movie,” she said, laughing heartily.
Miriam Berger is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel and Middle East affairs.