Community Stories

Leadership Huntsville: 30 Years Of Movers And Shakers

Huntsville has changed in many ways over past 30 years, and one of the driving forces behind changes in our cityscape has been the movers and shakers produced by Leadership Huntsville/Madison County.

Lynne Berry and Karen Petersen are two Huntsvillians who recently went through the 10-month Leadership Huntsville course. The two women bookend 30 years of classes—Lynne was in the first class three decades ago, and Karen has just started her first program—and now they work at the same nonprofit, using their skills to change the world through science.

What Is Leadership Huntsville?

The Leadership Huntsville Flagship program takes future and current leaders in Huntsville through 8, in-depth program days where they learn the inner workings of our city and public resources.

Sarah Savage, President and CEO of Leadership Huntsville, says Leadership Huntsville is building what she calls human capital. In order for cities to grow, they need a solid infrastructure—things like roads, natural capital like parks, social capital such as an arts scene and human capital, the ability to maximize the leadership of prominent people who serve out of a desire for the city to thrive.

What exactly does all that mean? Since you can’t fix a problem until you know it’s there, these class days highlight different opportunities for professionals to combine their skills and use them to fill in the gaps in our community. Between classes, attendees break down into smaller groups to address the problems they’ve learned about and figure out ways to fix them using their areas of expertise and their passions.

For example, if they hear about a building project need, a team of Leadership Huntsville participants will lay out what they know. One might work in construction. Another might be a master in fundraising. And one group member might have connections with city zoning. They pool their knowledge, make a plan and get things done.

You might be surprised to learn some of the bigger projects in Huntsville have been done by Leadership Huntsville small groups who were pulled to a particular area—Project Share at Huntsville Utilities, a covered walkway at Manna House and the dog park to name a few.

Karen Petersen’s small group has started thinking about their project, batting around ideas of Alzheimer’s research and mental health support. Whatever they choose, it will benefit Madison County residents and join a long line of initiatives that have shaped Huntsville by way of Leadership Huntsville participants.

Friendships Formed From Working Together

One thing Leadership Huntsville isn’t—a social club.

“Networking, absolutely,” Karen explained. “But it’s more about being able to plug into other organizations and other businesses and finding out how we can work together.”

Part of the reason Leadership Huntsville is effective is because they recruit professionals from different areas to ensure at least one person can address issues that may arise in their projects. It all goes back to diversity: diversity in race, religion and gender as well as diversity in the business world. These are people who would otherwise never have the chance to meet—let alone work together—so the unexpected friendships formed tend to last.

Thirty years ago, Lynne was working for Congressman Bud Cramer, and it was a former Huntsville Times publisher who nominated her for Leadership Huntsville. The lifelong friendships she took from those 10 months have survived the years. She’s even still in touch with the majority of her classmates who laughingly call themselves the experimental class.

It’s probably worth mentioning that most of the top names in our area have come out of Leadership Huntsville—Tommy Battle, Jeannie Powell, Troy Trulock, Julian Butler, and the list goes on. Julian Butler was a champion for Lynne when she became the first female Leadership Huntsville Board chair. The two are friends to this day.

Giving Back After Leadership Huntsville Ends

Now, Lynne is the Executive Director of Hudson Alpha Foundation and Karen Petersen’s direct supervisor. In the years they’ve been working together, Lynne has relayed to Karen some lessons she carried with her from her time in Leadership. Graduates serve as mentors throughout the community, either to those they work with at their day jobs or those they meet in more casual settings.

“She’s really an encourager and motivator,” Karen said. “A lot of what she taught me was to believe in myself. That goes a long way personally and professionally.”

Karen and her husband moved their two daughters away from Huntsville for one year before realizing Huntsville really is the best place to raise a family. In true absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder fashion, she returned to the area with a newfound passion for our city. That’s when she knew she wanted to give back.

Around the time she moved back, Karen started meeting more and more Leadership Huntsville graduates, and they all said the same thing: You have to do this.

Since Lynne had already been through the program, Karen knew she would be a great cheerleader for the next 10 months. Lynne would have to sign off on Karen’s days off for the programs and give her a little more grace in other areas as she spent the time working with Leadership Huntsville.

“I think it’s very beneficial to her both personally and professionally, and to HudsonAlpha, for her to participate,” Lynne said. “It’s exciting to see it through her eyes, to see her excited about what they’re doing on the different days, see her excited about her classmates and the things that she’s learning.“

There’s no end in sight for Leadership Huntsville. As long as it works, they will keep on uniting folks from all walks of life to brainstorm and act on ways to improve the area. Throughout all the diversity, Karen said there is one common goal uniting everyone who has been through a Leadership Huntsville program.

“No matter where we are, we’re all working to make Huntsville and Madison County stronger and better,” Karen said.

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