News and analysis
March 24, 2015

Livestrong Taps Former Komen Executive as New CEO

Kelly Williams

Chandini Portteus

The Livestrong Foundation, the onetime juggernaut created by cyclist Lance Armstrong, has named as its new CEO a former top official from Susan G. Komen, another cancer charity whose powerful brand has been battered in recent years.

Chandini Portteus, who spent nearly a decade at Komen, "is perfectly suited to lead the next stage of Livestrong’s evolution," said Jeff Garvey, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors, in a statement. Ms. Portteus was most recently Komen’s chief mission officer, a role in which she oversaw the group’s strategy and programming in research, community health, public policy, and global programs.

Just 36 years old, she was the youngest senior-level executive in the organization’s history. She created or managed partnerships with Walgreens, GE, New Balance, and Merck, among others.

Ms. Portteus comes to Livestrong as it resets following the 2012 departure of Mr. Armstrong, its founder, after he acknowledged taking performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. Longtime CEO Doug Ulman, who was credited with stabilizing the group as a storm of controversy engulfed the cyclist, resigned last fall to become head of Pelotonia, a Columbus, Ohio, bike-athon for the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Livestrong’s revenue dropped nearly 40 percent in 2013, from $38 million to $23 million. It fell again last year, to $20 million, according to Ellen Barry, the nonprofit’s executive vice president for strategic communications.

In an interview, Ms. Portteus noted that while Livestrong has done a variety of cancer-related work, its board wants "to strategically prioritize what the organization should be and could be moving forward."

She said the group will continue work begun by Mr. Ulman to tighten its focus and messaging to make clear that Livestrong’s mission is not research or prevention but helping cancer patients and survivors. "Livestrong is there from the moment you’re diagnosed," Ms. Portteus said.

In an email, Mr. Ulman called Ms. Portteus "a phenomenal hire" who has "unparalleled experience in the cancer community, a youthful energy, and a visionary approach."

Some of Ms. Portteus’s early work will include shaping Livestrong’s partnership with the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. In August, the foundation committed $50 million over 10 years to creating cancer institutes at the university to develop replicable models of care for cancer patients. "That’s something new in this space and something we will have the opportunity to really forge ahead in a way that’s never really been done before," Ms. Portteus said.

Program Funding Ends

At the same time, the organization this year will end its funding for cancer-survivor programs at cancer institutes around the country, including Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The foundation had committed $22 million over nine years to these programs, but they are now self-sustaining, according to Ms. Barry.

Despite Livestrong’s declining revenue, Ms. Portteus said it has a solid financial foundation, thanks in part to an endowment of about $50 million and assets of around $100 million. She said the organization will look for new partnerships, engage new audiences, and sharpen the Live­strong story. "There are a number of opportunities where we have yet to tap the surface," she said. "When I look at the landscape of everything that Livestrong is and can be, I see great potential."

Mark Lipton, a professor of management at the New School’s Milano Graduate School who has followed Livestrong’s rise and fall, said the foundation is at a crossroads. Mr. Armstrong’s celebrity and charisma drove its growth, Mr. Lipton said. Now, although the organization is developing a clear post-Armstrong mission, his repeated deceptions mean that many people simply don’t trust it. "It’s going to take a remarkable person to heal that gulf," Mr. Lipton said.

Ms. Portteus left Komen at a time when it was trying to restore faith among its followers. In 2012, it angered pro-choice advocates when it eliminated grants to Planned Parenthood, only to reverse itself when faced with heavy pressure. In fiscal year 2013, its private support dropped 22 percent, from $302 million to $235 million.

Livestrong and Komen have much in common. Both are based in Texas — Livestrong in Austin, Komen in Dallas — and both were founded by individuals affected by cancer. Mr. Armstrong created his foundation after his mid-1990s battle with testicular cancer, while Nancy Brinker started Komen after the death of her sister Susan in 1980 from breast cancer. Each has a signature symbol known globally: the Livestrong yellow wristband and the Komen pink ribbon.

Ms. Portteus left Komen in September. "It was time," she said. Though she said she learned a great deal and took on increasing responsibility at the organization, "I knew the next step for me was CEO leadership."

Livestrong declined to disclose details about Ms. Portteus’s contract or salary. In fiscal year 2013, Mr. Ulman made $404,391 in salary and benefits.

Send an e-mail to Drew Lindsay.

About Chandini Portteus, next CEO of LiveĀ­strong

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology and biology from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Master’s degree from the University of Texas Houston School of Public Health.

Family: Ms. Portteus is married to Andrew Portteus, a psychiatrist. They have four children: twin boys who are 7 and girls who are 3 and 5.

Immigrant roots: A native of India, Ms. Portteus came to the United States when she was 18 months old. Her family had only $18, she says. "My mom spent that $18 on a pediatrician visit for me." Her mother was a teacher, and her father was an engineer.