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Riki Rafner

Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy Named “Most Admired Non-Profit CEO” by San Francisco Business Times

(San Francisco, Oct. 23, 2019) Dr. Gloria Duffy, CEO of The Commonwealth Club of California, has been selected one of the “The Most Admired CEOs” by the San Francisco Business Times, and the most-admired Non-Profit CEO. Each year the paper recognizes the Most Admired CEOs in a special publication and at a gala dinner event. They include one distinguished and deserving nonprofit CEO amongst their honorees. Dr. Duffy will be honored, along with the other recipients, on Thursday, November 7 at an awards dinner at the Westin St. Francis. The Most Admired CEO edition of the Business Times publishes November 8, 2019. Former recipients of the most admired Non-Profit CEO accolade have included: Bernard Tyson, Joe Lacob, Benno Dorer, Carol Galante, Laura Alber, Anne Wilson, Chuck Collins, and others.

Mary Huss, the publication’s market president and publisher, noted, “Gloria’s vision for The Commonwealth Club and the community, and all that she has achieved, including the amazing and transformative building and continuous innovation, is worthy of much recognition. It is our honor to include her among our Most Admired CEOs.”

Dr. Duffy has been president and CEO of The Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s largest and oldest public forum, since 1996. Founded in 1903, The Club is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with more than 20,000 members. Based in San Francisco with a second office in the South Bay, the Club hosts around 500 forums each year on issues of regional, national and international significance. 

The Commonwealth Club’s weekly radio broadcast airs on more than 230 public and commercial stations across the country, and was started in 1924. The Club’s five weekly podcasts are downloaded more than 5 million times each year. The Club’s videos are often livestreamed and appear on KAXT/KTLN TV, Facebook, C-SPAN and YouTube, where they have been viewed millions of times. The Commonwealth magazine is published bi-monthly. For the past 11 decades, the Club has fostered free speech and civic dialogue on a wide range of topics, addressing key issues in society, culture, politics, the economy, national security and more. 

During her tenure as President and CEO at the Club, with the effort of an outstanding staff that is now 55 strong, led by six Vice Presidents, over 200 volunteers and a 55-member Board, Duffy has invited the community to utilize the Club for public dialogue. She and her colleagues have endeavored to make the Club more active, more central to the health of the community, more open and accessible, and more willing to take on tough and controversial issues.

Since 1996, the organization’s membership has doubled, and its budget has grown 400%. The Club has opened a Silicon Valley office, incubated and launched the California governance reform organization California Forward and other special projects, and published the book Each a Mighty Voice, a study of major Club speeches in their historical context. In 2001 she and her colleagues launched Inforum, the Club’s division for younger members, which has grown in popularity for two decades and in 2015 was named the best speaker series in San Francisco by San Francisco Magazine.

The Club’s California Book Awards, awarded since 1931, have been made cash prizes through a $1,000,000 endowment from the legacy of Dr. Martha Cox, the late San Jose State University English professor. Marin Conversations has brought regular Club programming to Marin County. For over a decade, Climate One at the Club has focused attention on climate change and mobilized people and ideas to find solutions.

The Club’s valuable audio archives, with recordings since the 1940s and including speeches by major historical figures such as Cecil B. DeMille and Dwight Eisenhower, have been safeguarded by being placed at the Hoover Library, where they have been preserved, digitized and made available to users worldwide.

Programming at the Club on issues important to the LGBTQ community occurs through the Michelle Meow Show and other activities. The Club is about to launch a K-12 civics education initiative, with the generous support of the Koret Foundation.

For seven years, from 2011-2017, Dr. Duffy, the Club’s board and its team of Vice Presidents led the charge for the Commonwealth Club’s first owned headquarters in its 116 years. With Dr. Duffy’s leadership, tenacity, even-temperedness, motivation of others and negotiating skills, the Club was able to raise $30 million, from over 400 generous donors, to purchase its new site and build a beautiful and environmentally sustainable headquarters at 110 The Embarcadero. The building design won a California Heritage Council historic preservation award in 2016.

Duffy credits the team at the Club and the underlying community for making the fabulous new headquarters possible, and for utilizing the Club in all the ways a public forum can be a constructive force in our region and beyond. She believes that today the Club lives the 1903 words of its founder, San Francisco Chronicle Editor Edward F. Adams:

"My conception of a public service club is a body whose members shall have entire confidence in each other’s regard for the public welfare, however diverse their views of obtaining it—their views, in fact, being as diverse as possible in order that no point of view may be missed."

Strong networks for communication with mutual respect, Duffy believes, are key to a healthy, functioning community.

Prior to coming to the Club, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Clinton from 1993-1995, Dr. Duffy was responsible for negotiating the dismantling and destruction of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. She also served as U.S. special coordinator for cooperative threat reduction. Managing a $400 million annual budget, she negotiated nuclear and chemical arms reduction pacts with the countries of the former Soviet Union. Among her achievements, she completed 50 agreements with the governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, through which they agreed to give up the several thousand nuclear weapons on their territories and become non-nuclear weapons states, signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. She also concluded agreements with Russia to dismantle more quickly and better protect their remaining nuclear and chemical weapons, to reemploy weapons scientists on civilian projects, and to convert weapons plants to civilian production. She provided $1.5 billion in U.S. assistance to all four countries for denuclearization and dismantlement projects.

In 1995 Dr. Duffy received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service. In May 2016, the 25th anniversary of the Nunn-Lugar legislation, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter presented Dr. Duffy and four other individuals with inaugural Nunn-Lugar Trailblazer Awards at a ceremony at the Pentagon.

In 1995 Dr. Duffy helped launch the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (now CRDF Global). Created by Congress through the National Science Foundation, CRDF Global has provided over $100 million in support, from the U.S. government, partner governments and private foundations, to employ former weapons scientists worldwide on civilian research projects. CRDF Global combats the spread of critical scientific knowledge about weapons of mass destruction and builds economic development and international scientific cooperation. After leaving the U.S. government, Dr. Duffy served on, then for ten years chaired, the Board of Directors of CRDF Global. 

In 1982 Dr. Duffy became the first executive director of what was then a start-up organization, Ploughshares Fund, based in San Francisco. Ploughshares provides grants to individuals and institutions working to diminish the threats of nuclear war and nuclear proliferation.

As an expert on mediation and conflict resolution, she has contributed her skills on both the global and local levels. Dr. Duffy has served as a mediator and in conflict resolution initiatives including a 1998 effort working with the national security advisors to the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to reduce hostility among the three countries. In 1997, as President of the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens Corporation in San Jose, she brought together environmental activists and public agencies at odds over environmental mitigation of a flood control project on the Guadalupe River, helping lead to a settlement and forward progress in the flood control project and creating the Guadalupe River Park.

Dr. Duffy is currently a Vice Chair of the Board of Occidental College. She is a member of the Advisory Boards of Ploughshares Fund, the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, Miracle Messages, and the Center for Non-proliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She has served on or chaired the boards of two-dozen national and community organizations, including the Los Gatos Community Hospital, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in Chicago and the Compton Foundation. She has founded or co-founded several organizations, starting while she was in high school with the Lafayette, California Youth Services Commission.

She has written more than 80 articles and monographs in the field of arms control and defense policy and two books on arms control. Her Insight column in the Commonwealth Club’s magazine is popular among readers of the magazine.

In the mid-2000s, she was a partner in the McCloud Book Gallery, an independent bookstore and art gallery in Siskiyou County, California.

Dr. Duffy is the recipient of awards including the Janet Gray Hayes Award, presented to an outstanding woman leader in honor of San Jose's first woman mayor; a Character Award from the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Boy Scout Council; A Woman of Achievement Award for Public Service from the San Jose Mercury News and the Women's Foundation, and a Human Relations Award from Santa Clara County. In 2019, she received the “Francis in the City” award, a Good Neighbor Award from Miracle Messages, which assists individuals experiencing homelessness to reconnect with their family or friends. She has been recognized over many years as a leader in business and management by the San Francisco Business Times, the Silicon Valley Business Journal and the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women. 

Dr. Duffy holds Ph.D., M. Phil. and M.A. degrees from Columbia University, an A.B. magna cum laude from Occidental College and an honorary doctorate from the University of San Francisco. She is married to Rod Diridon, Sr., former chair of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and well-known international and local transportation leader. They have two children, Rod Diridon, Jr. and Mary Diridon, and four grandchildren. Four generations of the family, including Dr. Duffy’s 95-year-old mother Gloria S. Duffy, live in Santa Clara, in three side-by-side homes.