Sometimes after one person has led an organization for so long, the two become almost synonymous. For example, Duke University Men’s Basketball and Coach K have reached that status. For NC State or UNC fans here in the Triangle, that truth likely has some painful memories attached with it. Here at Leadership Triangle, Winkie La Force has been that leader among leaders for the last decade and a half.

Under her direction, Leadership Triangle has seen great growth, exciting partnerships and the development of a now thriving alumni network. Her mission has been to inculcate a sense of regionalism in all four counties (Orange, Durham, Chatham and Wake) and to develop and celebrate leaders within them. Ms. LaForce herself has lived this Triangle-centric regionalism. Despite living in Chapel Hill, she has worked in Raleigh and her children went to school in Durham. Also, being an alumnus of UNC Chapel Hill who has lived in the area for over 40 years shows her commitment to the area.

But after setting Leadership Triangle on solid ground, Winkie La Force has decided to step down from her position as president effective January, 2017. Replacing her is another woman who has devoted herself to strengthening the region – Jesica Averhart.

Chair of Leadership Triangle and Vice President of Real Estate at Capitol Broadcasting, Michael Goodmon, had this to say about the change in leadership. “Winkie leaves very big shoes to fill and our board was unanimous that Jes Averhart is the perfect successor to lead this institution into the future. Like Winkie, Jes personifies Leadership Triangle’s values. You won’t find anyone more collaborative, community-minded and action-oriented than Jes.”

Ms. Averhart’s recent work has highlighted this community-minded approach. She started working at the American Tobacco Campus in 2011. This campus has quickly become a hub for regional business activity and Jes Averhart had a hand in much of the success. Her main focus was to build the Mission Post on the campus, which made a place for non-profits to work and develop their vision while surrounded by all the other startups and entrepreneurial spirit of the area.

After this, in 2014 Averhart was brought on to work with the American Underground technology hub, also on the American Tobacco Campus. Now as their community engagement director she has been able to make partnerships with major corporate sponsors, most notably Google for Entrepreneurs, who lists the American Tobacco Campus as one of their seven startup hubs in North America. She has also made involving Durham’s African American community a focus by working on the annual Black Wall Street events.

Winkie La Force has been able to take Leadership Triangle to exciting new places after taking the reigns in 2002. The program is now well integrated into all counties and communities in the region with alumni at many key Triangle companies and organizations. Jesica Averhart has proven herself with her work at the American Tobacco Campus and American Underground. She has the same drive to shoot for the moon while making sure that success is felt by all in our region. It’s sad to see Winkie La Force go but all are waiting to see what bold directions Jesica Averhart will take the Triangle’s premier leadership fellowship program.

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