On a rainy April day in 1996, U.S. Air Force Flight 21—a distinguished person charter carrying U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and a contingent of media and business luminaries on an investment-promoting mission—was forced to attempt an instrument-only approach to Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia. The jet overshot the runway and flew blind through cloud cover for several miles before crashing into the side of a mountain, killing all passengers and crew. Among the dead: Don Terner, the charismatic co-founder of San Francisco-based BRIDGE Housing Corp. and an affordable housing industry icon. The news of his death shocked employees, clients, and competitors alike.
Although she admits to not really remembering much in the year following Terner's death, Carol Galante was the immediate choice of the BRIDGE ownership board to take the reins of the company. “There were a number of people who believed Don was BRIDGE, and with Don, so BRIDGE would go as well,” Galante recalls.
One of the bereaved, Diane Spaulding, never counted herself among the doubters. “The board of directors had a choice when Don passed, and they did not hesitate. They put Carol right there, and here we are 12 years later, and she has continued to take the organization to new heights,” says Spaulding, executive director of San Francisco's NonProfit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH), which shared office space with BRIDGE at the time of the plane crash.
Galante says it took a full five years before she felt that she was making her own imprint on BRIDGE and beginning to lead a company that was hers to “shape in a deep and meaningful way.” One key area where Galante has taken the company? The redevelopment of public housing projects. Communities including Mandela Gateway in Oakland, Calif., and North Beach Place in San Francisco are redefining HOPE VI revitalizations by incorporating mixed-income components (market-rate renters next to homeless-dedicated units) as well as retail space (Trader Joe's, anyone?) to change the geographic face and feel of downtrodden neighborhoods. “It's an area that I'm sure I've dragged the company into kicking and screaming, but it is important to me, and the need is there. Still, I'm sure it is something the board never envisioned when BRIDGE was launched.”
In reality, what the board never envisioned was the ability to enter new markets and launch innovative programs while maintaining BRIDGE's original success in providing high volumes of high-quality affordable housing, a mandate that continues to this day under Galante's leadership. “Carol has shown what can be done with clear vision, the right leadership, and a strong base of community support,” says Alan Stein, who co-founded BRIDGE with Terner, selected Galante as his replacement, and still serves as chairman of the board. “[Under Carol's leadership], BRIDGE's remarkable achievements have surpassed even the ambitious hopes I originally had for the organization.”