Tim Maloney a catalyst for visionary projects like BLINK

It takes a lot of people to pull off an event of BLINK’s size and scope. But it might never have gotten off the ground in the first place without Tim Maloney. 

“He was the linchpin and the catalyst for getting it moving,” said Andrew Salzbrun, partner at AGAR, one of BLINK’s organizers.

“It’s hard to imagine BLINK ever existing without Tim’s work and leadership,” agreed Brendon Cull, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, another of BLINK’s organizers. 

Tim Maloney
Tim Maloney

Maloney is president and CEO of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, which owns the BLINK brand. He’s held that role since 2008, but he can trace its roots as far back as the 1970s, when he and his wife, Leslie, struck up a close and enduring friendship with the foundation’s namesakes. 

That relationship included helping them set up the foundation as the conduit of their giving 30-some years ago. 

After the Hailes died – Carol Ann in 2004 and Ralph in 2006 – it was up to the Maloneys to continue their legacy of giving. In 2007, Tim retired from a 25-year career in the banking industry, his last role as senior vice president and regional manager for the U.S. Bank Private Client Services Group. He took the following year “off” to study philanthropy.

“I studied the landscape and tried to figure out where we could have the most impact on our giving,” said Maloney, who grew up in Western Hills and now lives in East Walnut Hills. “It’s still a learning process, and I love that about it.”

Once at the helm of the Haile Foundation, Maloney took a slightly different approach than what he’s seen at other foundations. For one thing, the foundation’s leanness gives it a competitive edge, he said.

Beyond that, the foundation’s work goes beyond just distributing money, although it certainly does that – usually from $13 million to $15 million each year, Maloney said.

“We’re not your traditional family foundation,” he said. “We operate more as an operating foundation. We’re involved in the day-to-day activities. I wouldn’t have it any other way, frankly, because it allows us to learn and grow and try new things.”

Eric Avner, vice president and senior manager of community development for the foundation, applauds Maloney’s courage behind that approach. 

“It would be easy to write one big check,” Avner said. “But to set up a system like we have that puts a lot of trust in the people around him and allows us to try new ideas, that’s pretty brave. He’s always looking out for what could be and what can be and what might be.”

“It would be easy to write one big check,” Avner said. “But to set up a system like we have that puts a lot of trust in the people around him and allows us to try new ideas, that’s pretty brave. He’s always looking out for what could be and what can be and what might be.”

Eric Avner

Maloney’s emphasis at the foundation, arts and culture, is one of its four focus areas. (The others are education, which Leslie Maloney handles; community development, Avner’s area; and human services.) Maloney works with dozens of organizations, from Film Cincinnati to the Taft Museum. 

You’ve probably seen some of the projects he and the foundation have supported: Smale Park’s Carol Ann’s Carousel, named for Mrs. Haile, was a gift from the foundation. Maybe you remember the Taft’s 80th anniversary campaign, “Art for All,” which placed reproductions of 80 pieces in unexpected places around Greater Cincinnati. That, too, was sponsored by the Haile Foundation. The list goes on. 

Arts and culture are natural fits for Maloney. 

“I’ve always believed in the contribution of the arts to keeping communities vibrant,” he said, noting that he served on arts organizations’ boards during his banking career. He serves on the boards of 3CDC, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Taft Museum of Art, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee.

There are a lot of other carry-overs from his banking career: Understanding investments, of course, but also being able to say no and managing relationships and expectations. 

“The ‘Santa Claus’ element of this job is minuscule,” he said. “It really is a business.” 

BLINK owes its existence in part to Maloney’s willingness to say yes to bold new things. It grew out of another big idea, Lumenocity, which Maloney and the Haile Foundation also helped conceive and fund. After that event had ended, Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan of Brave Berlin told Maloney they wanted to untether the event from the live symphony to create a projection mapping festival. Meanwhile, Andrew Salzbrun of AGAR described how he wanted to bring a collection of new murals to draw more visitors to the Findlay Market area.

“Tim decided to do a mash-up,” McGowan said. “Then he brought in ArtWorks, and ultimately the Chamber.” 

“He’s kind of the mastermind,” McGowan added of Maloney. “He puts the right people in the right conversations to get the best creative out of them.” 

“He’s like the fairy godfather of sprinkling these ideas and his support and putting the right people at the table to make them happen,” said

Tamara Harkavy

“He’s like the fairy godfather of sprinkling these ideas and his support and putting the right people at the table to make them happen,” said Tamara Harkavy, CEO and artistic director of ArtWorks, another BLINK organizer. “Tim takes the serious work of making Cincinnati the best possible Cincinnati it can be – it’s heavy lifting, and it’s serious work – but he infuses so much joy and fun and sometimes some irreverence and creativity into the tasks at hand that it becomes infectious, and people want to come on board.” 

Maloney said BLINK is just one example of how creating connections has led the foundation to innovative projects. Another is People’s Liberty, a “philanthropic lab” aimed at getting more people civically engaged. Avner leads that team, modeling his leadership after Maloney’s. People’s Liberty has supported 150 individuals, many of whom have undertaken projects in the surrounding Findlay Market area. 

Maloney said he’s particularly proud of that initiative. Its five-year plan concludes this year, though, so it will be “rethought and reinvented” for the future, he said. 

A light installation from BLINK 2017
A light installation from BLINK 2017

The future of BLINK is also yet to be written. Maloney doesn’t expect the event to be static, or to go on forever. “Technology changes bring new opportunities,” he pointed out. 

Whatever form it takes, Maloney hopes BLINK will always be a way to bring people together. 

“The beauty of this event in its inaugural year is that it took people out of their comfort zone in a shared experience that was uniting,” he said. “People were elbow to elbow, kind of awestruck. Nobody was jamming elbows to get across the street. It created this sense of connection that was really a beautiful element. 

“It’s important to us that this event celebrates diversity and inclusion,” he added. “I’m disturbed that our country’s in such a state of division. I think events like this can help.”

Maloney’s help reaches beyond just his work with the foundation. Both Salzbrun and Harkavy describe him as a mentor. 

“I’m incredibly grateful for the time he spent with me as I’ve continued to cobble together my career,” said Salzbrun, who has known Maloney for about a decade. “The thing that I’ve observed from him is that … there is every opportunity to impact the course of our city in a positive way.” 

Those who know Maloney, who has two grown sons, list many other traits they admire: His positivity, his generosity, his quiet leadership.

“He never needs to be the hero,” Salzbrun said. “The impact that he has is enough for him”

It’s hard to talk about Maloney without circling back to the word “vision,” though. 

“He is thinking a generation in advance about how he’s going to leave this place better than he found it,” Salzbrun said. “I think that’s just visionary.” 

Maloney reiterates that his work is about honoring his friends the Hailes. He says the foundation has “some exciting things coming up,” and that he envisions it outliving him. 

“I don’t think Carol and Ralph could have had a better agent for, protector of or proxy for their legacy than Tim and Leslie,” Avner said. “I’m sure they’re smiling at this.”

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