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The Grafton Village Cheese Company, a for-profit company owned by the nonprofit Windham Foundation, which has just hired Robert Allen as new interim president and chief executive officer. Allen worked for many years in those capacities at the Vermont Country Store.

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Allen hired as interim CEO of the Windham Foundation

GRAFTON—Robert Allen of Dorset, who for many years was the president and chief executive officer of the Vermont Country Store, will be the new interim president and CEO of the Windham Foundation.

Allen will start in early May and will succeed John Bramley, the current foundation CEO and president since December 2007. Bramley is set to retire in late May.

The selection of Allen came after a two-month search for a Vermont chief executive with high-end retail experience to continue Bramley’s goals of advancing the foundation’s “two core business subsidiaries — the Grafton Village Cheese Co. and The Old Tavern at Grafton,” according to a press release from the foundation’s board.

“Bob Allen has the right skills and business expertise to lead the Windham Foundation at a time when building the success of Grafton Village Cheese is our highest priority,” wrote foundation board chairman Edward Zaccaro in the release.

During Bramley’s tenure, the cheese company, specializing in artisan aged cheddar, expanded production and sales rooms, and opened new shops and manufacturing spaces in Grafton and Brattleboro.

The company, according to Bramley, is not yet profitable, but it is on its way.

“I am extremely proud of what we’ve done at the cheese company,” Bramley said. “It’s doubled in size in terms of employees, we’re expanding the inventory of aged cheeses, and we’re now buying supplies at top prices from 30 Vermont farms.”

The Old Tavern has been host to a slew of new events, from localvore dinners, to tavern concerts, to happy hours.

Since 2005, when he retired from running The Vermont Country Store, the iconic retail and mail order business with outlets in Rockingham and Weston, and headquarters in Manchester, Allen had served on various for-profit and non-profit boards, including the Dorset School Board.

He has been most directly involved with a New York City firm, the Direct Marketing Association, a company that has flourished along with the Internet, the primary platform for most direct marketing sources. Clients included Microsoft and Ford, as well as smaller businesses.

“Then, back in January, I was approached by a Windham Foundation search committee member for a reference on a search firm out of Boston,” Allen explained, noting that the foundation was looking for a replacement for Bramley. “I was in India at the time with my daughter, but I gave the firm a good recommendation, and then the next thing I heard was, ‘Oh, by the way, are you interested in the job?’”

Allen said that he might think about it if he could set some limits, namely working on an interim basis with, at the most, a two-year deadline.

Pretty soon he was having lunch with committee members, and then an offer was made that he couldn’t refuse.

“Although I was not looking for a job,” Allen said in an email he sent to friends about his new position, “I view this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work actively on many of my passions in life. My business development passion will be fueled by several of the operating businesses.”

“My nonprofit and philanthropic passion can be channeled into our scholarship and grants program and our commitment to education,” he said, adding a word about the Grafton Conferences, a series of two-day informal sessions held at The Old Tavern, beginning in 1984, which covered subjects such as Vermont Women in Transition, Preparing Vermont to Thrive in the 21st Century, and Vermont’s Fourth Estate and Public Policy.

“My active interest in the outdoors,” he added, “will be directed to Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center...in the winter, and mountain biking, canoeing, and hiking in the summer and, I almost forgot — summer camps for kids.”

Allen and his wife of 29 years, Janet, have two children — a daughter in college and a son in high school. They will continue to live in Dorset, where they’ve lived for 25 years.

An avid cyclist, Allen said that he rides about 4,000 miles a year in and around Vermont and will continue that pace, cycling the 30.5 miles from his house to Grafton once a week. He’s also imagining setting up a bike tour of some of the 2,000 acres owned by the foundation.

He said he’d like to see more of the green and white state direction signs. “Grafton,” he said, “may be in the middle of nowhere, but is not far from anywhere.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #95 (Wednesday, April 6, 2011).

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