Alumni Highlight: From cable TV executive to wish granter, Fran Mallace is now Leading Make-A-Wish Arizona

Monday, April 4, 2022


Fran Mallace takes a unique approach to meetings.

While most executives might bring agendas and PowerPoints, Mallace relies on stuffed animals to illustrate points, describe character traits, and initiate open and honest conversations with her employees.

It’s part of what she describes as a “people-first” approach to leadership, with a focus on creating and building a culture that cares for colleagues and customers before anything else. 

“Once you get the people part right, everything else falls into place,” Mallace said. 

Mallace recently took the helm of Make-A-Wish Arizona as president and CEO after a 30-year career with Cox Media, much of it as an executive and most recently, as the group vice president.

The mission of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which creates life-changing wishes for critically ill children, aligns with Mallace’s unique leadership methods, as well as her emphasis on volunteerism and servitude.

“The pandemic made me reevaluate pretty much everything and how my time is spent. It led me to my job here at Make-A-Wish Arizona, focusing on serving others,” she said.

Mallace had already served on the Make-A-Wish board for six years.

“She put her heart and soul into it,” said Andrea Tazioli, Phoenix attorney and Make-A-Wish Arizona board chair.  “Every time she talks about what we do, she kind of gets a little teary-eyed. You can just tell she has a passion and love for it. It exudes from her. The fact that she could be such a great leader and inspirational to so many different people I think led us to believe she would be the right fit for us.” 

Mallace said she learned the importance of serving others at an early age. 

“I watched my parents be philanthropic in their community since I was very little. Their generosity really stuck with me and it is something that we have instilled in our two daughters,” she said.

She cultivated her business leadership approach during her time at Cox, advocating for her employees while encouraging openness and honesty when communicating at work. 

“Fran has been one of my greatest champions throughout my career and I truly feel so fortunate to be given the opportunity to work for her. She is an incredible leader,” said Cronkite alumna and Cox senior public affairs specialist Astrid Magnolia Valencia.

Mallace described her leadership style as “giraffe-like” with an emphasis on taking risks, seeing beyond the present and empathizing with the people in your life and community.

“It means being able to stick your neck out, embrace your uniqueness, be a visionary and have compassion and empathy for the people in your life and in your community,” she said.

Although Mallace compares her leadership style to a giraffe, she uses various stuffed animals to make her point.

“If there is something that needs to be said, she might toss an elephant to a person and say, ‘the elephant in the room is this …’ or she might toss a lion to someone and say ‘be brave,’” said Rich Barone, vice president of Cox Media Arizona, who described it as “Fran’s Zoo.” 

“I learned who I am as a human being and who I should be as a leader from Fran,” Barone said.

Mallace graduated from the Cronkite School in 1982.

She met her husband Michael, who also graduated from Cronkite and built a career in commercial radio. They raised their daughters, Jordie and Sydney, in Phoenix while establishing themselves in their careers.

“Fran is always the first person to raise her hand and the last person to leave the room. She is there to help, coach, guide – be it at work or at an organization that she volunteers or serves on the board,” Michael Mallace said. “That also transcends to her personal life when it comes to friends and family. With Fran, everyone becomes part of the extended family.”

Fran Mallace has been influenced by a number of people in her career, from colleagues to family and friends, and even some of the children she’s met through the Make-A-Wish foundation.

Mallace reflected on a relationship she built with Hayes, a boy who helped her create a fundraising page for future children who are referred to Make-A-Wish.

“Hayes had leukemia as an eight-year-old, wished to go to Hawaii right before his 10th birthday and will be turning 18 this year. He continues to give back to Make-A-Wish by sharing his wish story and participating when asked. He was very inspirational and full of joy,” she said.

The lessons learned throughout her career and with her family have shaped her approach, which she will look to continue at Make-A-Wish Arizona.

“Transparency and vulnerability were two big lessons for me. Living my life with both so others can see how those two values are important to life personally and professionally,” she said. “Be true to yourself – never try to be someone else. There were defining moments throughout my career that taught me the importance of these two values and it is still ongoing.”

More about Fran Mallace

Born in Suffern, New York

Favorite Quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” — Maya Angelou

Favorite Color: Pink

Favorite Food: Mediterranean, hummus

Favorite Movie: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (original)

Favorite Book: Sarah’s Key and The Firm

Favorite Animal: Giraffe

One Wish: I would wish to spend the day with Martin Henderson, also known as Jack Sheridan, the lead on Virgin River (Netflix). Alexandra Breckenridge also known as Mel Monroe can join us too.

Fran’s Advice :

To @cronkite_asu students:

The most successful people I know have confidence and belief in their abilities and their value. I would tell our daughters and any of their friends to stay true to who they are while being curious and having fun along their journey.

To #cronkitenation alumni:

Giving of your time is just as important and more impactful than giving financially. Mentoring individuals and offering your skills and talents are meaningful and you get just as much out of it as they do. When I mentor someone, I always walk away with so much goodness from what I learned as part of the partnership.

By Michael Wong