April 6, 2017
Today is Wednesday, April 6 and the time is 12 PM. This is Adam Shilling from YMCA of USA interviewing Cathi Duchon. Cathi, thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today.
Thank you for asking.
Could you share with us what was your first YMCA experience?
That's funny; I tried to think about my first YMCA experience and it was in Rockford, Illinois when I was a junior in high school. The Y was the spot that Young Life met to take a ski trip. I did not grow up going to the Y. I grew up in southern California; we moved to Illinois when I was a junior in high school. This was a first thing for me; I'd not been in snow. This group was going to go to a ski trip and we were going to meet at the Y.
I grew up in a Catholic family; my mom didn't know anything about the Y, or my dad. They said, "Oh, no. You can't go to the Y. They'll try to change your religion." It was crazy. This was the ‘60s.
They finally agreed to let me go; I discovered that it was not a church. It was this organization. That's so funny because many years later I ended up working at that very Y where this group met to get on the bus to go on the ski trip. It really had nothing whatever to do with the Y. That was my first YMCA contact. In the back of my mind I had, "Wow. They try to convert you at the Y," because that's what my mother said. That was my first Y experience.
How was it that you came to begin working at the Y?
I started working for the Y after I graduated from the University of Illinois in physical education and taught high school in Rockford, Illinois. I hated it and decided to work at the Y as a part time job to teach. I interviewed for the job with Leland Jensen* who has later become a very good friend; he was the physical director at the Y at the time.
He interviewed me to do a—I think it was an ad in the paper—like two dollars an hour to teach baby swimming, trampoline and gymnastics. He asked me in my interview, "Can you teach babies to swim?" I said, "Sure. I'm a PE major." I’ve got to be able to teach babies to swim; how easy is that? Then, "Can you teach trampoline?" I said, "Well, yeah. I took trampoline as a PE major. I should be able to figure it out." He hired me, and I literally did not know how to do any of this stuff. I was a lifeguard. I stayed at the Rockford Y for two years. I loved it. Great Y, and Rockford, Illinois is very near Chicago. I don't know if you know where Rockford is. Good Y; good people have come in and out of Rockford.
After two years there I decided that I wanted to work in the YMCA in the world; I applied to be what was called a young professional abroad. I went to Hong Kong and I lived and worked at the YMCA of Hong Kong for two years.
I started out teaching English. The Hong Kong Y is complicated. It's more complicated now even than it was back then. This was 1974, a long time ago and everything was done differently back then, which is why USA sent cohorts of staff to international assignments. Others who were my cohort went to Singapore or Taiwan or Kuala Lumpur, Penang. I went to Hong Kong.
The Chinese Y in Hong Kong has a secondary school and the English Y in Hong Kong had similar programs to how we have them. I had my eye on the English Y, but I ended up starting off in the Chinese Y. I taught English to 10th grade Chinese kids for three unbelievably difficult months because I'm not an English teacher; they didn't speak English. It was hysterical. There were funny stories.
Eventually the physical director at the English speaking Y left and I took his job. That's when I started doing my thing at the YMCA in Hong Kong and had a blast. I lived at the Y, met so many amazing people, and taught babies to swim—Chinese babies who lived on junks that would drown in two feet of water because they didn't know how to stand up in water. It was just amazing experiences.
That's when I decided that the Y was more than a job. There's this same place in this country doing these things that I did over there in Rockford differently, but still. This is not something I'm just doing; this is something I'm just going to do. I'm just going to do it, and I'm going to go back when I finish and I'm going to find something back there.
Before I did that, though, I did my YMCA tour of Southeast Asia and hit every YMCA and all the people I knew who were stationed around there. I did stay in the Y in Singapore and the Y in Taipei, and the Y in Penang and the Y in Kuala Lumpur. I had my YMCA tour of Southeast Asia.
This was '76, and 1976 was just—'75-'76 was when Viet Nam fell—so what we experienced in Hong Kong was the influx of Vietnamese refugees who needed to be resettled. At that time, the Houston Y was prominent in resettling refugees from Viet Nam.
Long story short, I ended up at the Houston Y, not in refugee resettlement, but in regular physical director job. Coming back from an international experience at that time to a mainstream Y was almost impossible. The CEOs of the Ys at that time—because they were all men they didn't see it as an international experience--again, we're in the '70s, just after the '60s—they saw it as the Birkenstock crowd, the hippies going over. "We don't want one of them in our mainstream jobs."
It was so hard to get back in because in the old days, when you went on an international job with Y-USA or from the Y-USA office, you found your own job when you got back. It's all different now and I've lived through that whole transition on how local Ys connect more with their partners. Back then, they sent you out and when you came back, you're on your own
I'm writing letters all over the US trying to get a job. It was Houston I wanted to come to because, one, the climate was the same as Hong Kong, and two, because they were doing the refugee work. I thought it would be easier to get into a Y that had that kind of an open-minded system. I ended up in Houston and I stayed in Houston for 13 years; it was a long time. I started out as an assistant physical director. Then I was the women's physical director, and that's the women's question, yeah.
If I could, from doing some of these interviews and talking with enough folks in leadership, it seems like having a range of experiences in different types of programs and different settings is something that's important to a career within the movement. At this time, it seems like the international experience wasn't as valued.
It wasn't valued at all. While I loved many of those leaders and certainly loved the one who ended up being the CEO for me—and I learned so much from Beverly Laws who was the CEO of the Houston Y—they weren't open to that.
It wasn't the way the international division of Y-USA worked, it was really very siloed. It was that we send that group money and they go do what they do in other countries; we don't even need to mess with it. There was no real integration, embracing or acceptance that it's part of what we do at the Houston Y, it was part of what we do at any Y.
It's so amazingly evolved that for me to see the way it was when I did it and the way it is now with global centers of excellence. Ys are trying to be global centers of excellence—they want to be designated as such because it helps their own business case in their own communities because they're open to immigrants from other countries and their Y is accepting of them.
It's so different. It was not considered an experience that would assist you if you didn't have an experience in revenue-generating programs; maybe we just don't need you. I had to get past that; I had to say, "That's what I did then,” because Houston was Houston. At that time, it was growing by two branches a year—massive growth and revenue generation—an incredibly successful Y. It was easy to get in because they were growing so fast they needed so many staff.
Regardless of the fact that I had these two years in another country, I also had the two years in Illinois. I could get in and I just did my regular physical director thing. With their refugee work, they were very internationally oriented. Those were the kind of people I gravitated to—the staff who worked in that area—and as the Houston Y also evolved, people like Reid and others on that staff brought the Houston Y into the more open. The refugee program was really, really well done and still is—Jeff Watkins is doing it now.
I was able to get on the metro international committee for Houston when I was a program director, but that's because I had been in another country. It was like, "Hey, whoa. Let's bring her on." I got other experiences because of that. Meanwhile, staying main stream, staying, "What's the pathway to success here in this organization?" The pathway is clearly the way the guys do it; that's what we followed back then.
There were five of us on the Houston staff, five female program directors. We all hung out together. As jobs came open, we attempted to get and couldn't get them. It was a frustrating experience.
To move to the women's thing, as well, one day I went in to Bev Laws and said, "I want to be the assistant director of the downtown Y." What you needed—at that point, the downtown Y in Houston was all male—they still had not allowed women to be members. So to be the assistant director of a Y that was strictly male, he says, "You know it's still all male, right?" "Yeah, but I have all these qualifications." Bev looked at me and said, "I have a place for you and I have a plan; this isn't it. You need to trust me." I said, "Okay."
I walked away from that job without pitching a fit. The person who got that job was Jim Ferber who vacated a branch and then I got Jim Ferber's job. I became the first female branch exec in Houston. That was a big deal.
It was, you go to the branch board interview, but Bev and Gary Nichols had already decided that this is the Y that we're going to put a woman. It's inside the loop, it's by the medical center, it's safe when she goes out at night—these are guys. Bev came from Mississippi who had a vision of women and what they were supposed to do. Bless his heart; he saw what he needed to do. I was the recipient of his sought of moving into the twentieth century in terms of getting women in management.
In what year did you take that management role?
'79, 1979, so three years—maybe it was '80. It might have been '80, I don't know. I was in Houston from '76 until '89, so somewhere in there I went from the physical director at Cossaboom into the branch exec at Southwest. That was a big deal.
At that point I enrolled in graduate school at the University of Houston because I could see that if I wanted to stay in this organization, I needed to be more qualified than the guys. I went I enrolled and got my MBA. When I finished getting my MBA, I decided to get my CPA. I did that whole thing while being a branch exec; I did it at night.
I moved from the Southwest Y to a bigger Y. This is how you do it in Houston. You go like this, all while still doing the MBA and the CPA and when I finally got the CPA, I sent Bev Laws an invitation to my graduation. He said, "So maybe now you can finally balance your budget." I'll never forget that. I said, "Bev, that has nothing to do with it."
Bev and I had an interesting relationship; in the end, I think I saw him two weeks before he died, because Reid and I used to go to Houston a couple of times a year just to see Bev. He was our, my role model even though he was a southern gentleman—the ultimate. He taught me so much.
That was, that's a little bit about the women part, a little bit about the career part. After the big Y in Houston I went to metro; I was the director of program development on the metro staff, and after that I went to Dayton and worked for Reid as vice president of operations. Then we got married; maybe we got married before. I can't remember.
We met in Houston in the Y. He went to Dayton; I followed to Dayton a couple of years later. I was the VP of operations. I did not work for Reid; I worked for the executive committee and at the same time passed the CPA exam and got licensed. I was a licensed CPA so I did finance in operations for Dayton.
Reid get the Detroit job. I stayed in Dayton an extra year because we had an agreement with the board that whoever left, the other one would stay an extra year. It was because they were worried that if both of us left, they would be without a CEO and a COO. The day Reid started in Detroit, our child turned one. He was living in Detroit; I was living in Dayton and we had a one-year-old. That was fun.
After a year the Ann Arbor job came open. I got the Ann Arbor job and we've lived in Ann Arbor—he commuted to Detroit—and I've been the CEO of Ann Arbor for twenty years. He was the CEO of Detroit for twenty years.
We did look at other things. He looked at going back to Houston when Bill Phillips left, but you know we were locked in here. I was in Ann Arbor and it was working. He was there and it was working, so we ended up staying.
Would you tell me a little bit about your time in Ann Arbor?
Yeah. I got to Ann Arbor in 1996; it was right after the Y had lost a law suit. It was a nightmare. As a CPA—and I tell all of the students that I teach fiscal management, "Never go into a Y without checking the balance sheet." Of course they look at you like, "What the heck's a balance sheet?"
But the liquidity ratio was almost zero. There was more debt than there was cash; there was no cash, and they had a very bad reputation. They had just lost a law suit which required them to run a residence for ten years on behalf of the City of Ann Arbor.
I come into this as CEO; I've got a hundred rooms occupied by mental health patients, and it's being operated as an apartment and not a hotel. Lots and lots of law suits and nastiness. We ended up sorting everything out. The Y had just not been run as a Y for a long time. That Y pulled out of the National Movement in the '60s as many Ys on the west coast of Michigan did. No one's told you that; it was not good. And so there are a lot of Ys in Michigan.
Can I pause you there and we can say, "They pulled out of there?"
They said, "We don't want to be a Y." They stopped paying dues and so they weren't a Y. They called themselves the Y; I don't know about the other ones in Michigan like Muskegon, but Ann Arbor called themselves a Y, with quotations around it, and they didn't use the cocktail glass logo; they used a Y like this with a triangle in the middle.
They didn't pay dues from 1960 until 1993. In '93 the Y-USA said, "Either get back in or stop using the term ‘Y’." So they got back in. Then I came in '96. Know that from '61-ish until '93, there was no Y-USA influence to the Ann Arbor Y. They weren't getting trained.
And they didn’t, I can tell anyone that the value of Y-USA could be captured if you look at that Y when I got there in '96; they didn't know how to be a Y. They made the decision because they thought they could use the money better. It was, I can't even speak to why they made it or who made it; I just know how bad it was for that Y and how much we suffered from it for years from Y-USA's attitude to Ann Arbor because we were really persona non grata with Ann Arbor's lack of training and information about how to run a Y.
That's where I had to come in and make it a Y again; I mean just get everybody to P&P. I was a P&P trainer, for heaven's sakes. Nobody there had been P&P; they hadn't been in the retirement fund. They didn't know anything about being a Y. When we started doing the Y stuff you know, it works. My board's thinking I'm a magician. We just did the stuff you do that hadn't been done before.
And so, we started repairing membership, wearing shirts and nametags and greeting members. The stuff that was no big deal—it wasn't brilliant. It wasn't magic. It was what you're supposed to do. It just started working. And that, one of those things was an annual campaign. Never had they done an annual campaign. So the very first year I was there, '96, I said, "We're going to do this." We didn't start it until May.
May, we had an annual campaign. I had three teams and our goal was $25,000. I had these board members who said to me—when I interviewed, I'm like, "I don't think I'm coming here. This is a career killer." They're like, "We used to have a good Y and we want to have a good Y again. You tell us what to do." So, I did; and they did it.
I said, "We have to have an annual campaign; we have to have teams. You guys have to go ask for money and I'm going to teach you how to do it." We did it. We had a goal of $25,000. In one month we started it May 10, ended it June 10; we raised $35,000. They were so excited and we did it again and again and again.
And now we raised $400,000 a year. And that was the beginning of, "Okay, we get it." No one in Ann Arbor knew that the Y did good stuff because they never went and asked for money. If you don't go say, "Would you give so our kids could go to camp, or so we can do the scholarship program?" People don't know that you do that stuff.
They just knew us from the law suit and from the fight we had with the City of Ann Arbor. So, all of that stuff had to go away; it just took years. Eventually we did feasibility studies and we made a decision to build a new building, to get out the residence business and to build a new building.
And so, we raised $12 and a half million, sold our old building, coincidentally, to the City. We built the building—and $18 million facility a half mile from the old one. And within the first week we went from 2,000 members to 5,000. It was enormously successful. That's the second half of the Ann Arbor Y history. It's from 2005 on.
From 2005 on the Ann Arbor Y has done every national program that comes on the list. We are first in line for GOO, first in line for PHC, first in line for GCE, first in line for everything. Because we have this fabulous facility, zero debt and we have members that want to come. When you've got that kind of face, you can do all the other great stuff. That's the Ann Arbor Y now.
The Ann Arbor Y pre-2005—no one would recognize it. There are some board members who are still around who say, "How did we get to this?" It's magnificent. To me, it's the best Y in the country. It was a battle and it was hard, but it was all worth it.
The best things in life are going to be a little bit hard.
That's right. Yep. I'm so sorry that I never can use that experience because there were so many experiences that I learned so much from; but now, you know I'm done.
One of the other things that you touched on was when you were closing down the old facility, selling it and preparing for the new one, you stopped the residency program. Would you share a little bit about that process?
Yeah. So that was important because it was 100 rooms; we had 80 men and 20 women. The other interesting thing about this Y is that in the late '50s, this YM merged with the YW. We became the YM and YW which is why we had a floor of women residents. Most YMCAs don't have a floor of women residents. We had a floor of women because it was part YM and part YW. The YW dissolved as an organization in Ann Arbor at some point in the ‘60s. It became back to the Y again; it was a merged.
For us to get out of the residence business, we had to assure the City because the City was most concerned about what was going to happen to the hundred people. That we would continue to run this until the City made arrangements. We had this working agreement with the City.
The City bought our building; they basically bought the hundred rooms. We continued to manage it as the Y. We had the residence director and we were taking care of everything, but we were running our new building over here a half mile away.
The City made the decision that the building was too old, the boilers too erratic that they couldn't keep operating it. The City made the decision to shut it down. In the end we didn't have to deal with moving out a hundred people; they did. We were the staff people who were facilitating it, but we didn't have the reputation issues that so many Ys have had. In Dayton we had, in Rockford we had when we closed residences. It was the City's thing.
Actually, the City did a good job in relocating everyone. We were busy over here with our 7,000 new members but we were still running the residence. We really did get a lot of good press because we kept going with it. It was hard for us because those hundred people were our people.
The City ended up placing them into various places around the community. It was a surprise to us; we thought they were going to keep going for awhile but they shut it down in October. We moved out in April and they shut it down in October. They didn't even get through a winter.
We were out of it completely—it's a 24/7. When it gets cold you have to worry about the heat in the rooms; when it's hot, it wasn't air conditioned and we worried about—and we had numbers of suicides while I was the CEO that we had to deal with. These are people who have lots of problems and we weren't providing social services.
We were providing a room. It's hard to draw the line. They're living there; they're living together. They share bathrooms. There's a lot of social work that has to be done but we weren't getting any funds to do social work. Our staff was struggling with that. It's a tough business.
It sounds like it. During your time at the Y... entered into Houston. Could you speak to some of that?
Yeah. It has changed a lot with a lot of effort, actually. Personally, I think that there's so much more that still needs to be done. Some of us back in the '70s just wouldn't let it go, wouldn't stop. Some of the roles that women had on corporate staffs back then were HR, and you could see that that was the target—that was the niche—that's were women were going to go.
That's why I got a CPA; I thought, "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to get something that guys don't have." There weren't very many CPAs in the Y at the time. By getting that degree and that certification allowed me to be in the room when CEO jobs came open.
Volunteers are hiring CEOs and volunteers know what a CPA is. They don't know what a senior director is. They know that you’ve got an MBA and a CPA so you must have done these things. Even with a CPA you can't balance a budget if you don't have money. It's a crazy thing to think. You do understand the financial picture.
It's a much more sellable job as a woman to have that certification because no matter who the interview committee is, they know where you've been. That's why I got it; not because I think that accounting is exciting or fabulous and I've never practiced in an accounting firm and I never will. I got it because it's a certification that's recognizable and that would get me the next job.
Getting a CEO job as a woman in the Y is not easy. You're almost always hired by men—at least back then. Now there are more women in volunteer roles in the Y and so there's more likelihood that a committee will be made up of women. Women will have more of a shot at it. There's still not that many women in the YNAN or in the metro 30 or the urban group or whatever they used to be called. It's still not an easy thing to do, to push that forward.
Twenty years ago, were there many other women CEOs?
There weren’t. No. There were hardly any. There was Paula Gavin in New York who became my closest friend, besides Reid. There were a few in smaller Ys, but there weren't very many. It's kind of hard to find; there are a few more now—there's a lot more now.
The growth of child care is what brought the number of women in professional roles over the 50 percent mark. There are people—men probably—who know the minute that happened when there were more female professionals in the Y than males. That's because child care became such a great new program.
Most of the professional staff were female. Otherwise, I don't think we would be even at a 50 percent mark. I think that maybe in the program director area are sort of on equal footing now. My assessment of it is that it is. I think it's still difficult to go to the next levels to get the movement upwards for women.
We've come a long way; there's still a long way to go.
We have. Yes. One of the people who brought us a long way was Solon Cousins. He really pushed to get more women in management roles and at Y-USA and in executive roles. I loved him for that.
During your time it seems like the perception in international work stateside has also changed.
Yes. It has. It's great. I'm loving the way it has moved. It started with the decentralizing, if you will, of international from 101. It became area movement so there was the European area that was stationed in Cleveland, and the Caribbean was in St. Louis, and Portland or Seattle had the Asian. They decentralized it that way.
Then they decentralized it by saying local Ys, you should identify the country you want to be with and what makes sense to you locally, and then you establish a relationship with it. That's what we did in Houston. We decided that Brazil was going to be our country. Reid was on the metro staff at the time so we would go lobby to him to—we were not married and/or dating at the time—get a partnership with Brazil.
We started doing some exchanges with camps. We sent somebody over there for two years. He was our first person to live there. They sent someone to us. It became more local. We knew the guy who was in Brazil and the programs he was doing so we could support that Y because we had this person there. Then we had their ICCPs come over and we knew them. That started making all of the global stuff more local. It was still all about that country. It was less about you here and more about that country.
I was selected to be on the national board in 2004 when the national board was reconstituted. There were five CEOs selected—and there still are five on the national board. So me, Kevin Washington, Fred Hauser, Neil Nicoll and Gloria—what was her last name? We were the five first ones on the national board.
My committee on the national board was international. In that role, we spent a lot of time in the international committee trying to figure out how to make—when Neil became the CEO, he was really fixated on making it more local. That's when we identified what we called GCEs.
We actually patterned the GCE project after PHC—after Pioneering Healthier Communities. We said, "Let's get ten Ys who we know are really good at international work and let's have standards for the kinds of things that they do. After that, we'll try to get more." That's how it started.
One of the elements of being a GCE is local newcomer work. You can't be a GCE unless you are doing local newcomer work. The newcomer work is what really brings it home. As these GCEs have grown to now over 90, all these Ys in the country are seeing the global work for what it is and for the fact that it does connect to what we're doing at home.
It's gone to the level that we really wanted it to. Now it is really is very personal. There are many Ys that have three or four Ys that they're partners with that they have relationships with—some of the bigger Ys, which is really, really great.
I love the way that you just captured that in just a few short minutes and took that evolution that seemed like 20 to 25 years.
It was. Yes. Actually it was 35 years. I think there's some of the best staff there. One of your questions was, "What should all leaders be aware of?" We didn't even get into what all new YMCA employees should know. By the way, they all should know how to read a balance sheet. That's one of the things they should know.
I think the diversity of our country is so relevant to local Ys, and our diversity and inclusion division, as well as our international division have the resources to really assist local Ys. We have to become aware of the fact that this is happening. We need to get on board and get into it. It's really exciting that more and more Ys are doing it. It's one of the key things that I think all Y leaders should know. This is here and happening.
What else should Y leadership know?
Young staff who come to work for us—when I came to work for the Y, I came to work for the Y because I was a PE major and I could use my skills and I didn't have to teach school. I think that young staff now come to the Y because they want more out of a job than Bank of America gives them. They want to do something that's meaningful. They come to us for that.
We as leaders need to be aware of why they come to us; we need to make that happen for them. Not overwhelm them with the fact that—I mean they do need to meet their budget and that's always very critical—but I think if we lose sight of the fact that they came here for a greater purpose, then they're not going to stay; they're going to go someplace else where that greater purpose is emphasized.
The fact that we do have global partners—even if they don't go to Haiti, that's our partner—they know that we do. They know that we're doing things. We have fund-raisers and events. We send our soccer balls there. That's good; it makes them feel like they're a part of something that's really changing the world as well as their communities. That's another thing leaders need to keep in mind.
Don't stop learning. That's something that happens to us as we get into our thing. “I'm the CEO so I've got this.” Whether it's Y conferences or trainings or not, many of us have the opportunity to do things that are really outside of Y conferences and Y learning. Get that extra learning.
We are in such an environment of recruiting volunteers that if we aren't present in some of those places where this knowledge is being disseminated, then we miss out on our access to some really smart, active and in-the-know kind of volunteers.
My thing is, just get outside of our Y circle, once you're an organizational leader and you keep all your stuff up to date. Get outside of us and do all the other things in your community that allow you to learn. Then you will meet those people who are so very key.
I think that a strong board is it. That's trite; it's said over and over again. You can mess the whole thing up if you don't keep that board cutting edge and really into what you're doing—trained and passionate. You just can't do that by getting the friend of this guy. You've got to get outside of that and get those other people who are not already in the circle.
Getting folks that are in line with your strategic direction that you want to take the organization in.
Right. Yes. Know what that is, what that strategic direction is. Find strategic direction; know where you want to go.
What about all new employees? What's something that they should know?
I have a whole bunch of those. As an MBA, I really believe they need to understand the financials. I think a lot of times we get staff who don't realize that we have to generate the revenue; somebody doesn't just give it to us. Your job is organizing youth sports classes and we have to generate the revenue.
As John Preis used to say, "No money, no mission." If you haven't been able to generate—and it's not commonly understood by new staff—that you're responsible for the new revenue. We can't do this job, we can't pay our staff—especially if they come from a park district or some of those recreation backgrounds—they haven't had the experience of needing to be the revenue generator.
It's always a mind-blowing experience to find out that you have to write a budget which is no big deal, but you're also supposed to bring the money in that supports that budget.
I think they need to get used to and excited about raising money. They shouldn't be afraid of it. I trained every single one of my staff to love it; they better love it.
How do you do that? How do you train them to do it?
You train them how to do it so it's not scary; that's why people don't like to fund raise. They're afraid of it. If you teach them how to talk to someone about the youth sports program that you love and how many kids it would help if they helped, it's really, really easy because you're talking about something that you love doing.
Also, in the way we raise money, we're supporting volunteers who are asking. I know a lot of Ys the staff raise the money and that's not the right way to do it. It's the staff finding the passion in volunteers and helping them learn how to do it. It's getting the staff comfortable with the fact that raising money is okay, and asking the volunteer to do it is not something that you should be afraid to do.
That volunteer is asking for something to do to be helpful. The secret is in teaching them how to do it easily and well so it becomes so natural. When we raise $12 million for the capital campaign, we'd never done a capital campaign in Ann Arbor. The chair of the campaign was so committed to this that he and I made every single call together. When he described what we were doing and why we were doing it, these people were asking us to give. "Can we be a part of this?"
You can do it if you learn the technique. The Y has the right technique, I think. They just need to get past that horror that fund-raising supposedly is. The sooner they do it, the more successful they're going to be because the most successful Ys CEOs are the ones who do not have a problem raising money. I had to get over it. I thank the people in Houston who got me over it.
The other thing they need to learn how to do is to be able to handle complaints. It's hard if you are a new staff person when someone complains to you about something. You just want to run away and hide; that's why it all goes wrong and ends up with me.
It's hard to do; it's hard to not take it personally. They need to learn how to not take it personally and to turn it around, to be empathetic and to be able to fix it. At our new staff orientation, that's what we spend the most time on. With 7,000 members, not everybody's going to be happy all the time. It's funny the way that happens.
It's just one of the things that new staff do not know how to do and they do not want to do. The more people it gets pushed onto, the madder the person gets and the harder it is to handle. That's not very inspiring, but it's one of the things the new staff need to learn how to do.
They also need to learn how to ask for help. When you're hired, you think you need to know everything because you got hired so they must think you know it all. I've seen so many fail because they don't ask for help. The thing about the Y. We are one person away from knowing every single person.
Everybody's already done it all, so we just have to ask someone who might know someone else who might know how to do it. Some people—mostly male—tend to not ask for help and that gets them in trouble. New CEOs are equally at fault for that; they think, "I'm the CEO now; I just need to do everything." They get in trouble if they don't ask for help.
That's great advice. Ultimately, what does the YMCA mean to you?
The Y is sort of evolved for me from what it used to mean to me to what it means to me now. Now it is my family, literally and it's my family figuratively.
It's so funny that my mother thought that the Y was going to convert us; all of her daughters have worked for the Y or still do. My sister works for the Y in Atlanta. One worked for the Y in Richmond, one for the Y in Houston, my husband works for the Y. My brother-in-law has worked for the Y, and my son was in the Y from the time he was three weeks old. He has just spent the summer in South Africa working for the Y. It's become a part of who we are.
It's given me the opportunity to be a business person in an organization that does good. You cannot ask for anything else. Where else can you do that? An organization that has the opportunity and the ability to do good for all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. That's just in one city.
I still had the chance to run a business, to do a bond issue, to raise $12 million, to open a new building, to build it from the bottom up, to have 200 staff people and all of it under the umbrella of doing good.
It's a combination of those things that started with a place to teach where I didn't have to be in a public school and became a way of life that allows me to do the things that I'm most passionate about. That's the reason why I stayed in the Y.
If you're in a Y and you really like something and it doesn't happen at that Y, you can just start it. You can start a leaders' club even though they don't have one, or you can start a babies' swimming class if they don't have one. It's like golf. We're there for you and I hope we still are. We were when I was moving through my 43 years; we were. I hope that we still are. I try to be to my staff when they would say, "Can I do a beginning golf class?" Sure. Find a teacher and go for it.
This has been great. Is there anything I've not asked you about today that you'd like to share?
Probably millions of stuff. We are probably out of time. We are. It's dead on one o'clock. Did you get all the final questions?
Yes. This was fantastic. I want to thank you for agreeing to share your story, for being open with us for the sheer exuberance you have for the work of the Y. It really came through. I appreciate you taking the time.
Thanks for asking, Adam.