Adam Shilling

Begin interview. Today is March 15, 2016 and the time is 10:30 a.m. This is Adam Shilling from YMCA of the USA interviewing [Myrtis] Meyer. Myrtis, thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today.

Ms. Meyer

My pleasure.


Adam Shilling

So my first question for you is, could you tell us about your first YMCA experience?

Believe it or not, my first YMCA experience was interviewing for a position at YMCA of the USA. I found out about the job when I was visiting a basically Jane Addams Community Center and it was posted and I was confused because the, it was for national headquarters and I did know that I didn’t think there was a national headquarters in Chicago, so it was basically the year they were moving from New York to Chicago. The position was for associate director and I was just a year out of graduate school and I thought, “Well, I’m probably not quite qualified for that but I still want to try because it sounded so great.” And in fact, I did not get that position but I was a little curious because there was a director and there was an associate director but they didn't appear to be any staff.  So when I didn’t get that position, I wrote the executive director at the time, Jane – I mean the director of the research department, Jane Becker, and said if you ever get a staff position I, and this is I just loved what I heard about the organization and it's really what I want to do with my career. About two months later she said, “I have a staff position, do you want it?” So that was my first exposure to the Y basically other than the things that, because I grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio where there was no Y.

Ms. Meyer


Adam Shilling

And so what year was that?

Ms. Meyer

Well, I'm very bad at dates but I think it might have been – was it 1980? I mean it was the year that they moved to Chicago.


Adam Shilling

And that's the move from New York City to Chicago?

Ms. Meyer

Yeah, exactly.


Adam Shilling

And so it was with the research department?

Ms. Meyer

It was with the research department which at the time it was just three of us, I mean once I came on board.


Adam Shilling

And so what was that some of the things you were doing when you first came on board?

Okay, well at the time, it was pre-personal computer, so you can imagine what was involved in compiling the directory in statistical summary. So to be honest, that was basically all we did for the first year or two.

Ms. Meyer


Adam Shilling

And so you mentioned the directory and the statistical summary. Can I ask you first what the directory is?

Ms. Meyer

Well, the directory was the compilation of YMCA addresses and staff at the exempt level.


Adam Shilling

And that’s something that was managed by the research department?

It was. Well, there was one point where I believed it was managed by the records management department but then it came to us and I think , again I'm very bad at timeframes, so we had it for quite some time. I think we still have the statistical summary right but I don’t think research does the directory anymore.

Ms. Meyer


So why was it important to have that directory?

Adam Shilling

Well, that was the only way Ys could reach out and it was the one , at the time, it was the one thing that made sense to be centralized out of Y-USA and I think it was very popular. Well, I think probably there was the staff – we didn’t compile this, but the vacancy list was probably by far the most popular, but it is a similar thing if you wanted to reach out to colleagues, then that was the only way to do it. 

Ms. Meyer


Adam Shilling

Sort of like the YMCA phone book.

Ms. Meyer

Right, it was the YMCA phone book, exactly.


Adam Shilling

And so the statistical summary, could you describe that?

The statistical summary at the time as I recall was basically the first few pages. It would be the national statistics, meaning what is our budget size and I think we were well under well under a billion dollars, when I started. And so it would be what's the distribution of our revenue sources and our expenses at the national level, and then I believe we had the same thing basically for each local association. So you can imagine pre – I mean pre-personal computer that was quite an undertaking.

Ms. Meyer


Adam Shilling

So how did you go about gathering that information?

Well, that is a good question. It all had to come in by paper which – and then we used mainframe. We wound having to convert everything to I think punch cards, it's what they were called. And I wound up having to take the bus or the cab to University of Illinois Circle campus and work with the mainframe.

Ms. Meyer


Adam Shilling

So there wasn’t even a computer here at YMCA?

No, no, no, no, no nothing. I know it's very hard to imagine.

Ms. Meyer


And so how long did it take to compile that statistical summary?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

It took months. It really did, it took months. And I think it may still take a long time. I don’t know, I mean for the, I mean, even when I left it was quite a horrendous ordeal even.


Adam Shilling

And so could you describe a little bit of your initial impressions of what it was like to first start working at Y USA? What was the culture like?

That is a good question. At the time, I think I was 27 and I was the youngest professional staff person. So that was a little odd but I really liked Jane Becker, the director, and she and I had a good relationship. I certainly fairly earlier on met other sort of kindred spirits and so I would say it was a good culture, but I think the interesting thing is for anyone coming in from a local association, it probably seems like a very bizarre, sterile atmosphere, but for those of us who hadn’t experienced a local association it was really, I thought, a great culture.

Ms. Meyer


And so why would it be bizarre to someone from the local Y?

Adam Shilling

Well, from what we were even saying earlier, the fact that we’re used just to a lot of activity and a lot of motion and people coming and going, then this is very, very sort of quiet and because, I can't remember if this is true initially, but so many people at Y-USA travel all the time. So you walk through the halls and it's probably still the case. Any given day, you might only have 25% of the people around, so that would just lend to a feeling sort of being sterile and not really a lively place. But under Solon, I will say; now Solon Cousins, I do have some fun stories. Solon Cousins was brilliant and he really I think did know how to treat his staff at least at the, I was part of the cabinet at that point. So in terms of the top staff, the department heads, he would take us to – we would have one or two really great staff retreats each year.

I think in the summer it was like in Geneva and winter it would be at some golf resort like the Doral in Miami or something, and spouses were included and of course my husband loved that because he’s a great golfer, and so that’s all he cared about. He got to do golf.  And so, and we would play really fun games. It was interesting, Solon would always leave right after diner which we always thought was a little weird, but I just think that that was his way of just letting staff bond without the presence of the CEO. So he, I think at least through the management staff, he really created I think a fun culture. And then Dave, well, we’re jumping all around. Dave Mercer came in and he was the – he had been the CEO of San Francisco and I think he too kept that sort of sense of fun. During both those periods – and both of them I felt really trusted their staff to do their jobs and they allowed us an enormous amount of autonomy.

So I was really able to grow the research department in a way that was pretty phenomenal I think at the time that would not have been able to happen under the subsequent CEOs whatsoever.

Ms. Meyer


And so you entered the organization in really like a project management capacity, working with the directory and the statistical summary and then eventually came to lead the research department. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well, my first project, that wasn’t related to creating – working with the directory was trying to help local Ys, local associations, do their own data collection because obviously there’s a lot of important data that couldn’t necessarily be centralized particularly at the time, so I created something called the data collection for decision making. It was like it came in a green, evergreen box sort of, it should be around some place because it is – it's a pretty important document in terms of what was happening at that point in terms of trying to understand. So my feeling was – the way I set it up was localized need to be getting information at all points from there major constituents.

 So as I recall, there was just a sample membership application. But you know, it’s a very funny because even back in 1980, whenever this was, we were recommending that Ys ask for income and race and ethnicity. We make it optional but of course no one did and that’s probably not changed. But had they done that, we could have been able to collect that but no one did. I mean, and some of them used, I mean, these were basically boiler-plates, so it included a simple membership application form it included the very first membership satisfaction survey that I'm aware of. Included program evaluations survey, so just things like that that each Y could take and modify for its own use because it wasn’t – at this point the intent was not to centralize data collection. The intent was simply to let them collect data that would help them make better decisions. So that was my first major project.


Can you remember anything about those first membership in program satisfaction surveys?

Adam Shilling

Well, I mean, I think they were pretty good. That’s all I could remember. I mean, I think we would ask, I mean, there’s so much thought that went into it and if could look at one of them, it would obviously stimulate my memory, but once again I think in terms of membership, we were trying to get at obviously what's your overall satisfaction and then we might have figured out 10 or maybe five to 10 things that we thought were important for membership in general, what's the quality of the relationship with staff, and then of course there was enormous amount more work put into that later on as we did decide it made sense to centralize that in particular.  It also had a staff satisfaction survey, so that was my very first project. And from that – I mean, not beyond the statistical summary and the directory.

From that, then you just sort of had some natural developments, what with the advent of the computer more easily accessible, then we said, “Okay, then let's try to create a service where we all –” Because the problem is, Ys might be able to – at the time, they might have sent off their membership satisfaction surveys but they didn’t have the capacity to process them themselves. And even if they did, that wouldn’t give them any benchmarks, so the concept was we would do this nationally and then we would let them know, “Okay, 30 percent of your members thought you were excellent and that might sound good but actually, the national average is 80 percent, so that’s not so great,” that kind of thing.

So that became another major, major function of the research department. And then I think we went on to do staff satisfaction but you can imagine that was not nearly as popular. So I think those were the only two at the time that we were doing centrally and that took a lot of – that was a lot of effort too and that really absorbed probably more time than it should have. And then overtime of course we brought in a third party vendor, Bill Lazarus. That really worked very well for quite some time and then apparently went south unfortunately.

Ms. Meyer


So can you tell me a bit about when you brought in Bill, like how was he identified? Was there a?

Adam Shilling

How did that happen? I think that I ran into him at a conference, at a YMCA conference where he was talking about, I will never forget this. He was talking about the difference between fixed price and marginal pricing and he compared car washes to hotdog stands. Funny what you do remember, but it was a brilliant analysis of how Ys have fixed cost and they don’t recognize that sometimes. And, you know, so you can add a lot of members without really enhancing your fixed cost. And so we hit it off immediately and I think that I might have even had something like sort of research advisor committee and he was on it. I also felt that he did it – so I think somehow, he wound up being the person that I turn to, to basically take over the membership satisfaction surveys because they were just getting to be too burdensome here in the research department and what was so, and also, he was a brilliant data analytics person with a PhD from MIT.

I didn’t know much about data analytics, so the thing that he did that I most regret that we didn’t get to leverage is he had all the membership files in the, all the membership files, and I kept trying to tell anybody who would listen, we can use this for direct mail, we can use, there was so much potential there. And so he had something called the, and he was able to – because he had membership files, he was able plot the addresses of the members of each local Y. He developed the concept of primary market area which was, this was all virgin, virgin research. I mean, you can imagine how it was impossible to have done before geocoding and before computers, so it was really – I think a lot of Ys benefited from it tremendously. I was all keen on it going just more and more leveraging of that collective database but the day after I left, things just sort of went south unfortunately.

Ms. Meyer


And so you mentioned some retreats with Solon. Was he the president when you started or was he?

Adam Shilling

Yes, yes, he was – and he had been I think – he had a certainly a Y background. I believe he had been a director of the Boston Y at one point but I think he most recently had come from United Way of Chicago. It was interesting. He had good Ys – he had terrific YMCA credentials but he also had some external not for profit experience. He was a brilliant speaker. I was pretty young and naïve so I didn’t quite recognize all these strengths when I just started but it became clear overtime. One of the people who I hired Charlie Firke became sort of a legend in the movement and he and I were pretty good team together, and even though I supposedly supervised him it was actually – he managed up but we did – we had fun together.

Ms. Meyer


Absolutely. I think that’s so important, that’s having people that you can trust and that you have good relations.

Adam Shilling

Yeah, and he was brilliant. This I will say, and I think anyone who has met him could tell you, Charlie Firke at my estimation could have done anything and been brilliant. He could have been a physicist, he could have been a surgeon, he could have been – you name it but he, for whatever reason, he chose to put his prodigious intellect towards helping Ys and leverage their, the collective wisdom knowledge of Ys. So what was ironic at the time – and he knew how to brand himself. I had no idea what he was doing but he started wearing red high tops to all YMCA conferences. And so he became known as Charlie Firke red high tops as part of his personal brand, and he had long wild hair and a beard. I mean, and like, and they were times when he was brought in by the CEO of the Prattville Alabama YMCA and shared the dais with the superintendent of police in Prattville, Alabama and that’s part of the magic of the YMCA.

He particularly – I think it was Charlie's influence that helped, between what was called BFS at the time, building and furnishing and services, between the leadership in that department and Charlie, there was this increasing recognition of the role that the facility, people play in the Y, I mean at the national level and Charlie just began to do a lot of brilliant work about, around facility issues too in terms of research. So anyway, so getting back to – so then there was the development of membership satisfaction and that took off. And then there was this similar service for staff satisfaction and under Bill, more and more around evaluation as well. He was the one who helped with the day care and I don’t know whether any of this still is happening or whatever but – and then there was this time before the internet. So remember, this is all before computers, before internet and even before 1-800 numbers.  We used to say, “Don’t ever call this because it wasn’t free for advice.”

But then there was something that – Tom Massey became I think the director of program around the time, by this time and he was approached by somebody whose name I think was Bob Lowell who had something called telecommunications network and this was pre-internet, but it was the same concept that you could go on to a computer and be part of a network of information. So that got us thinking and maybe even prior to that I think we just decided maybe once we did have 1-800 numbers that major, major role for the research department would be to answer questions that Ys have.  I mean, it's just very – it wasn’t anything academic. It was just very driven. It's just very practical in which is I think of appropriate reflection of the Y which is a very practical Movement. So way back, I mean, we probably couldn’t find us a place – 10, 15 years ago we were trying to help Ys understand what to do with transgenders around locker room issues and then we would write-up answers to that and it want based on what we believed, it was based on what Y staff told us that that they were doing.  

And so that’s why I think they really liked the research department increasingly because they knew that we were just trying to give them the best – the sort of collective wisdom of the best Y thinkers. So we would start – I mean, I don’t – gosh, I don’t remember how many essential FAQs before the term FAQs had been invented. Our client – we were just doing that.

Ms. Meyer


So how did you go about finding out what the – those best or best practices were from Ys?

Adam Shilling

It was basically a lot of just instinct because I mean, you know – and to be honest, I think that we had a particular point of view which we could cloak so that if one of the questions of course was “How do you define membership and do you allow gay families?” And we just happened to have a lot of really good examples of where that had been successful. I don’t know if we even talked about where it happened. I will be honest about that, that we would – I mean, that would be one example. But you know – that’s what I'm saying, those were the kinds of, there wasn’t per-se a right or wrong answer.

This wasn’t evidence-based stuff at the time, or it would be something like is it better to lease or to purchase equipment? So it wasn’t always political about – and I often would also say, which I thought was true, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to use the term family to bundle your pricing, just – that’s not smart.  If you’re in the south or someplace where that could be controversial, then just don’t do it, sort of things like that, but these were issues that nobody had ever documented, they never talked about in except for the conferences and so I think that was a whole.

Ms. Meyer


Seana Hasson who is currently the Senior Director of Resource and Evaluation, I believe that I’ve heard her say, and this is like one of your management quotes, is that Myrtis had a rule that if you needed to know what was happening in the movement, you could talk to I believe it's eight associations.

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

You know, I did begin to feel that because – and that used to be a lot of fun for me. I would call execs and just talk with them about what was keeping him up at night, and I really did begin to feel patterns would set in after I talk about eight to 10 execs. I also felt that for research purposes, the best Ys to actually work with were the mid-sized Ys.


And why is that?

Adam Shilling

I think because you can be – you can, usually it's one Y in one town. It's not like a major association where it’s really hard to sort of understand what's going on and our association is large. There is Chicago for instance or you maybe Pittsburgh, and I just think they had – they were sort of the independent Ys, like that we are sort of the – they had the best opportunities to really thrive, because they often weren’t the only game in town. They weren't facing the same level of competition, so just for a research perspective. I guess I should say not that they were easier but they usually had some of the best practices to try to document.

So we started out – so this concept of giving answers, we even promoted ourselves as 1-800 ask research I believe and that’s pretty successful and we had, it was very funny way because under – see, Charlie was very funny and that helped enormously and under David Mercer, his sort of tag line for YMCA was legendary service that YMCA of the USA was supposed to provide. Legendary service, so our tagline was, “If we don’t know the answer, we’ll make it up moving from merely legendary to truly mythical.” So Ys love that because we were not taking ourselves – I mean, we’re taking ourselves, the work, seriously but they thought, “Oh my God, the research department with a sense of humor.”

And before I would always have, I’ve never heard –what is a research and planning department do? And so we actually did a good job I think of becoming much better known, and because Charlie was such a good speaker, turned out to be a good speaker, he would go on to, and then I got to be better, then we were both asked to go to a lot of conferences and so we were able to get the word out about and then he started basically – of something called the YMCA trend report which was also hugely successful.

Ms. Meyer


Can you tell us something about the trend report?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Uh-huh. Yeah, there should be plenty of copies around, but we did initially is we just took some of the major operational areas of YMCAs and it would be like facilities, fundraising, membership, program, each of the major program areas, and we talked about what were the external trends affecting those particular areas and what were the internal YMCA trends. And we’d usually just one page per area and it was hugely successful. When we were doing sort of surveys of Y-USA that was the most highly rated publication of Y-USA at the time.

And then overtime, field consultants, what they were called field consultants; they’re now called resource directors I think. Those trends could actually be embedded into a lot of their strategic planning, so that was great. And then, you know, as it happens Lynne Vaughan, who was my boss when I was leaving I think she, there’s no question that she appreciated the trend report. I think she wanted to make it better but in so doing, she took it away from the person who was doing at the time and who was brilliant at it. I think people thought that it as easier than it was. It was really a major under taking. When she tried to make it better it and without the use of Anne Feeney, it's sort of stayed.


So can I ask you, so the transition from Solon to Dave, knowing that you’ve been here at Y-USA for a while, I think were there four or five CEOs?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

There was, I was trying to remember that myself, there was Solon Cousins, and there was Dave Mercer, and then there was Ken Gladish and then there was Neil Nicoll and now there is Kevin. But I was already gone by the time Kevin.


So you were here for four and so it means you went through three transition processes. Could you describe the ways to keep the measurement strategies and the practices of the research department, and just research within an organization consistent during those transition times or even during changes in strategic direction?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

I'm not sure I understand the question.


So if I could rephrase it, as CEOs transition out and the new one comes in, if they have a change in organizational direction. If they want to begin doing new and different types of things, how does the research department still maintain some of the things that it was historically measuring with the things that are coming on board new?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Yeah that is a good question. I don’t know if I am answering it exactly, but I'm sure we will get to that. One thing that I sort of began to understand, see what's interesting for me is I didn’t have a counter part in the Y basically. And you are understanding that yourself now that you now know very few associations have researchers right.

So it was always fascinating to me when I would sometimes – there was a group probably still exists called the National Assembly. And it would bring together affiliate groups. Like so I would be meeting once or twice a year with the directors of United Way of America, Boys and Girls club, Girl’s scouts, Boy’s scouts. And it was fascinating to us that we all sort of felt the same issues. And one was that for most parts we weren’t being used strategically we were never brought in at a strategic level.

And also that we were maintaining a lot of important infrastructure data but no one you know, it’s just like you don’t appreciate the plumbing until it goes bad, and then you really understand how important it is. So I think because that was sort of hidden we, we were able to continue the infrastructure research. But it was – it’s still very time consuming and there is never – and when I talk to Seana I cannot believe some of the same issues are going on in terms of data collection. This wishful thinking that we could magically conjure up two million low income African-American kids. You cannot do that unless the Ys are collecting it.

I mean and so there are things like – so that sometimes becomes an issue, I would say more the issue in the change of administrations was the desire for data that didn’t exist and that you cannot make up. And you just need to have a – and the truth is that there are different kinds of data or different kinds of participation. So you can collect certain things from members, it's almost impossible to collect from casual program participants. I mean I'm sure you're familiar with all of this so.

And I think like from what I can tell under Neil’s leadership, there was a lot more emphasis on national grants. So that obviously radically changed the research department. When I was working as the director we didn’t have that many national grants. So that didn’t really affect the research as much as I sense that it has happened under Neil. So there I guess you just had to keep on adding staff right.

What I don’t know if this is the case, but I sense, and this is something I think is really, really sad, that now the focus of the Y research department is on Y-USA supporting Y-USA and very, very little towards supporting local associations. Expect through – the assumption is that if you support Y-USA, but not in the same way that they would call us up and we would give them answers. I think that those days are over right.


Yeah In some ways I think they are, but in other ways they continue through some of the program evaluation support that you talked about.

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Yeah, so things were I think for Y getting back to culture they were wonderful under Dave Mercer because he really did, he really did trust us to do our jobs. And we still were able to have a lot of autonomy. But then when Ken Gladish came in everything changed and it sort of started – there was a deliberate attempt to I think create a more cohesive, sort of maybe brand of Y-USA and consolidation of a lot of newsletters.

And so we were told even though – again in our case our own newsletter was the most popular, most read publication in the movement. We were told we couldn’t do it anymore, there is going to be just one voice. So I think that was a pity and I think BFS had its own – I mean there are many highly valued newsletters that. Because the Y is a very diverse movement and so everyone you’d have different players reading different kind of newsletters. But, you know there would be noise, or we would get too much from YMCAs, but I think in a way I'm not so sure that was true.


So you talked about supporting local Ys compared to supporting the Y-USA direction. And I think recently we’ve seen a switch in the way that Y-USA really begins to interact with local Ys. And hoping to have really set the agenda to help distribute down to local Ys some of what the work they are going to be doing as opposed to it being more bottom up.

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Right, see I basically was opposed to that and still am. I mean from what I know. Because at least just historically, all the innovation has come from bottoms up and top down stuff has not necessarily succeeded.


Do you have any examples of like the top down? 

Adam Shilling

Well did Activate America succeed?

Ms. Meyer


I think the jury may still be out on it, but I think that there is iterations with some of the work, doing now.

Adam Shilling

I mean yeah, I would have to look it up, but I can give you quite a few examples I think of the national programs that did not succeed. And that’s not to say it couldn’t. But I think – if you think about it, it just makes I mean that what I think could be sort of crazy, I mean it’s worth attempting. But I used to think of Ys as 100's of, they were our laboratories. And so if a program like Y Indian Guide succeeded well it’s because it has stood the test of time.

And I'm not making a comment about the change, I'm not saying that that was good or bad I'm just saying there is a program that would have been bottoms up that had succeeded extremely well. So I always felt personally that our job was to enhance the capacity of local Ys, whatever it took to do that and not tell them what programs to run.

Ms. Meyer


And so outside of helping to produce things like the data collection for decision making and some of the other really strategic evaluation tools that you were working on. Do have any other examples of ways that during your time at Y USA you were helping to build that capacity locally?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well I do think that over time the trends kit really did because that as I said got in – well then also there was more products along strategic planning too. So again it was, it was how can you help Ys be more effective in strategic planning? How can you help them be more effective? And then there was that purple kit which was a little different than, I mean, it was another type of impact. But that was sort of how to take advantage of the at that time the search assets and deposit youth development and management that we were doing there.

See what else – I mean yeah we just virtually everything trying to help again everything was – we try to sort of systematically look at the fact. Okay, a major constituency is membership, so what can we do to support membership. Major constituency is staff, so what can we do to support staff. And even fundraising had we been able to do more through Seer analytics I think we would have been. Bill was developing some pretty good tools for fundraising at the local level.

Now I did think that it could make sense. Or for instance one thing I have always wanted to do, but again never got much traction, because there was usually slight tension between research and marketing which I think happens all the time, its just the nature of the beast. I felt that if I had been in charge of sort of enhancing Ys image I would have developed a local bragging kit. A kit that would let each Y brag about its own achievements instead of trying to do a national, because I said this to Kate, I've said this to everybody.

The idea that we could brand ourselves when there is absolutely no consistency. I mean the only reason I appreciate the Starbucks brand is because I know I'm going to get the same cup of coffee and we don’t have that level of consistency. Which I think is part of what makes the Y great too. So it helped work a little bit around risk management issues. Because I do think the Ys has really stepped up its game quite a bit in terms of risk management. So any kind of tool like that I think those are all important tools for increasing capacity.


As you were talking about those items, you mentioned that there is some natural discord between research and marketing, could you share more about that?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well I just think part of it is that, I mean at least here it would be that they wanted us to come up with data that didn’t exist.


And so how do you help prevent that from the research perspective?

Adam Shilling

Well I mean we try to help them tell a story and so some of the verbiage that I've seen around here like – although it’s interesting at one point. I mean it was the research department that started saying or I would go out and then it’s a very popular saying for me to say based on research. Ys are the largest membership association in the country. We are the largest provider of youth sports, we are the largest provider of camps, we are the largest provider of aquatics and they loved that.

But now I think there was – at some point maybe it was, came from down highway we weren't supposed to talk about how big we were for the tax challenge whatever I don’t know so. But that was all based on our research, we needed that essentially because we are one of the largest, the profits virtually anything 50% of Ys or more did. This sort of defactor or just provider of it and I worked with Neil a lot and I forget examples.

But we came up especially when, I mean, we would do whatever we could if, if the data existed, I think we were pretty good at creating a good story. And then Charlie – we tried to do a lot of use of history too and so I know there are a couple of papers, I don’t know if you’ve seen them, that were written back 20 years ago about the – sort of YMCA trivia turned into games at Y staff meetings.

But it was Charlie in particular who understood the historic relevance of residents and hotels YMCA hotels and our role in staff development or staff training. In secondary education, in Childcare and really documented a lot of that too.

Ms. Meyer


So you’ve talked about that there were four CEOs that you worked with here at Y-USA. If we could touch on the last CEO Neil you’ve mentioned working with him a couple times, what was it like to work with Neil?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well I didn’t work with him directly that much, he was really a very effective leader I think probably. But he used to say that – he’d say for every dollar you spend something on the staff level that’s one dollar less for a kid who is going to YMCA camp. 


So could you tell me more about that.

Adam Shilling

Well I mean, because I think as I feared initially too much emphasis was placed on the logo and that we wouldn’t have the abilities to actually govern the substantive aspect of it. I mean I don’t know about you but I work out at the Lake View Y every day and they're not the least bit logo compliant. Not the least bit. I can’t believe there is a Y in the country that’s logo compliant or if they are at what cost.

And then how do you get beyond that? I mean that’s trivia, the logo compliance should be the most insignificant aspect of it, it should be, and I just haven’t seen any change whatsoever from what. But again I went in with a negative attitude perhaps but, I mean, like I even thought, I remember one time in that whole design, now I haven’t seen the new exchange or the new – but just the concept that we would use the pillars to develop how Ys access data about local association is like, really? I mean that is not how consumers think.

I mean like if I – like I was trying to find out which Ys in Chicago metro area has particular kind of weight equipment that should not be a difficult thing to do. But if you’re trying to develop, if you are not taking into consideration what consumers are looking for, then if you’re imposing your brand pillars. I mean in a way that that just means you’ve got some magical thinking going on I think.

Ms. Meyer


I mean so you touched on Starbucks having that same experience, that same coffee everywhere across country, no matter where you’re going you're getting the same thing. And I think in some ways the brand was meant to help standardize some of the communications that Ys were having with, with communities.

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well if all I can go is based on Chicago and I see absolutely no consistency. I mean there are different tag lines every month, every fundraising. I mean I would just be curious I’d love to know, but I don’t know whether, I don’t know what researchers collected and again there is the thing. So that all the other thing and here is another perfect example I think like I also wanted to document failures, because how else do you learn. But no one wants to document failures, no that’s not a popular thing to do.

And that’s also hilarious like Neil and all could say that they're evidence based how proposterous are not evidence based unless the evidence supports what they want. So that’s also a tension getting back to the tension between research and marketing or the CEO even.


People only stressing the facts that agree with what they want to say.

Adam Shilling

Exactly, and I get that. I mean I do that when I think about who I'm going to support for candidate or whatever, but that would be a source of tension. But what did frustrate me is that sometimes you felt you couldn’t even – I remember towards the end I just thought, wow has everyone swallowed the kool-aid. That’s one reason I thought “Well, time to go.”

Because at least under Dave we could say look that is a stupid idea, so I was spoiled in that respect. But again I don’t think that’s just the Y, in fact I think the Y has been less. Because of the bottom up stuff it’s a little less susceptible to magical thinking and goofed what we called magical thinking and goof gas.

Ms. Meyer


So changing the pace a little bit, what advice would you have for any program director who wants to begin evaluating their program?

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well I mean I think it’s actually a combination of things. Getting back to what I guess I had said to Seana. How I often would feel like with talking to eight or 10 CEOs I might really get the sense of a particular issue like whatever. And I would say the same thing, that for program it’s always good to have like the evaluations or written evaluations, that’s good and pretty simple ones.

But just talk to some of the, I mean, again it just seems, I'm surprised of how rarely I got the impression that staff were actually talking to program participants. And I think eight or 10 program participants could really give you some very good yes anecdotal, but probably actionable information.


I mean as you described that makes it really accessible, anyone could have a conversation it doesn’t have to be.

Adam Shilling

Exactly I mean that was the big thing, I don’t know if that was part of Active America, Active listening what makes sense. But again I don’t know is that something that really ever happened active. But that is important to just to set aside some time to really say we really want to hear what you have say and plus that’s part of relationship building. I think that would be, concern me that when all is said and done.

And I see this, obviously well I shouldn’t say obviously what I was working for the Y, I didn’t have time to work out at a Y, now that I have more time to work out at a Y, I see what I was hearing all the time to be the case. You never see staff expect for the maintenance staff, they’re the ones you see all the time I don’t ever and the personal trainers. Who are not even Y staff, right those are the consistent faces. And so how can we talk about building relationships if the staff are nowhere to be seen, at least at the membership level, I'm sure it’s different at the program level.

Ms. Meyer


So I'm – 

Adam Shilling

Ms. Meyer

Well I'm sorry this kind of another thing like I used to, I mean, you know bulletin boards of Ys it never says everything we do it’s just a simple thing.


And what do you mean everything we do?

Adam Shilling

Well so for instance most members don’t have any idea that we have youth sports or preschool, school age childcare. They don’t have any concept of the magnitude of what we are doing. So I mean at least that certainly was the case and I don’t think that’s still the case, but maybe that’s changed a little bit.

Ms. Meyer


So what's something that you think all new YMCA employees should know?

Adam Shilling

Well again I think it’s very, very difficult to generalize because probably each association has a totally different culture. But I do think it would be important for each staff person to really understand to the extent that we can capture the sort of the most important history of the Y and the culture of the Y, and then what are the values of the Y that have made it thrive for as long and succeed and survive for as long as it has.

So I think a lot of that has been its autonomous, really the Ys that have succeeded the most are the ones that I think I have really listened to the communities and the ones who have, have really emphasized building relationship. That's what I used to tell Ys, there is no add water and stir for a youth program, especially a teen program. You got to ask the teens what do they want and so Ys of how we  things like. I've got some good quotes on that, but our tools have changed. So it used to be bingo and billiard or whatever and then skate parks and now who knows what. We change, we modify the tools, but the intent is still relationship building, character development, I mean at the best Ys.

Ms. Meyer


So you were here at Y-USA when character development or cool values right there?

Adam Shilling

Yeah and I would say that’s the – but see that was still bottoms up and that’s probably the one thing that still survive – I mean that still has pretty much permeated.

Ms. Meyer


And so bottoms up, could you tell me because my understanding was that that was more top down. 

Adam Shilling

Well that could be the exception, but I do know, I think there were a couple of large Urban Group Ys that were working with character counts and then we took it. And it comes to my mind Houston, I could be wrong, but I think Houston and Larry for sure, ask Larry remind, who's talking to Larry?

Ms. Meyer


Ryan.

Adam Shilling

Ryan. Remind Ryan to ask Larry because I know some of them are doing it because we wound up with slightly different values than like LA had and Houston for instance. So I think that – I'm pretty sure they started and then I could be wrong, it’s been known to happen.

Ms. Meyer


And it’s been known to happen at, as well yes. So what something that you think all YMCA leaders should be aware of?

Adam Shilling

Well that’s a good question, I mean I – well when you say leader I'm thinking automatically of execs. But I mean and at more of the independent level. But I think what they need to be aware of and probably are unless they are coming in from outside, is that the Y is an extraordinary complicated organization. And that’s the other thing I grew up – I mean I was here during the time where everyone was focus, focus, focus. You could tell that's very contrary to half the time what everyone was saying.

And I felt well why, we have succeeded so brilliantly at being sort of all things to all people a little bit. And that was very counter to all the management gurus. But I still feel that is source of our strength, it can be a source of tremendous issues. But so what I think a lot of people don’t understand is running a Y is extremely complicated and the issues had gotten so much more so. I mean just think about, just having a pool alone, you walk in and everyday there could be a drowning in your facility. The – with sexual molestation and pedophilia. I mean the risk management issues alone are staggering.

And so I don’t think that – and I think you will hear their old time people say yeah. I mean like our board members think we just go in and bounce basketballs and they don’t understand. So I do think that’s a very, very important thing for all YMCA execs to understand. And then to somehow be able to communicate to their boards how extraordinary complex the Y is.

Ms. Meyer


Yeah I agree, it's a multi-faceted organization for sure.

Adam Shilling

Right with all the programs I mean so – 

Ms. Meyer


And so ultimately what does the YMCA mean to you?

Adam Shilling

Well I mean I just think it’s been a very – I love the fact that it started out as a, with George William saying I don’t have the quote. But it’s like easier to reach a boy through or a man through a good dinner than it is through preaching at him. And so that, so sort of that concept of how we are very practical and not so much dogma driven even though it's Y Christian. But it was putting Christian principles into practice, I think that whole thing about practice has been so important and is what has made the Y very, very strong.

And how that then has turned it, I mean, is manifested through very caring, caring staff. I mean that to me is the magic and so it's pretty old fashioned sounding in a way. But I think that where you have seen successful Ys you see that, that understanding of having caring staff implementing programs that create relationships. Sort of like how do you have an effective classroom. I mean if you don’t have respect for the teachers and the students there is not a relationships there then you can bring in all the new curriculum and computers you want. It’s not necessarily going to ultimately make much difference so.

And that’s what I worry. I don’t know now how much opportunity there is to do that. I mean and probably in the six years that I have left it’s been, it’s much more difficult to have those kinds of programs.

Ms. Meyer


And so is there anything that I have not asked you about today that you would like to share?

Adam Shilling

It seems there were a couple of things that – well I can’t really think of any per say. Well I guess a couple of things that I just, I neglected to mention that back at a certain point we did create, the research department did sponsor something called like the – it was a history retrieval conference. Where I think it was for the 60s I can’t even remember. But I think that we invited like some of the key leaders who were alive back in the 60s to come.  And each one of them had to write a paper about a particular issue.

And I think that that kind of thing is important. I can’t say that we really got a whole lot of mileage out of the papers that were written, they do exist. There was one about childcare I think, one about the MRC structure. And I do think it would be great if we could do something like that again for the, like the 70s and the 80s, I mean. Because I don’t know what else is being done. And maybe that’s sort of, maybe that could just be a structure use a little bit with some of the oral histories you're doing now.

Ms. Meyer


Yeah I love that idea of history of retrieval conference.

Adam Shilling

Yeah, yeah so it’s good and, and I think, I guess I would just say in terms of Y-USA even though I've been a little critical of some of the things. I still think it’s probably unparalleled in the support of its affiliates. And I will say this too, I think that any Y that complains about their fair share or whatever we are calling it now is just role play under-utilizing what there is too that we have to offer. And I don’t know how good of a job Y-USA is doing in promoting what it offers. And again I mean in local associations they too want the sexy stuff. They want the national advertising campaign and they're not, because again it’s the magic bullet thing. But the Ys that are going to succeed are the ones that are going to realize that there is no magic bullet.

Ms. Meyer


Absolutely, I agree whole heartedly. I want to thank you for sharing your stories and your perspectives with us.

Adam Shilling

Oh my delight yeah sure, sure yeah.

Ms. Meyer


There is a lot that you have experienced here at Y-USA.

Adam Shilling

Yeah that’s for sure.

Ms. Meyer


So I value your time today.

Adam Shilling

Well thank you. I'm glad you guys are doing this.

Ms. Meyer

Thank you. 

Adam Shilling