Top talent: Executives of the Year demonstrate the value of quality management
Quality management. It’s an essential element to organizational success. Try to get a bank loan without it. Try to woo investors without it. For that matter, try to attract top-notch employees without it.
With this acknowledgement, we present our inaugural Executive of the Year Award winners. They represent the cream of the crop of area executives, in part because the selection panel was made up of three of our 2013 Hall of Fame members: Ellen Brothers, retired CEO of American Girl; Corey Chambas, president and CEO of First Business Financial Services; and Tim Christen, CEO of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause.
They chose an astute group that represents nonprofits, the performing arts, health care, education, and manufacturing. Whether they are in the process of completing big turnarounds or have maintained the momentum of well-run organizations, we think you’ll find their stories inspiring.
Executive of the Year and
Small Company Executive of the Year
Executive director, Neighborhood House Community Center
Neighborhood House Community Center is Madison’s oldest community center, but it might have been a casualty of mismanagement had it not been for Dan Foley. Foley has been with the not-for-profit organization for only three years, but in that time he has rebuilt crucial relationships, especially with the City of Madison, and taken a 100-year-old community asset off the endangered list.
When Foley took over in 2011, he faced a monumental rebuilding job. The previous year, Neighborhood House had an operational loss of $42,000 (on a total operational budget of less than $200,000) and was experiencing severe cash-flow problems. Not only had it maxed out its line of credit, its debt had ballooned to $45,000, it was unable to pay even the interest on its debt, and its bank pondered calling its note upon renewal. To make matters worse, the City of Madison had reduced its funding of Neighborhood House by more than $40,000, the community center had already stopped providing certain programs, and bankruptcy was a real possibility.
Foley was well aware of this when he took the job, and he didn’t have much time to act. One of his first decisions was symbolic yet significant: He decided not to accept any compensation during the first six weeks of his employment.
To restore financial health, his first order of business was to patch up the center’s deteriorating relationship with the city, and that required presenting a credible strategic vision. It also required having the multicultural leaders who rely on Neighborhood House testify during the city’s competitive grant-making process with one directive: speak from the heart. After they did, the city agreed to restore more than $39,000 in funding for 2012, and it allocated an additional $11,060.
Foley, a former YMCA executive, had credibility with city officials. Lorri Wendorf-Corrigan, neighborhood services coordinator for the city’s Community Development Division, manages all city contracts with neighborhood centers. She noted that working with Foley brings few surprises. “If there’s a problem, he’ll pick up the phone and talk about it,” she says.
Foley also brought more diverse skills and experience, including business acumen, to the board of directors and to the community center’s operation, and he generated fresh ideas to increase earned revenue. That included a more accurate system to trace use of the facility and invoice all the groups that use or rent it, which generated $14,000.
“A lot of people believe that when you’re a not-for-profit, it’s okay to lose money, and it really isn’t,” Foley says. “You have to keep the front door open like any other business or you can’t provide programs and services. We needed to have people understand that concept.”
They understand it now.
A strategic planning study helped identify programs and services the community wanted, but one longstanding commitment was unshakable — providing scholarships to children in low-income families. So by emphasizing Neighborhood House’s 100-year history, the center increased annual donations by about 500%, to about $58,000. This has added enough cash flow to allow Neighborhood House to retire its entire debt, but it would not have happened if donors hadn’t approved of the facility’s new direction.
“People in Madison are wonderfully generous,” Foley noted, “once they know what the cause is.”
Foley had retired from the YMCAs of Dane County, where he served as COO, but he was eager to apply his 30 years of nonprofit experience to preserve what has become a multicultural asset. “At this point in my career, I’m toward the end, and these honors mean quite a bit,” he stated. “I’m humbled, but it’s not just about me, it’s about the center and the people here. They deserve this.”
Medium Company Executive of the Year
President and CEO, Overture Center for the Arts
The performing arts are an up-and-down business, and the chips were down on Jan. 1, 2012, when Ted DeDee took command of the Overture Center. But the front-page battles that were waged over city funding of the performing arts center are now a distant memory.
When DeDee arrived, he needed to rebuild relationships in the community, modernize online ticket sales, and fill key executive positions. Most of all, he needed to win the confidence of city officials, which was the key to increasing private donations.
DeDee’s ability to build bridges, honed in a career of service to performing arts organizations, served him well as he secured an important city grant despite past controversies. It also helped strengthen engagement between the executive team and staff, and between Overture and the broader community, where perceptions of elitism persisted.
He also turned inward. Overture employs 50 people full time, plus several hundred part-time ushers, technicians, and stagehands. DeDee’s inclusive leadership style gives every member of the organization a say in how Overture moves forward. He also has improved morale with simple things like the monthly “You Rock” award for outstanding service.
That might sound like low-hanging fruit, but workforce recognition goes a long way toward achieving results. DeDee’s first season brought a 13% increase in overall attendance, and this year private fundraising is up 15%. Fund-raising meetings now are about Overture’s contributions — more than 550,000 artistic experiences occurred there in a recent year — rather than well-publicized fights.
Another task was to reinforce that message in the community, where some are unaware of the high volume of free or reduced-cost programming. “We started talking with our civic and political leaders about the actual benefits, rather than the perceived detriments,” DeDee says.
There is at least one more act in this management play, and that’s the replacement of an outdated online ticket sales system. For years, the system has generated customer complaints and hampered sales, and Overture is testing a new system in anticipation of an April rollout. The new ticketing system will be combined with a new website, and Overture expects its investment to be repaid within 30 months.
Technology may allow the show to go on, but there still needs to be a show. Overture has high hopes for its newest presentation, “National Geographic Live,” an educational enrichment series, and for “Any Given Child,” a Kennedy Center program designed to ensure that children in grades K-8 have equal access to the arts.
“That program,” says DeDee, is a “critically important example of how Overture can be part of the broader community.”
Large Company Executive of the Year
CEO, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin
Kevin Hayden is quick to deflect credit to his board and staff, but since taking over at GHC-SCW last year, his enthusiastic embrace of the Affordable Care Act, difficult rollout and all, has exceeded that of even the most dutiful health care executives.
It’s not as though Hayden assumed command of the Titanic. For nine consecutive years (2006-13), the nonprofit, member-owned health care cooperative has been identified by the National Committee for Quality Assurance as the top health plan in Wisconsin. But his enthusiasm for health care reform — the entire organization considers itself “all in” — makes him a perfect fit for GHC-SCW.
“In my lifetime, the ACA is certainly the largest public policy initiative we’ll see, and we have to focus on the long term,” he advises. “Unfortunately, the hiccups around the technology implementation have soured many Americans on its value.”
Nevertheless, Hayden believes the ACA will gain support over time, and he’s been moving full speed ahead. At the direction of his board, he created the necessary infrastructure to support membership growth, and his efforts have contributed to the addition of 630 employer groups — including the likes of TDS, Kayser Ford, and First Choice Dental — to the GHC-SCW network.
The cooperative also established a new network of five primary care clinics, thereby expanding into Sauk and Columbia counties. The Sauk County Board voted to select GHC-SCW as the county’s health care insurer, which has the potential to increase membership by 1,000.
Hayden, a former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, also has worked to strengthen community partnerships, as illustrated by the $1 million gift to Edgewood College for the Center for Primary Care Innovation. The center was established to engage Edgewood College nursing students and graduates in progressive models of primary care delivery.
GHC-SCW also formed a collaborative relationship with Madison College to launch a new community clinic. The clinic will provide primary care at the College’s Truax campus and serve as the school’s clinical training program for future health care professionals.
To educate consumers about the changes reform will bring, Hayden has made numerous public appearances. He predicts most employer groups in GHC’s network will continue to offer health insurance to their employees after the ACA’s employer mandate kicks in, and he firmly believes the law will work in the long run because it moves the health care industry toward a quality-based business model.
Young Executive of the Year
Industrial division manager, J.P. Cullen
Chad Schakelman was born in 1976, but his relative youth has served a 122-year-old, nationally recognized company very well.
Schakelman has already been with J.P. Cullen, a family-owned construction management firm, for 16 years. At the creative pace he’s setting, he’s likely to be a lifer, because when you’ve tackled as many challenges as he has, and tackled them successfully, your employer is inclined to place you on an upward track.
How high he climbs probably depends on his ability to maintain a professional winning streak of successful projects. He’s already been tasked with crucial enterprise-wide management projects, from developing workforce bench strength to putting in place a strategic plan that has grown the company’s industrial division.
Armed with a civil engineering background, innovation comes naturally to Schakelman. As the youngest member of the company’s executive leadership team, he’s taken the helm of “Grow Bench Strength Company Wide Through Training and Development,” the official name of perhaps the most important strategic initiative he’s been assigned to execute.
He was chosen to manage this initiative based on his past success developing the Steel Task Force, which created a culture of ironworkers and steelworkers who now train from within. Under this program, the most experienced and valuable ironworkers take the greenest workers under their wing and train them on best practices, company policies, and safety procedures.
Similarly, Bench Strength “is about finding a way for the younger generation to excel at a faster rate,” he says.
Schakelman would know all about that. During his time with J.P. Cullen, he’s shown off his problem-solving chops on several other occasions. He invented a column lift aide that provides a safer and more productive way to erect steel columns, and he’s collaborated on the development of a Bolt Caddy, a custom piece that fits securely on a beam, saving ironworkers time and providing a safer way to handle bolts while working at extreme heights.
As an advisor for the J.P. Cullen Young Leaders Group, he’s also demonstrated a natural ability to mentor others. It’s a group of 35 people who have been with the company or the construction industry for fewer than five years, and Schakelman’s role is to help them find the right career path, whether it’s in project management or operations. “There is no glass ceiling for anyone,” he states.
Especially for creative up-and-comers.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Retiring president, Edgewood College
Dan Carey isn’t shy about stating that Edgewood College is “rocking” these days, and it’s an appropriate term for an executive who has worked to improve the student experience.
In his decade of service at Edgewood, Carey can boast of a lifetime of achievements that have given the Madison liberal arts college a bright future. Throughout his tenure, the Iowa native seemed to be one step ahead in terms of meeting campus needs or responding to societal trends.
Carey is credited with everything from building Edgewood’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies to helping Edgewood achieve Green Tier status to doubling the size of the minority student population.
It starts with listening to what students and their families are telling you. “Campuses can be very insular,” Carey says. “My job is to bring the outside in.”
The outside includes the local health care industry. Carey has brought it in by adding a master of science in nursing and a doctor of nursing practice degree. The college’s Center for Nursing Excellence, a partnership with Meriter and St. Mary’s hospitals, serves nursing students and other health care professionals with patient simulators that provide clinical scenarios that mirror real-world situations. In August, the college announced a $1 million gift from the Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin for the Center for Primary Care Innovation.
Improvements in the student experience, with an emphasis on student achievement, have led to near-record freshman-to-sophomore retention rates for full-time undergraduate students and an increase in the enrollment and retention of minority students, some of whom are served by the Community Scholars program. The freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is especially important when you consider that in Edgewood’s undergraduate student population, 25% to 30% of freshmen are members of the first generation of their families to attend college.
The student experience has also been enhanced with glittering new facilities, best represented by The Stream, a 44,000-sq.-ft. visual and theater arts center that is home to the art and theater arts departments.
All this has led to national recognition. Edgewood College has been named to Forbes magazine’s Best Colleges list for three consecutive years and landed on U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Universities list in 2012.
“I’m the guy who gets to take the bow,” Carey says, “but the credit belongs to our whole campus.”
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