In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge with you. This issue, the conversation features Matt Whitehead, the CEO of the Decatur Family YMCA.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
MW: I started my career in banking, which I enjoyed, but I decided I wanted to be part of an organization whose purpose was to strengthen the community in which I lived. The CFO position came available at my local Y, and gave me an opportunity to use my business and accounting skills to help contribute to a mission that was about healthy living and youth development. I was CFO for eight years before being promoted to CEO.
2. What’s been a key to your organization’s success? What are you most proud of?
MW: What I feel has helped us be successful is the culture we have created. When I became CEO, it was my top priority to create a culture that was positive and affirming, where people felt appreciated. If employees enjoy coming to work and enjoy what they do, they will perform their duties and responsibilities at a high level. This will translate into quality programs being delivered to the community, along with positive customer experiences.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
MW: After several years of slight membership decline, we were able to turn it around a couple years ago — last year, we reached a 10-year high. Also, through program growth and the development of new programs, we reached an all-time high in program revenue last year. We were able to accomplish this by developing a positive culture, putting together a great team of highly motivated employees, and implementing strategic marketing initiatives.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
MW: We provide so many programs and services to so many different people. It is a constant challenge to have adequate resources, staff and facility space to serve everyone’s needs. We continually have to look at our community needs and determine where we invest our resources to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This is, and will continue to be, a constant challenge.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
MW: It is all about relationships. Having positive relationships with staff and with customers is the most important element in a successful organization. I strive to make every employee feel valued and appreciated. I want every person who walks in our doors to know they are important to us, and that our top priority is to help them accomplish their goals and provide them with an exceptional experience. If employees feel valued and feel they belong, it directly impacts satisfaction and retention.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
MW: I absolutely love the outdoors. I love to hike and camp, and recently hiked to the top of the tallest mountain in the U.S. Rockies.
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