From the Desk of the President: Reflecting on One Year at CA
As I mark one year as the President/CEO of the Columbia Association, I wanted to take a moment to tell you what this last year has meant to me. I knew a good bit about Columbia – and especially its history – before I took the position. However, the complexity of operations and the community dynamics could not be fully understood without actually carrying out the duties of this position day in and day out. Add to that navigating through a worldwide pandemic, and it has indeed been an adventure. That said, I am glad that I moved my family to this community and grateful to have been selected for this position.
When I was recruited into this position, CA’s Board identified major responsibilities in three broad priority areas: (1) Strategic, visionary leadership to position CA for a strong future; (2) being “Face” of CA, with high visibility in the community and regular interactions with Columbia residents and businesses; and (3) the daily organizational management of CA. These responsibilities are why I took the position for Columbia – for CA’s team members, for our members / customers, and for Columbia’s residents and businesses. I am thankful I was chosen to do this important work.
There is certainly more work to be done here at CA. But what we have accomplished in the past year – finding our way through the ups and downs of the pandemic, realigning the structure of our organization, continuing improvements in business processes, finding ways to adapt as the world around us changes, putting real work, intention, and resources into true inclusion, demonstrating our appreciation for team members in meaningful ways, and trying new, more modern approaches to increase engagement for ALL of our community to be heard (and not just the vocal few) – is impressive work. And I hope this work can be recognized, appreciated, and celebrated across our community.
We have to do better inside and outside our organization on not only reflecting, but also understanding and valuing who we serve across Columbia. I believe CA has to be held to the standard of walking the talk and I am deeply proud to be leading that.
It’s why we have and will continue to prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts and allocate resources that support DE&I initiatives, like offering bias training to all employees, adding Juneteenth as an official paid CA holiday, increasing supplier diversity with more focus on MBE participation, and elevating one of our senior leaders to focus on these objectives.
It’s why we persisted to achieve a positive financial performance each quarter of this fiscal year and are projected to close out FY22 ahead of budget, while also repaying team members who worked during the height of COVID, adding to cash reserves, and still increasing services and programs for our residents and members. Who would have dared to imagine that a year or two ago?
It’s why we are working on ensuring our programs and services are relevant and valuable. Making sure people can understand what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why we do it is an ongoing endeavor that we must get substantially better at to move CA forward.
It’s why we have significantly increased collaboration within CA, realigning our organization to better meet the needs of everyone in our community.
It’s why I’ve prioritized connecting directly with our team members to understand all of the complex parts and pieces of CA and gain perspective from the front line so we can continue to adapt and better serve our community.
It’s why I’ve personally had nearly 150 meetings with community stakeholders over the past year, learning a lot along the way.
It’s why we’ve increased CA participation at community events and switched up our summer activities at the Lakefront to include not only the “old favorites” but also a series of world music headliners. It is so important that everyone not only feels welcomed, but experiences belonging in all CA spaces.
It’s why we’ve created opportunities for the public to tap into our team’s vast technical expertise through special interactive sessions, ranging in topics from COVID to stream restoration to our budget to climate vulnerability.
It’s why I talk so much about engagement being a two-way communication that translates into impact, often around defining and navigating appropriate change. I acknowledge it takes time and continued effort to build trust where engagement can flourish and become transformative. We have a ways to go, and must be vigilant in our focus. Still, we are making progress.
I’m asking all of you to join us at our very large, very collaborative, and very inclusive table to ensure CA is delivering on what it was created to do: to enhance the quality of life of all people in Columbia. What that meant in the late 1960s is different in so many ways than what it means more than 50 years later. While, of course, we should continue to uphold the values embedded in our origin story, we must hold each other accountable to deliver on what CA needs to be today, and just as important, that we are making decisions and investments that are focused on ensuring Columbia and CA are desirable, relevant, and inclusive for the future.
While that is a tall order, that is the purpose that Columbia was built upon. I am here for that purpose. I am committed to Columbia Association delivering on its promise. I am proud of my first year here as President/CEO and even more excited about what’s to come.
For the community members that have long-valued CA – thank you. For the community members that have engaged with CA for the first time – thank you. For the community members that have re-engaged with CA – thank you. To my team members who do amazing, transformative work every day to make Columbia, Columbia – thank you.
Thank you all for the opportunity to serve this special community and amazing organization.