FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Cheryl Doherty
May 19, 2015
I met Cheryl Doherty about a dozen years ago – I acted for Boys & Girls Clubs on the acquisition of their Bowness facility. Recently we re-connected for what turned out to be an entire afternoon of issues discussion and laughter at their Renfrew area head office facility – housed in an original/re-made [kudos to Rolf Stuber!] hangar from Calgary’s first airfield.
Her personal background is interesting – she and an older brother were both adopted. They grew up in Shawinigan. Mom was the eldest of six – an A-type! Dad was a Dalhousie grad who worked from CIL in Shawinigan. Dad died when she was twelve. “I was an average student – I didn’t see the value of what I was learning.” Cheryl was active in basketball, skating and the highland-fling. She admits to being a small town girl, a little directionally challenged. After high school she attended George Williams University in Montreal where she earned a B. Bus. Admin. Degree. She lived close to school – then when on to work at a paper sales company where she managed a small staff. Her boss asked, “you don’t love this work do you Cheryl?”. Soon after that she and girl friend took a trip to Banff, got jobs, loved Stampede and made Calgary home.
For Cheryl, a job at U of C in administration. After two years her boss/mentor Dr. John Baumber observed “I don’t think this is your passion”. But she found it at U of C. She did a four-year degree, B. Soc. Work. Agencies were hiring … and the Boys & Girls Clubs got Cheryl – or perhaps she got them. Group homes. Making after school clubs – a safe place to be.
And time flies … It was the 75th Anniversary last year, for the organization – Boys & Girls Clubs of Calgary – and for 39 years, Cheryl Doherty has been there building, building, building an organization woven into the fabric of Calgary. She has been CEO since 1998 when she took over from her predecessor and great mentor Keith Pattenson.
Our discussion touched a wide range of topics – including stalking her husband! Actually, she and her roommate orchestrated a gender-weighted party, four guys for every gal, but she made sure she invited the guy with the great accent! … The rest, is thirty-night years of history, two grown daughters off making great lives for themselves.
What contributed most to your success? “Years of fabulous mentoring, being given opportunities to fail, getting help from colleagues in other organizations, looking outside our industry for help.”
What has held you back? “I’ve been head-hunted but never went. I might have seen a broader perspective if I had. I could have been more of a risk-taker.”
Not included in this piece – lots of notes, lots of discussion about issues, values, boards, not-for-profits … I was thoroughly entertained and enlightened. If you haven’t met Cheryl or explored Boys & Girls Clubs and the great work they do, have a wander around their website – you will quickly see how and why they are so important to life in Calgary and successful outcomes for at-risk youth.
I asked Cheryl how she sees her business “a social service agency in the saving lives business”; I asked her ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… this ‘year’ we are in, things are bad for us – because of the economy we expect donations will be down … people who usually help us or donate are suffering. And more people needing help – with fewer dollars to do it. On the other hand, as we’ve seen in previous difficult periods, some donors step up their level of support …
And over the next five years?
… we will be doing more in partnerships; agencies will be less competitive, less reactive – and more successful.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… values. Fit our culture. Live and breathe those values. I’m a 10,000 Villages kind of person – an aware consumer. We make connections that are long lasting. Find out what matters to them …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Cheryl Doherty and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… what we do matters. Every kid has a right to be the best they can be. I have a great board – they understand governance.
How would you describe your management style?
… surround yourself with the best! Success of my role is because I hire people who have better skills than me. I don’t have a big ego. [She declares herself a big fan (she said disciple!) of Peter Drucker]
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… with a little under 300 staff, lots! We are responsible for people’s lives. Responding to emerging needs. We feed kids in 173 elementary schools – 500 breakfasts every morning!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… mentoring from board. I learned to ask a lot of questions! I made a big mistake when I didn’t ask the right questions. I learned I need to know the right questions to ask …
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… ahh … no! This job is just part of my life. It doesn’t feel like work. My husband did all the sports with my kids when they were growing up ...
… we used to sing in an Irish choir. Work out at the gym with a trainer. Love lawn bowling. Cross-country skiing.
What do you read?
… I used to read everything related to the job – it’s overwhelming. I needed to read-lite! I belong to a book club. Stories about people. Drama.
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