FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Katherine van Kooy
February 17, 2015
I’ve often wondered, as I interview people, what their lives/careers and influences might have been had their circumstances of birth, parents, location and early schooling been just a bit different, if the story would have taken different turns …
She loves art. Not the first thing we talked about, but it is clearly a strong influence in her life … but more about that later.
Where and when it began – Katherine was born, the last of four children, in Voorschoten in southern Holland. At the ripe old age of 18 months, her parents moved to Guelph, Ontario; the family’s immigration was sponsored by an appliance manufacturer in search of workers. From humble beginnings, and education, her homemaker mother and gardener father – Katherine did her K-12 in Guelph, went on to University of Waterloo because of their strong urban planning program where she earned her B.A. (Hons.) in Political Science. She admits to being a pretty good student – usually top of her classes. She went on to Carleton University where she studied International Affairs. She never finished her 'final paper'.. She met Lester Pearson. She met Wynn Plumbtree who introduced her to CIDA – and her interest shifted to research.
Then, “out of the blue” she recalls, someone said “come to Saskatchewan”.That was 1974, she took a job in the Department of Finance, Budget Bureau which she describes as a fabulous opportunity with lots of scope – working in education, provincial library and social service projects.“It was a time of feeling part of a government with a mission.” And she met her husband to be, David Wartman, which would prove to send her life, education and work in new directions. David wanted to do his Masters degree at Cornell University in Upstate New York. They started their family (they have two children) and Katherine did an MBA in Health Care Administration. Then back to Saskatchewan, for a job in Strategic Planning at a new crown corporation – SaskOil. Following a change in government she went to teach Public Policy at the University of Regina but left that tenure track position to do strategic planning work in the City Manager’s office at the City of Regina. She says, “I got good at making connections – and at seeing the big picture.”
When her husband’s career took the family to Toronto, Katherine worked on ‘time of change’ driven policy work for another municipality – Halton. Then, change again. You guessed it – her husband got a job with an oil company … in Calgary. It was 1998, kids were 16 and 20 – time off, hiking, cross-country skiing, joined a newcomers group. Within two years, interesting work found Katherine – or perhaps the other way round. Board work at the YWCA led to being part of a group that was organizing CCVO, a year before it launched. She got hired as President & CEO.
Our discussion of what CCVO is about – “To strengthen and support charities and non-profits, to have healthy and vibrant communities – to speak up and speak for them. We can talk about things for our member organizations without it being self-serving”.
What has contributed most to your success?
“I’m a risk taker. I’ve left careers for family, changed communities and started over! I see possibilities. I don’t give up. Roadblocks are things to get around rather than to stop you – if you are resilient, you persevere.”
What has held you back?
“Personal choices, turned down some good opportunities that did not attract me. I have no regrets.”
What about all those moves, following your husband’s ambitions? “I was content to follow along.”
I asked Katherine how she sees her business “the voluntary sector”; ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… business is booming. This sector is broad – and our population growth produces demand for services and our experience is that needs will increase with the downturn in the economy. Organizations and government programs are losing funding, face greater uncertainty. There will be competition for funding which will be hard to replace. And, this is a very busy quarter for CCVO, our busiest, preparing for our conference in April, a major annual survey, launch of a new Emergency Preparedness program, our Innovation Awards and a heavy schedule of events and collaborative work …
And over the next five years?
… we will work together – differently. This is a very resilient sector. We anticipate changes in leadership of many organizations – and we’ll be seeing a more holistic approach, particularly for organizations serving an aging population.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I look for willing partners. People who share value and values – not locked into traditional relationships. Driven by commitment to producing results. A positive approach to effect change.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Katherine, choose CCVO – and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… credibility. Trust. No hidden agendas. High quality work. We deliver.
How would you describe your management style?
… I try to give people a lot of scope – provide opportunities. High standards, expectation of quality results.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I’m a CEO of a small agency (we have 10 people) who depend on my being able to sustain this organization.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… experience being an immigrant child, to leave everything behind. Decision to move to Saskatchewan. Being a parent – a learning factor, to be doing for my kids.
… cross country skiing, hiking, golf, art galleries, arts & crafts. Time with family and friends.
What do you read?
… work stuff! Fiction – mysteries. Canadian lit. I belong to a book club.
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