Find what you’re passionate about and everything else will fall into place
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
Shilo Boucher, the president and CEO of the Saint John YMCA. [photo: Cindy Wilson, Telegraph-Journal]
Be prepared to learn a lot of different skills As published in the Telegraph-Journal, Saturday, March 16, 2014
Shilo Boucher never dreamed she would be the CEO and president of the YMCA of Greater Saint John. She knew when she was a teenager that she wanted to be a chartered accountant and, as a woman who likes to get things done, that is exactly what she did.
After attending UNB Saint John, she quickly attained her chartered accountant designation and prepared to launch into her profession.
Shilo initially set her sights on building her career at Deloitte. When she became a manager, Shilo started looking for ways to give back to the community and she landed on the YMCA as the perfect place to volunteer. Through a friend, and mentor, the newly minted chartered accountant became a director and eventually the treasurer on the YMCA board.
It was a pivotal time for the YMCA, which first opened it doors in 1854 (making it the second YMCA in Canada). The organization was having financial challenges and desperately trying to get back on track.
Fast forward to today and Shilo finds herself leading a revitalized and energized YMCA that will, thanks to $9 million in federal and provincial government funding, break ground this spring on a 70,000-square-foot building. This new location will include an indoor running track, swimming pool, fitness centre and studio. Shilo expects the building to be open to the public in 2015 and continues to run a capital campaign with a goal of raising $7 million.
Shilo described her journey from volunteer board member to CEO of the YMCA during our recent interview. I began by asking her what the situation was like at the YMCA when she first joined the board.
A: The Y was in a serious financial crisis. We were looking at closing our doors or finding a new way to do things. It was dire. The Y at that time was 150 years old. The staff and volunteers were working their hardest to get back on track.
Q: What was it like leaving the corporate world and becoming an executive in a non-profit organization?
A: I remember it being a huge leap for me – I completely changed my career path. A lot of the partners at my firm were very supportive because I was heading to the Y – how could they argue if I was willing to work at the Y? I figured I’d go fix the YMCA the best I could and then go back to the accounting firm. But when I experienced working with the staff and the amazing culture at the Y, where they embrace you, I was hooked. They become your family.
Q: Your first role with the YMCA was as CFO, how did that happen?
A: Pat Davis was hired to lead. She joined the Y the year before I came on. She was a CEO who didn’t have a financial background and they decided to add someone with that skill set to support Pat. At that time the Y was steadying itself. The cash flow was becoming a little more consistent. There were still huge challenges to overcome and an aging building we couldn’t afford to maintain. It was decided that I would be brought on as CFO.
Q: How did you transition into president and CEO?
A: Pat got sick. I was asked to fill in as CEO while she was recuperating. So I did that for about a year and Pat recovered from cancer, which was amazing. At that point, after leading the Y for a period of time, I was named COO – still overseeing the financials, but incorporating operations as well. Pat focused on the new building. After a year or so, Pat’s cancer came back and I became acting CEO again. Pat passed away the day before we announced the location for the new Saint John Y.
Q: So it was very sad circumstances that brought you to your current role.
A: I’ve never been through anything like that. I don’t ever want to do it again. It was hard on everybody.
Q: What advice would you give to someone leaving the corporate world to lead a social enterprise?
A: Be prepared to learn a lot of different skills. I never thought in a million years I’d be fundraising, that I would enjoy raising money to support the kids and families in our community. I never thought I’d be building the partnerships, working with the amazing people that I work with and partnering and collaborating the way we do.
Q: What do you enjoy about being the CEO?
A: Every day at the Y is different. It is so diverse. We are running a business – a social enterprise. There are so many stakeholders and so many folks that contribute to the Y.
Q: What are you finding critical to developing strong partnerships?
A: I really think it’s listening, being open and finding that ‘win-win’ situation when you are partnering. Listening is so important.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever got?
A: That you have to be passionate about something. You have to believe in yourself and you have to be yourself. Sometimes you think being yourself isn’t enough, but it is because it is who you are.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence? A leader’s job is to…
A: Motivate and inspire.
Q: What can the community expect from the YMCA in the next few years?
A: They’re going to see the Y in a whole new light. The new building is going to be well underway, but it’s not about a building – it’s what we’re able to do within that building that matters.
Last year we served 16,000 people but there are 70,000 people in Saint John (120,000 in Greater Saint John). We’re going to be able to double the number of people we serve. The community is going to feel like the YMCA is definitely alive and well here in Saint John. We want to work with the community so people say “Wow, this is my Y.”
Q: What are the obvious challenges you are going to face as you chase down these goals?
A: We’ll need to run a successful capital campaign. Capital is always important to any organization – we don’t want to have to spend all of our resources on debt or just to pay for the building. We’ll be launching our capital campaign soon and the information will be on our website: SaintJohnY.com Another challenge will be staying focused on increasing the number of families and kids that we support. Just because we’re building a huge asset doesn’t mean we can stop all of the things that we’re doing everyday for the community.With the new building we’re going to have to hire more staff members. We’re also going to need so many more volunteers. We have 650 just with our 13 locations.
Q: What are you most proud of at the YMCA?
A: I am most proud of our ability to see what’s needed in the community. I’m also proud of the community partnerships that we have built – these partnerships are making the Y a success. We can’t do this alone.
[Follow Shilo on twitter: twitter.com/ShiloBoucher]