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CEO of National Sports Center for Disabled Gives View from the Top

By on February 23, 2012 in National Health News with 0 Comments


by Chuck Ward, Interim CEO at the National Sports Center for the Disabled

One day you have a job, the next you don’t.

As a result of a merger, after 37 years in the tumultuous telecommunications industry I was presented with the opportunity to “pursue other interests and spend more time with family.” Knowing that I would not be content in retirement at the age of 59, my wife of 38 years had other ideas about me spending time around the house.

While contemplating my next career move, serendipity stepped in.

Working for a non-profit had never crossed my mind, but when approached by the Board of the National Sports Center for the Disabled [NSCD] to act as interim CEO, I was intrigued. The chance to serve others while working in a completely different industry with a different business model was a challenge I felt I was ready to accept.

Chuck Ward, Interim CEO at the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Photo: Linkedin

Chuck Ward, Interim CEO at the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Photo: Linkedin

Located an hour and a half west of Denver, the mission of Winter Park, CO based National Sports Center for the Disabled is to enable the spirit through therapeutic sport and recreation. The center began in 1970, offering ski lessons for children with amputations from the Children’s Hospital of Denver.

Today it is one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world with thousands of children and adults with disabilities each year taking to the slopes, mountain trails and waterways to learn more about sports – and themselves.

With specially trained staff and its own adaptive equipment lab, the NSCD teaches a variety of winter and summer sports and activities to individuals with almost any physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral diagnosis.

While previously working high atop a downtown Denver office tower as a former president of a major market, I had developed a result oriented customer centric approach to service and products that are crucial to large, for profit, publicly traded, complex corporations.

Resolving issues of finances, personnel, operations, marketing and fund raising all come with the title of interim CEO.

The driving force behind the NSCD is a team of more than 1,300 hands-on volunteers who dedicate countless hours to helping people with a disability to ski, snowboard, play team sports and achieve their personal best.

The challenge over the next six-months will be to effectively translate my corporate background in operations, engineering, government affairs, regulatory affairs, employee communications and media relations to best serve the their needs, as well as those of staff, the board, donors and visitors to the center.

One of the first changes I made was establishing a culture of communications. The senior staff meets every week to discuss the upcoming weeks’ activities and review last weeks’ results. This has taken some time to develop, but my expectations on results and communications is changing the way the organization thinks about how it does business.

Finding myself working in a small, not for-profit, private business is a invigorating. What has been especially enlightening are not the differences, but the similarities to my corporate experience. Make no mistake, the differences are real; smaller staff, smaller dollars and no corporate support structures, such as a Legal department or an HR department.

I have been more impressed by the similarities.

Summer activities at the NSCD include horseback riding. Photo: NSCD

I am leading a small business, with all the issues facing any business. We have financial objectives to achieve. We have cash flow to manage. We have IT and system integration issues. We have hiring, training and retraining and developing staff issues. We have marketing issues related to filling our programs, to marketing our events, raising financial support and promoting our brand. We have assets to manage, maintain and re-invest. We have customer service and customer satisfaction issues. And we have investor issues, related to our corporate sponsors, our foundation sponsors and our individual donors.

An added complexity comes from the distinct role of the Board of Directors. This group of folks provides financial resources, but also technical expertise. But this group of stakeholders requires disciplined communications and thoughtful engagement. I want and need their help, just not too much.

Some of the rules are different due to the tax code, but the calculus of running a not-for-profit is the same as any other business enterprise – communicating a strategic vision, setting and managing to objectives, and establishing a culture of collaboration and teamwork pretty much works, regardless of the tax status of the business.

I believe my work experience in a large corporation has prepared me to take on the challenges and headaches of a not-for-profit, but with one difference – at the end of the day I can look at the smiles of those coming off the slopes and know it is all been worthwhile.

About the Author:
Chuck Ward is a former Qwest executive. A native of Pittsburg, PA he received his undergraduate degree from Penn State, and a MBA from Southern Illinois University. Ward is a former Chairman of the Board of Directors at Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and former Co-Chairman of the Executive Committee at Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. He is married with two grown children and in his spare times loves golf and skiing.

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