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Coffee with Mitch Wilson
This month we sit down with Mitch Wilson, Executive Director of Pretty Lake Camp.
Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)
I “grew up” in the corporate environment as an IT professional and manager most of my career. Most of my time was spent with Pfizer and its legacy companies (Pharmacia, Upjohn) along with being an independent consultant. In 2008, I was part of the “right sizing” effort locally, which opened up a number of new opportunities for me. I had two criteria in re-evaluating my career – I wanted to find an organization that I feel I could add value to and also have a passion for work every day. Pretty Lake Camp was looking for a new Executive Director at that time. They took a bit of a chance on me as I wasn’t a “typical” non-profit leader. I like to think it was a good move for both of us.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
I grew up in Kalamazoo and also have spent most of my adult life here. There is just so much opportunity here and the commitment to make the community thrive is fantastic. The Promise, WMU, Kalamazoo College – it is such a great learning community, and the revival of downtown has been awesome to watch. There is a lot of upside to our great community.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
It has to be the Golden Rule – especially since the summer staff this year presented me with the Golden Rule award. Treat others well, respect what others do, and in return, you will be treated well. Be honest and truthful. Every summer, I hand out “The Golden Rule in Practice” to our staff which is a list of phrases of how to personally conduct yourself. My two favorites are the last two on the list: “If it will brighten someone’s day, say it”, and “If you can help someone, do it.”
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
My parents and my wife Sarah. My parents taught me to be positive, help others when you can, and that the glass is always half full. Sarah taught me about passion for a career and helping children. She was a phenomenal educator as a middle school math teacher (now retired) – very creative, great sense of humor, yet held her students accountable. She inspired me to take my current role at Pretty Lake.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
Where ever you work, whether it’s a for-profit or non-profit, it’s always about the people in the organization. It’s being able to understand not only how a person fits in the organization, but how their personal life impacts their work. It’s very satisfying to see people in your organization have success, but also very hard when a person doesn’t work out or doesn’t fit. Building a good, cohesive team takes time, energy, and patience, and the willingness to listen and coach people in your organization.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
ONEplace and The Johnson Center in Grand Rapids are two of my favorite organizations. The education and training provided by each at a great price (free at ONEplace) are great resources for our community. I also just try to network with other leaders to find out what works – and doesn’t work for each of them. The Michigan Nonprofit Association and their annual conference is another great resource.
Advice for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
Probably because of my background, I don’t like to differentiate between the “for profit” and “nonprofit” sectors. It’s true that the revenue sources are different, but at the end of the day, it’s about managing people, functions, and financials with your available resources. My advice is to think a little more out of the box and use good ideas from wherever they come from.
What do you geek?
As I have my whole life, I still play golf competitively and enjoy the challenges that it brings. Over the last couple of years, I have taken on triathlons as very much a beginner. I also really love to scuba dive.