PMA Member Spotlight on Kate Bech
Chief Executive Officer
Princeton Family YMCA
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Why did you choose the business career you are in?
I was very fortunate to grow up in a college town outside of Philadelphia during the 70s. I benefited from diverse opportunities to experience creative learning in an unusually small setting (particularly for a public school). I had only 80 or so classmates in my graduating class, and about half of us knew one another from kindergarten. After twelve years living in one town (with some time in Seattle in the eighth grade), I decided I needed a change of scene for college. I attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota where I majored in Studio Arts. I loved my experience there. It combined my passions for leading positive social change and for the humanities. My first professional job out of college was back in Philadelphia, at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which set the course for my career in the non-profit world.
Why Princeton? How long have you been in business or worked in Princeton?
When I met my husband Nick in 2003, he was already living in Pennington in the house we share now and in the midst of building a law practice. For a couple of years, I continued to commute to my job in the Philadelphia area where I worked for the Girl Scouts as the chief advancement officer. When the YMCA here in Princeton posted an opening for an operations director, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I had already worked in the Y Movement at one point in my career, and was delighted to have the opportunity to return. That was in 2007. Very shortly after, I took over the role of CEO – and it’s been nine years already. The time has flown by!
What is it that makes the Princeton Family YMCA special?
What sets the YMCA apart is that it is a cause-driven, charitable organization with a mission. We are part of a world-wide movement committed to strengthening the foundations of community and we’re located in more than 10,000 neighborhoods across the USA. The Y is dedicated to nurturing the potential of youth and teens, strengthening our nation’s health and wellness, and helping our neighbors in need. For the individual who values their dollars being invested in initiatives that strengthen the community as a whole, we are the perfect fit. Every dollar that flows through the Princeton Family YMCA is reinvested in Princeton, and helps support local families and children who have fewer resources. We also provide financial assistance – which sets us apart from other businesses as well – because we believe that the Y is for everyone.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment so far?
Without a doubt, I’m most proud of our YMCA’s decision to “adopt” the Princeton Young Achievers program in 2011, when the organization was facing financial challenges. Princeton Young Achievers was founded in 1993 by Shirley Paris, a local educator who saw the need for after-school support for Princeton’s most vulnerable students who largely reside in the town’s subsidized housing communities. I was fortunate to meet their chairman at the time, Clayton Marsh, at just the right moment. Within three hours of getting to know one another, we knew we had a match. Our YMCA had been steadily building its financial footing and we still felt a bit shaky - but we took a calculated risk because we knew it was the right thing to do. Our volunteer leadership saw it as a moral imperative and central to our YMCA’s mission in youth development. As accomplishments go, it definitely ranks high on my list.
Who influenced you the most in your career and why?
I’ve had some wonderful mentors over the years, but ironically it was an unpleasant early work experience that influenced my leadership style the most. In my mid-twenties, I spent a year at an independent school where I was in charge of the annual campaign. I was fortunate to have a very knowledgeable and capable consultant who taught me concrete skills in time and project management that serve me to this day. But I also had a supervisor who created a culture of fear and distrust – and I learned that as a leader, shaping a culture of kindness, collaboration and inspiration is very important to me and critical to success. It was a miserable year in many ways, but those lessons have been with me ever since and I’ll never forget them.
Anything else that you would like to share?
The Princeton Family YMCA has extraordinary potential as a community organization to make an even greater impact in Princeton in the areas of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. With the impending reorganization of programs on our campus with the YWCA Princeton, there are exciting possibilities. In 2017, we’re looking forward to some dreaming as part of the strategic planning process, and the best part is hearing input from our community – and I’m very much looking forward to that!
Are you involved in any charitable/community causes that you are passionate about?
In addition to my Y work, I have very much enjoyed serving on the Princeton University Art Museum’s Community Leadership Council. I’m also a member of the Garden Club of Trenton and just recently returned as a delegate to the Garden Club of America’s 2016 Annual Meeting.