The Great Jam Session: Kim Findlay Plans to Make Music as the New Director/CEO of the Putnam Museum Print
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 16 May 2007 02:35

633 Cover Kim Findlay, the former director of the United Way of the Quad Cities Area and new president and CEO of Davenport's Putnam Museum & IMAX Theatre, already has several supporters.

Mark Bawden - the Putnam's interim director/CEO before Findlay and its current development director - says, "We think she will be great for the Putnam. She brings a fresh outlook and lots of new ideas."

Myron Scheibe - chairperson of the Putnam's board of trustees - states,"Not only does Kim meet and exceed all the criteria we had ... she also has a true passion for the Putnam."

And Jennifer Nolin - communications administrator for the United Way of the Quad Cities Area - describes Findlay as "one of the most phenomenal women I've ever met," adding, "I think she'll be a great bridge between the community and the museum."

Yet while comments such as these may not be unexpected, Findlay herself is, as evidenced by the analogy she makes in discussing her new role at the Putnam:

"When I think about leadership, I usually describe it, at its best, like a band. Each person has their instrument of expertise that they bring to the band, and the band's leader finds a way to bring out the best in everybody, so the sound that you get is very pleasing to the ear. Hopefully it's a great rhythm, it's easy to dance to, and you give it a 98 - I think that was the highest on American Bandstand ... .

"Yet on the other hand, from time to time, life is so much more exciting and dynamic when there's a jam session, or a solo that comes out of nowhere. You don't want the band to be so coming off the page and the music, and so constantly in sync that there's no room for the great solo, the great jam session, you know? When you're at your best, when you're humming as an organization - what does that look like? I think it looks like a great jazz band. Yeah."

The new president/CEO of a major cultural institution equating not-for-profit leadership with jazz?

Let the great jam session begin.

When we met at the museum for this interview, Findlay's first day on the job - Monday, May 14 - was still five days away, and the new president freely stated that the conversation might have its limitations. "I don't have all the answers," she admitted. "I haven't started yet!"

 

Making an Impact

In 1989, Findlay took a position with a local consulting firm that, to her surprise, went out of business six weeks after she landed the job. Yet Findlay describes her newfound unemployment as less an ending than a beginning. "You know," she says, "sometimes fate hands you these opportunities to take a step back and assess. ... I thought, ‘Okay, step back, take a breath. ... Now what do you really want to do?'" And Findlay realized that what she really wanted was a career dedicated to helping others, and working with those who felt a similar calling.

"Let me state the obvious: Volunteers do not have to be here. You know, if you're an employee, you're probably gonna show up, because there's a paycheck in there for you somewhere. For a volunteer, what's in there for them? What's the benefit, what's the payoff? Satisfaction in a job well done. Making an impact, making a difference in something you care about. ... You decide what that is for you. Or maybe it's more than one thing - that's great.

"But what keeps you coming back is that you really are seeing that you're making an impact, and people appreciate that, and you're advancing the organization you care about. You're serving the people you care for, you're changing the community in ways that are meaningful to you. ... And if you don't see that that's happening, why would you keep spending your time in coming back?

"I had a longtime volunteer [at United Way] who I respected very much. Mark Burton is his name ... and Mark said something to the effect of, ‘You know, Kim, I never leave here not feeling better than I did when I came in.' And I said, ‘Mark, that's the greatest compliment I think you could pay me.'

"Here, for example, taking tickets at the IMAX, or serving on the board, or helping in the education area ... . To bring value to any volunteer, I feel like they need to leave with the same feeling that Mark had that day. ‘I never come here that I don't feel better when I leave than when I came in - because I know what I did mattered, and it was time well-spent.'"

 

Where I Belong

With previous volunteer service already on her résumé, Findlay applied for a position with the United Way of the Quad Cities Area. And while at a 1989 fundraising event for a community initiative called Quad-Cities Vision for the Future, she found herself - just one week after filing her application - face-to-face with United Way's then-president, Bob Garrison. (Referencing The Twilight Zone, Findlay says, "It really was one of those doot-doo-doo-doo-doot-doo-doo-doo moments.") After an involved interview process, Findlay was hired as an "entry-level fundraiser," working with schools, hospitals, municipalities - "everyone who did not go into business to earn a profit," she says with a laugh. Three years later, Findlay became the United Way of the Quad Cities Area's campaign director. Two years after that, she became the organization's president.

"I honestly did not think that I was ready to become president. I was 34 that summer. But several of the lead volunteers - campaign, board volunteers - said, ‘Well, Kim, don't you ever want to be president?' ‘Oh, absolutely - I definitely want to be president of a United Way. ... This is where I belong.' So they encouraged me to submit my résumé and go through the process if, for no other reason, it would be a great learning experience for me.

"Every day I got up and I said to myself, you know, ‘I can do this today.' And one of the great things that comes [with the job] is that you learn how strong you are. And how committed you are. And you have such a tremendous bond with the staff ... and the volunteers, who are putting their heart and soul into that endeavor. So you come out of that as a very strong unit."

 

Caring Tough People

During her 14-year tenure with United Way, Findlay launched a series of successful community programs, including the Quad Cities version of the national Success by 6 initiative, described by the United Way Web site (http://national.unitedway.org) as "the nation's largest network of early childhood coalitions, focused on improving school readiness through community change."

"In a volunteer-driven organization, you really need to listen and interact and build consensus and get people on the same page. I've seen leaders who are dynamic and very bright, who have great ideas, charge up the hill and accomplish great things. And if you're a [Bill] Gates or somebody like that - someone with the wherewithal to bring something to fruition in the for-profit arena - you can, sometimes, be a one-man show. But in the nonprofit arena, that's not the way to accomplish things long-term. So you have to be open-minded, and you have to embrace various points of view, and then help people come to the table together and make the best of that.

"People think it's hard to raise money. I think it's much harder to responsibly give it away. Because there's never enough. So the decisions are tough. It takes tough people. Caring tough people, you know? But people who know that in the end, some part of their heart's gonna hurt, because they cannot give to everything they'd like to."

 

Places That Mean Home

The demands of what she describes as "14- to 16-hour days, every day," coupled with exhaustion stemming from a longstanding medical condition, convinced Findlay to retire from United Way in 2005. Regarding her departure, she says, "I knew I could leave the United Way in a very strong financial and public-favorability position." Afterwards, she says, "I stayed home, I did art ... I did yoga, lifted weights, took a welding class. ... I went through a very creative time." Yet after President/CEO Chris Reich resigned from his position in 2006 after nine years with the Putnam (with Bawden taking over as interim CEO), Findlay - a longtime fan of the institution - felt ready to rejoin the not-for-profit workforce.

"I'm an IMAX lover. I've enjoyed the IMAX theatre for a long time, and to have the opportunity to be this close to that is pretty awesome. And I have grandchildren who are four and three, and three months old, and three weeks old, and I have to think that it's gonna be pretty hot stuff for them to have grandma be, you know, at the Putnam and the IMAX.

"I've lived here all of my life, and so one of the first phone calls that I made after I accepted the position was to my brother in Colorado. He left here when he was 19, and the last time he came home to visit - typically, he would say, ‘Okay, I need to go to Frank's Club Napoli in Silvis,' because he and I have gone there literally since I was in a highchair. ‘We have to go to Whitey's. We have to go to Hungry Hobo ... .' He had these places that meant home to him.

"Well, now he has a son who will be four in June, and now he says, ‘We have to go to Frank's and we have to go to Whitey's and we have to go to Hungry Hobo ... and we have to go to the Putnam, because I want Jake to see the mummy.' For him, that's a memory of his growing up here in the Quad Cities - the field trip to the Putnam. That's something that he remembers, and fondly, and equates with home, and so when I knew that I had the position, I called my brother and I said, ‘Okay! It's official! I'm the Mummy's Mommy!'"

 

Burden of Responsibility

Certainly, Findlay's United Way experience suggested her ability to manage a sizable not-for-profit enterprise - even an IMAX-sized not-for-profit enterprise. Yet as she freely admits, her experience with museums hasn't, to this point, extended far beyond standing in line for IMAX movies.

"When I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of the [Putnam] staff prior to being offered and accepting the position, I said, ‘You know, one thing that can be a very positive thing for us, I think, is that I don't have a longstanding museum background.' Now that sounds like an odd thing to say. But we have a curatorial staff, education staff, who do have long, extensive museum backgrounds. They are very well-respected, as I understand it, in their fields - they know what they're doing. So I don't know that they need me to tell them how to do their jobs.

"At first it's going to be listening and getting a feel for where the priorities need to be. And obviously, one of those needs to be in working with Mark [Bawden], to continue to build the endowment, and solidify even further the financial future of this institution."

At United Way, "it mattered that I got up and went to work, because somewhere, somebody that I'll never meet had the opportunity to have shelter that they didn't. And, certainly, the burden of responsibility weighed very heavy on my shoulders - that if we didn't succeed, if we didn't reach the campaign goal, if we didn't allocate as responsibly as we could have ... there were very real consequences that went along with that. Consequences that we didn't see, but that I knew were there. So, financial stewardship and fiscal responsibility is very important to me."

 

Interactive Education Base

Even without professional museum credentials, Findlay already sees several areas she hopes to focus on in her "ambassador role" at the Putnam, including getting more families to experience what the museum has to offer. One of those offerings is the Putnam's "World Adventure Travelogue Series" - a cinematic exploration of exotic global locales, frequently featuring the movies' filmmakers engaging in lectures and Q&A discussions - for which Findlay and her husband have been subscribers.

"It just amazes me that Rick and I are often among the very youngest people in the audience. I think, ‘Where are the families?' What a wonderful opportunity this is to expose your children to other cultures and geographies! And I don't know about everybody else, but I don't have the kind of wealth that I will ever be able to travel to all of the places that the Putnam brings to us on the gigantic screen, and with the person who made the film available to us to interact with and talk to and learn more about that place and about that culture.

"As I understand it, [school] field trips have been reduced quite a bit over the last several years ... so I think it becomes more important for parents to think about how they're building an interactive education base for their kids outside the classroom. And we need to be even more creative about how we take the Putnam out to the people, so that they get a taste of that experience, and it becomes more top-of-mind - that this is a place where you want to come as a family. Let's think about different forums where a person can speak in front of a group of people, and share a message about why I'd love to see them bringing their families, and bringing their grandchildren."

After the press-conference announcing Findlay's hiring, "I had an opportunity to start my focus-grouping. I was walking along and talking to teachers and parents, and combinations thereof: How often do you come and what do you like here? I think, not unexpectedly, one mom said, ‘Well, we'd like to have more information [about Putnam activities] in the greater Quad City area, so we know what's happening when.' Well again, I haven't talked to the staff. I don't know if that information is there and people don't know where to find it, or if we really do need to do a better job of getting that information out in the broader metro area - I just don't know. But the first thing is to listen, right? And to take note of what people say."

 

Clowning

As busy as Findlay is sure to be in her new position with the Putnam, don't expect it to prevent her from performing another volunteer service - one that, annually, finds her sporting the nickname "Bubbles."

"I have my little bubble jar and my wand and I blow bubbles in the Festival of Trees Parade, as a clown. Which is really a great experience. ... All along the blocks I walk, the fascination and the thrill that's on their [children's] faces is the same. I love that.

"Honestly when I was first asked to do it - I was still president of the United Way - I reluctantly said, ‘O-o-o-kay ... ,' because I just didn't see myself as a clown ... person. Never something that had ever, ever crossed my consciousness. You know, ‘Someday, what I really want to do ... !' There's a lot of things on my list of things I want to do someday - that was not one of them. And I did it the first time, and I went, ‘Oh ... thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, because it was more than I could have ever thought it would be.' So clowning in the parade is a really great thing.

"I've had a pretty blessed life for someone who never left their home community, who didn't go to seek greener pastures afar. And I have had these opportunities bestowed on me, to do things that I think are important and engaging and entertaining ... and things that we do together tend to be the most satisfying. And the things that go on.

"When you can get up every day and you know you're pretty darned happy to go to work, you're doing the right thing. Do what you love. As far as we know, you do this once. The whole show. You do this once. So, you know? Do what you love."


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