On the Job with Dave Wallace

Dave Wallace is the executive director of the Albany Area YMCA.

Dave Wallace is the executive director of the Albany Area YMCA.

Dave Wallace, a native of Kentucky, loves kids and sports — good combination when you’re the top official of a YMCA.

Wallace does love his job as executive director of the Albany YMCA, but says his fantasy job would be a major league baseball umpire.

He’s also a man who has a variety of traditions he loves, including an annual trip to Charlotte, N.C., each year to combine watching NASCAR racing and reuniting with college and high school friends.

Wallace recently participated in a question-and-answer session with Herald Reporter Jim West.


NAME: Dave Wallace

AGE: 52

POSITION: Executive Director, Albany Area YMCA

FAMILY: Married to Diane, with children; Kelli, 26, Andrew 23

EDUCATION: Berea College, Berea, Ky.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Cutting grass for Mr. Frank Farmer in Berea, Ky. Mr. Farmer lived on a very steep hill and it took me about three hours every Saturday to push mow that yard. Of course it was uphill both ways. I was 11 or 12 at the time.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. Probably something baseball or basketball related.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. First of all, you want to make sure that the mission of your work is compelling, and I think we do have a strong mission of serving others in our community through the YMCA. Also, you need to recognize the good work of your employees. You let them have a say in decisions. Then there are times for you to get out of the way and let them do what they do.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to do what you’re doing now.

A. To this point in my career, it’s kind of typical progression throughout a Y career. You start off in a program situation, you desire to have more responsibility and you end up at this point. I don’t regret that decision at all. There are times when I’d like to be back on that baseball field working with those kids, though.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. There are actually three people — two not necessarily related to my career. My parents over the past 54 years set an excellent example, gave a good, stable environment growing up. Throughout their 54 years of marriage they set a standard for relationships and how they treated other people. As far as the Y is concerned, Bob Swadel, who was the executive director in Moultrie when I got back in the Y around 20 years ago. His management style is one that I try to copy. He set an example for me as to how to go about running a YMCA, certainly in the right way but also with lots of compassion and humor — things of that nature.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. Well, don’t take anything for granted, and I’d better listen to people who are a whole lot smarter than I am.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?

A. I think they’re all useful tools. I do think, though, that we’re relying too much on those things at the expense of person to person, face to face contact. I’d keep them all.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. I have a smart phone and I have an iPad. The advantages of those help me keep connected with the office when I’m away from here. The disadvantage is, it keeps you connected to the office when your away from the office. There’s no opportunity, I guess, for down time. You’re always thinking about that and wanting to check those things.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. There are lots of them, but the one that comes to mind is any time that I can go back home to Kentucky and visit my parents. That’s the one that sticks out most in my mind. The second one is that for the last 26 years of friends of mine from college and even elementary school get together to enjoy the stock car races in Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend. Out of the last 26 years, I’ve missed two.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. Obviously, daily I read The Herald and running magazines. I like bicycling so I have couple of bike magazines that I read. The last book I read, from cover to cover, was a book by a New York Times writer, Bruce Weber, “As They See ‘Em,” which profiles the life of a major league umpire.

Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. Usually, Monday through Friday I’m up around 5:30 a.m. I get dressed then head out the door. I meet my running/walking buddy, Jimmy Shemwell, long-time Y employee. Jimmy and I get together five days a week to get in about an hour of running or walking — two and a half miles, three miles or so — come back home, have breakfast, get ready and I’m usually in the office by 8:15 or 8:30 a.m.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Well, I like to run and ride my bicycle.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I don’t know if a business decision but more of a career decision. Twenty something years ago I decided to leave the Y. I left for about six years and consequently, that was six years longer to get to this point in my career. But it’s also six years of not contributing to the Y retirement fund. That’s probably the only regret I have with respect to career.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. The people. Kids, our staff, our members. Just interacting with people from the community on a daily basis.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. I could say people, but that’s not true. It just seems there’s always some fire to be put out.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. I think anything that had to do with writing. Through grants and editing things and writing things, communicating to staff, to the community, I think those writing classes have really come in handy. The other thing was that through requirements of the college I went to in Kentucky, we had to work and so coming out of college I had work-related experience in the field I had wanted to go into. We had to balance not only the academic side of it, but working at least ten hours a week. It’s helped me manage time. It’s helped to to prioritize things.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. Major league baseball umpire.

Q. Finish this thought; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…

A. Doing something productive, but it’s going to be on my schedule. The other would be, I have a banjo and I want to learn how to play it.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. I think just being accessible to your staff. Giving them opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process — to be inclusive in those decisions to the level they’re capable and comfortable.

Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. Who knows? Nobody has that specifically in mind. I just know there are things that need to happen to help us get to a better point. That’s certainly coming with jobs, more people coming into the community to work and add quality of life things to the community.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. You’ll find a little bit of everything from Bluegrass to AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top. I’m really a big fan of blues — Howling Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. I think we’ve got two options here: One, we can go forward and two, we can go backward. I think if we kind of get our act together and start working together as a community you’ll see Albany prosper. Lots of great things here to build upon, but if we continue working on coming together as a community I think you’re going to see some tremendous prosperity in the next ten years. If we don’t do that, you’re going to see this community continue to decline to the point that very few people will want to come here.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken?

A. The summer of 2010 we took our two grown children and spent about a week in Montana. We were in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Spent some time in Jackson just looking at that magnificent scenery out there. It was a great time for my kids to bond with my wife. It was a great opportunity to vacation as a family.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Just the complexity of not-for-profit work. We’ve gone from the old days of the YMCA where folks like me may show up in shorts and T-shirt and a whistle and we’re dealing with kids all day. Now it’s more HR stuff. It’s administrative issues, legal stuff, advocacy, budgets. It’s a more complex world than as one of my colleagues said: “I’m just a P.E. major from Berea College. How do they expect me to figure this stuff out?” That’s the reasons for surrounding yourself with good people — either a staff or volunteers to help us figure these complex things out.