Lay to Pro – The Beginning of a New Journey
I have been really fortunate throughout my marketing career. I have worked with some great brands, including Clorox Bleach, Durkee and French’s Spices & Seasonings, Scotts Turf Builder and Miracle-Gro. For the past eight years, I was a Senior Vice President at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, reminding Americans that “Nationwide is on your side”. But since graduating from the Wexner Heritage Program in 2002, I increasingly found something was missing from my work. While my career was deeply satisfying, I was missing fervor. Who knew a Jewish leadership course would send me out looking for passion.
Like so many of my fellow alumni, I found that passion in my volunteer work as a lay leader at my synagogue, the day school and, finally, the Jewish Federation of Columbus. My wife and family were always supportive and encouraged me to follow this passion. My friends could see my enthusiasm show with the long hours I put in as a volunteer. Certainly, it came as no surprise to any of them when I decided to make a career change. A year ago, I made the tough decision to leave my corporate career and I began the interview process to become a Jewish communal professional. Since January 2013, I have been working full time as the CEO of the Federation here in Columbus.
Being a Jewish communal professional can be really tough. It is a 24-7 job (although I try to keep it to 24-6 by not shaving, wearing sunglasses and donning a baseball cap on Shabbat with the hope that no one will recognize me). I get stopped all the time by people who want to offer their ideas about the community. Sometimes I feel like all 22,000 Jews in Columbus know exactly what my job is, but none of their job descriptions for me overlap. So, why am I doing this and what have I found so far?
First, I have a new appreciation for some of the most basic lessons that we learned at Wexner. These include simple phrases like:
Leading is hard. That is precisely why we do it – who wants to do something easy?
Change is hard. That is why we need competent people driving change.
Leaders and change agents will be criticized. That is why we build coalitions – so we can better withstand and overcome criticism.
During my first six months, I have seen the wisdom of all these lessons. I have also recognized how the skills I learned in 25 years of business can truly transform a not-for-profit organization into a “business” that is more attuned to its customers and their needs. I have also witnessed just how much some people care about their Jewish community and the converse, how little others care about their heritage. Some see the Federation as an anachronistic organization whose best days have come and gone. I see the Federation as an agent of change…a force that can help drive new energy and connectivity within our community.
While my journey is just beginning, I can say this: Every day I leave the office with an exceptional sense of accomplishment and gratitude. How cool is it that I have the opportunity to work each day for the betterment of the Jews in my own community? How cool is it that, because I am devoted to this full time, I can encourage more of my friends to volunteer for key positions and, together, we can drive change faster? How cool is it that I have the opportunity to make Columbus a model Jewish community?
I love my new job…my new career. I hope to continue writing about my experiences moving from lay to pro. Apparently there are more than 30 Wexner Heritage Alums who have also made the “Lay to Pro”
I would love to start a conversation with those of you who have made that change– how are you finding your transitions? What can we share? How can we support each other?
And if you are contemplating such a move yourself, feel free to join the conversation or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gordon Hecker, a Wexner Heritage Alum from Columbus 00, has over 25 years of marketing experience. As a lay leader Gordon served as Board President at Congregation Beth Tikvah and Columbus Jewish Day School. He was Vice Chair for Jewish Education & Identity and Campaign Chair at the Jewish Federation, as well as served on the Executive Board and the Marketing and Nominating committees at Jewish Federations of North America. In addition, Gordon has served on the Board of the Bexley Education Foundation and has worked on a branding project for the city of Columbus.
Gordon earned his MBA from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University. He recently became President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Columbus. Gordon can be reached at email@example.com.