March 19, 2019 - One on One
One-on-one with Samuel Watts, CEO since 2016 of the Welcome Hall Mission, a non-profit organization that offers many programs to support those experiencing homelessness, young single mothers, families and at-risk youth.
1. What led you to become CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission?
It was an opportunity to have a major impact on our city. I’ve always been lucky, in both my life and my career. When the Board called me, with everything I’ve done over my career, I saw an opportunity to really give something back. The idea of having a major impact also spoke to me.
2. What does professional success look like to you?
I’ve thought a lot about that, and it basically comes down to two things: serving clients well, and doing so with dignity. People struggling with poverty often go through less-than-dignified experiences when dealing with social services. We want to help those people become independent. The other dimension involves having colleagues, here at the Mission, who are well supported, fully committed, and inspired to serve others. I like leading by example and that’s why, through my behaviour, I need to show that I’m part of the whole process, that I’m one of the colleagues, and that I’m as committed as they are. In my consulting career I noticed that an interview with a company leader can reveal a lot about the company’s DNA. And the DNA of a leader was something I felt when I walked along the office hallways. A company’s culture isn’t always easy to define, but it’s easy to see. You can feel it through behaviours, our way of speaking, and how the company treats its clients. In my career, I’ve never seen a situation where a CEO had a certain attitude towards clients and a completely different one towards employees. There’s always a parallel.
3. What have you learned about yourself since becoming a leader?
As I’ve discovered, many challenges that seem impossible are actually just temporary. In many cases I’m more tenacious than I thought – I like getting rid of obstacles that hinder performance and, in my field, there are many! Also, things I thought I could do in six months ended up taking me a whole year. I’ve learned to be more patient, and confident when overcoming obstacles.
4. What motivates you and inspires you on a daily basis?
“Getting solid results. I enjoy setting goals. I’ve always been that way, too. The same guy! Here, because we work directly with people in precarious situations, we constantly see people who receive food and housing, who were previously excluded and now feel included. They have a sense of dignity they didn’t have before. Often, in community organizations, things take place day after day and we don’t really see any changes. Here, at the Welcome Hall Mission, given the extent of our services, we often end up having stories to tell with happy endings. For example, take the person who drops by, as we saw this morning, saying this is their last time coming in because they’ve found a job. They thank us for everything we’ve done for them and their family, tell us they don’t need us anymore but will instead start donating to us. That’s the best result we can hope for! When I come in to work, I feel blessed to always be so inspired and motivated.”
5. What do you want your legacy to be as CEO?
The biggest thing I see when looking ahead is a scenario where the Mission will have been an agent of change in the City of Montreal. Long-lasting, measurable change. I often talk about the possibility of eliminating chronic homelessness and hunger. What I would like, over the next five or ten years, is for us to look back and say that, in 2016, there were X number of people living in chronic homelessness in Montreal and that there were 137,000 hungry people but today, the number is way down. I honestly believe that scenario is possible and that’s what drives me each day. I’m confident we’re on the right track.
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