Ask The CEO

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2009

In 1975, 30-year-old Carl Weinrich, a corporate human resource executive, was persuaded by his handball partners to apply for a job running the Sarasota Family YMCA, which was in danger of closing its doors. The can-do Ohio native brought the Y to break-even within the first year. Today Sarasota’s YMCA has a $37 million budget, 850 employees, state-of-the-art fitness facilities in three Sarasota locations and in Hardee County and trailblazing social programs. The Y has faced recent challenges, from criticism of its foster care program to the economic downturn, but Weinrich, who is retiring this month, says its mission and services make it more important to Sarasota than ever.


What did your HR background teach you? The most important thing is hiring—getting the right people on the bus in the right seats.

Any tips? Ask open-ended questions, like what’s your biggest success? If it’s something small, or they explain the task versus the vision, that tells you a lot. 


How did the YMCA get into social services? Our first facility was a runaway shelter. I used to spend time with the kids—they were dropped off and forgotten; the caseworkers had huge loads and couldn’t get to them.

Your vision to manage foster care locally ended up being the new state model. Has it worked? It’s a huge success. Community-based care is responsive, with lower case loads, more adoptions and much more prevention.


You got some flack from the state over some problems in foster care a year or so back. How does the state feel about you now? When the smoke cleared, we were victims of perception more than reality. We tried too hard to educate people and the media about what is an extremely complicated program and process. We should have kept the message simpler. 


You’re known for telling it like it is. How did you keep your board with you? Sometimes that’s gotten me into trouble—some people don’t deal well with the brutal facts. The big thing is to be totally transparent. Some people make the mistake of only telling them the good news. Keep your board and your employees totally informed.

How do you manage a very large and complex organization? I’m interested in every single aspect of what we do. Your staff often wants to tell you what they think you want to hear; you have to ask probing questions and let them know you understand and appreciate what they do. These aren’t widgets—they’re people. 

What’s your assessment of our elected representatives? We’ve got good people, but we’ve got too much power concentrated in four or five house and senate leaders. If you buck them, you’ll be stripped of everything and have no way to help your constituents. 


Five years ago you were considering going into politics. Now will you? No. You can’t accomplish much under the present system.

Best part of the job? Constantly being excited by the opportunity to improve the services we deliver to kids and families—we really change lives.


Right now you’re downsizing. How’s that feel? It’s fun to build programs; it’s not fun to take them apart. But that’s the economy, and it’s not just us. There’s a temptation to hang onto programs because you worry about the clients, but you have to save the core and hope to rebuild.

What will retirement look like? My wife and I enjoy golf, we have a little fishing boat, and I like doing projects around the house. In the fall, I’m going to help with the [school tax] referendum.

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