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October 24, 2011

Motivated By Change

Karen A. Koller

President & CEO,RCAP Solutions, Gardner

From Nomination Form: "Karen has a strong capacity for being able to provide the necessary leadership to transform struggling organizations from the ground up by establishing a vision for success, a business plan to implement those achievements and the resources to support those endeavors."


Q: Who is your most influential role model, and why?

A: There is not one, but really an amalgamation of real women and fictional ones from the 1960s into today. My answer is not a standard; not my mother nor Indira Ghandi. My early years were fashioned on more important images such as Barbie, Jackie Kennedy, Barbra Streisand and so it goes. To answer the question truthfully I have fashioned my career model against the best of the best in film: Doris Day. She, after all, played in her later films the smart, successful career woman always perfectly dressed and taking on the man’s world. I liked that and still do. Then came my favorites of Murphy Brown and “The Devil Wears Prada” corporate terrorist, Miranda Priestly.

Today’s images of successful women ring true as well. Reba McEntire and Oprah Winfrey boast a lot+ of bravado while being successful businesswomen. But there is more. I am enamored by the young women who work for me. My assistant, as one example, is awesome in my view. Mother of four, wife, sister and daughter. I never took on the mantel of motherhood so I can only observe in wonderment how she does it.

Q:Why are you good at what you do?

A: I believe my mantra for over the past 25 years holds true and is the answer to this question. That is, “They may not like me but they will come to respect me,” coupled with a commitment that consistency of purpose outweighs a popularity contest. This has borne great dividends for those I manage and serve over time. I am also a crazy person for details, connecting the dots and remaining consistent with messaging, processes and the like.

I have been fortunate to surround myself with truly exceptional people who carry a tremendous load within my staff and the board. I have a true resilience factor, coupled with humor that says “Don’t take yourself so seriously. That, in this day and age, cannot be underestimated. If you can’t bounce back, then you can’t lead.

Q: How does your organization give back to the community and what role have you played in those efforts?

A: Seeing as I have been working for organizations whose mission is community development for the past 25 years, this is a bit tougher than it appears. However, I will say that my best contribution here is empowerment of others to do their work. Last year we had a wonderful occurrence where one of our client companies which makes holiday ornaments donated a huge number to us. Several staff, in turn, worked up a distribution plan for families in need and through this effort, joy and cheer was shared with those who may not have had funds.

We are now entrenched in homelessness prevention. This is such a difficult time for so many and we are so pleased to bring a family from shelter or hotel to their own apartment. It is rewarding, to say the least. My role in this case is to be the voice for those without one; those perhaps forgotten or worse, misunderstood.

Q: When the stress level gets too high, what’s your secret remedy?

A: Chick flicks. Easy answer. Along with enjoying light reading, antiquing and home decorating just about sums it up. My dog Rascal continues to make me laugh; he is a source of support.

I love to dance — seat dancing in my car is one which probably only a few have witnessed although driving up Route 2 may be an open audience!

Q: How have you tried to balance your career and your personal life? Give an example or two.

A: Well, the good news is I’m still married after 34 years! I truly wake up blessed each day that I remain healthy and challenged as I move throughout the course of my day. As my husband says,” You pick ‘em up and put ‘em down.”

During the first year of my tenure at RCAP, I lost both of my parents within five months of each other. This was quite a tumultuous time since I was new in the job and the primary caretaker for them as well. I believe the balance in this case comes from support by my leadership team at the time and for that I will always be grateful and my husband.

I will admit I’m really not very good at the wife thing. I’m a slow learner in that regard but having said that, we are a team. The beauty of my work at this point in my personal and professional life is that I can manage to step back and do some work at home at a more leisurely pace.

Q: What’s your primary motivator, or if there is one thing that makes you tick or ignites a passion within you, what is it?

A: Change is the motivator, without question. The more complex, the more I get the engine going. When I believe in the purpose that is required it seems that my energy, enthusiasm and passion just flow. Being a change maker over the past 25 years in nonprofits has revealed to me an inner capacity to achieve some seemingly insurmountable barriers. Tenacity and due diligence are also required in that you need to get the engine going, set the vision for what needs to happen, and move ahead methodically, while not allowing yourself to become derailed.

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