Quintrall: Big decisions require as much input as courage

When I travel across the three states the BBB serves, I’m very comfortable eating alone. I see no reason to eat bad fast food, so I seek the locally owned treasures, just me and my book. However, there are times when having a companion over dinner would be welcome. For example, when I need to make a big decision. My husband, Tobby Hatley, and my dad have both served as my sounding boards, and my reality check.

I’ve written about Dad in many of these columns; the business and life lessons he taught me, the challenges he and his wife confronted as they entered new life phases, and his influence on me when it comes to NFL football.

On Jan. 2, 2012, after quickly coming to terms with his quality of life choices, my dad passed away. When he made the decision to cease the pointless life-saving efforts and let go, he asked my daughter to call me. She was with him, holding his hand when he left this Earth, and I will always thank her for that and the last call a day before he died. His question to me in that final call was, “Did you accept the new job?” He said how proud he was of me and pleased I had found a life partner in all my adventures. I thanked him for making me who I am and teaching me how to follow my heart and stand on principles.

Previously, during my Christmas visit to Denver, I’d told him I was considering a potential offer from Spokane’s new mayor, David Condon, to take on one of the department head/Cabinet positions in the city. I described the job as one which would oversee all of the business-oriented products and services offered by Spokane to bring a customer focus and real solutions to a number of city departments. I shared my excitement at being a part of real change.

Dad asked if the new mayor were a friend or if I’d been a big supporter. I said no, he is a Republican and I am a registered Democrat, although a conservative one. Dad asked why I would walk away from a 24-year career to move into a leadership position in local government, and I again told him I was excited to be part of the real, sustainable change I am convinced David wants. Dad and I talked about my passion for the city of Spokane and the region. He was satisfied with my reasons and sounded excited and proud.

You see, Dad always told me you regret the chances you do not take, not the safe things you do. When I told him in 1998 that I had decided to leave Colorado and move to Washington alone, knowing nobody, he applauded my gumption. So when the city job became a reality early this month, I had dinner with my dad in Billings. We had a long talk – yes, all of it in my head. But he is still there. So that evening at Jake’s Restaurant in Billings, I hashed out the pros and cons of making this move.

I am leaving a career of nearly 25 years and stepping into a leadership position in a city government that is not well thought of, let alone trusted. I know there are great people working to get the job done, along with some who could not care less. I also understand the frustrations of working with or against the city. We should all have the same goal – making things better for those who live here – but at times we lose that focus.

Will this be easy? No. It will be messy, hard, and at times feel impossible. But just having an outsider move in to lead a whole division toward a customer-and-solution-focused frame of mind could be invigorating.

And I know I’m leaving the BBB in great hands. The BBB board of directors insisted five years ago on a succession plan because they knew larger BBBs across the country were seeking me out, and that I was focused on turning the reins over to a younger leader. I feel very strongly that a nonprofit organization needs this kind of change, or it becomes a cult of personality. And while I have seen our BBB change and grow so much, youth is refreshing in leadership.

Elea Katzele has been at the BBB for more than four years, being groomed for the CEO position. Yes, it is three years earlier than I’d planned, but she is ready. As former board member Rob McCann, the CEO of Catholic Charities, said when I sought him out for counsel, “She is brilliant, ready and capable.” And she is.

So the BBB will continue to grow and change, as will I. Elea will shape the next stage of Better Business Bureau as we celebrate our 100th year and beyond. I have great pride in her and all the staff. Elea, too, seeks counsel from her father, a former Secret Service agent who spent many years protecting all sorts of presidents. He is her biggest fan and has her back, just like my father did.

I hope to write a different column elsewhere from my new seat in Spokane’s City Hall. We shall see if that all works out. Until then, thanks for such a great ride.

Jan Quintrall has served as president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau since 1998.

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