Business Profile | Mike Havala

January 2017 View more

Despite spending most of his career in the for-profit world of capital markets and high finance, Mike Havala was no stranger to Naperville-based Loaves & Fishes when he was named CEO and President in October. After all, Havala had been serving as interim CEO since March and had been on the board of the volunteer-powered food pantry for more than seven years. But moving into a full-time, nonprofit leadership role was still bound to be a significant professional change of pace, a topic among several others that Havala touched upon in a recent exchange with Naperville magazine.

Why did you first decide to get involved with Loaves & Fishes back in 2009, and what was it about your time with the organization that inspired you to take on this new role and lead it into the future?

I was looking to become more involved in the community and give back. I have been fortunate with my family and my career, and it became clear to me that I needed to give back to others who need help to improve their lives. For many families, it’s often a fine line between thriving and struggling, and we have a responsibility to impact people’s lives so they are on the thriving side of the line.

As I became more heavily involved with Loaves & Fishes as the interim CEO, I grew more and more inspired by the amazing work of our volunteers and the generosity of our donors, and I ultimately felt that I could make a difference in our clients’ lives by making a bigger contribution on an everyday basis as the permanent CEO.

As you settle into the role, what are some of your top priorities for the organization?

My biggest priorities revolve around moving the organization forward to accomplish all aspects of our strategic plan, which includes increasing access to food and services to benefit more families, helping underresourced families achieve self-sufficiency, leading food insecure families toward making nutritious food choices, leading community members toward compassionate volunteer service and leading a culture of philanthropy.

If we do these things successfully, we’ll have made a strong, positive impact in our community.

Loaves & Fishes has grown tremendously over the years. What do you see as some of the organization’s main challenges in the months and years ahead?

Our community is changing, and we must adapt to serve its changing needs. To that end, I’m a big believer in daily evaluation and relentlessly looking for how we can do better tomorrow, so we’re constantly working on improving our operations, programs and other parts of the organization.

We also have challenges typical of other organizations in the nonprofit world. Since we get all of our funding from the community, we have to be out in the community every day in order to be sure that we can fund all of the things we provide to our clients.

How do you expect your depth of experience in the corporate world to help you as you transition to a full-time leadership position at a nonprofit? What adjustments do you anticipate?

By and large, there are no real differences in leadership skills as they relate to nonprofits versus the corporate world. The principles and characteristics of a good leader are the same for both environments, and most traditional organizational functions work the same in both environments.

Probably the biggest difference in our case is that most of our workforce is comprised of volunteers. Last year, we had about 1,600 different volunteers log over 90,000 hours, which is the equivalent of over forty-three full-time staff. The volunteers are here because they love the mission, love directly helping our clients and love giving back to their community. As CEO, it’s important to always remember why they are here and to make sure they know how much we appreciate their amazing service.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far in your career?

Seeing people advance and watching organizations grow and achieve great long-term results are both very satisfying for me. One example I can think of was building and financing the facility that Loaves & Fishes operates today on High Grove Lane in Naperville.

When I first joined the board, we operated out of a small, obsolete location, but through the tremendous efforts of many people in the community we were able to create, construct and finance a brand new facility—an especially challenging task amid the depths of the recession. This new facility has been a game-changer by dramatically improving the amount and quality of food and services that we can provide to our clients. And that’s the bottom line for us at Loaves & Fishes—improving the lives of the clients by helping them to become more self-sufficient.

When you’re not busy being CEO, how do you enjoy spending your free time?

My family, of course, is a top priority. I have a fantastic wife of 32 years, and for the past 27 years we have been raising our three wonderful daughters, so that has been a big part of my time outside of work. We just entered the world of empty-nesters this year, so now we are starting to get involved in a number of other things.

I love participating in sports and athletic endeavors, including running, biking, tennis, strength training and golf (which counts as exercise for me since I tend to zig-zag my way through most of the course). I also love to travel with family and friends. We usually tend to seek out a more local experience in a different city or country rather than visit the more popular attractions, which allows us to truly experience new communities, rather than just viewing their landmarks.