My Journey - Ten Years at CJE

by Mark D. Weiner, President & CEO

The tenth anniversary of my becoming President & CEO of CJE invites reflection about how far we’ve come and what lies ahead of us. It is appropriate for me to share my thoughts in this issue of LIFE as I am particularly mindful of the impactful partnership I have shared with the Board of Directors, committed volunteers who are the ultimate stewards of CJE’s Mission, Values and Vision. In the past ten years, I have had the privilege of working with six Board Chairs and almost 75 present and past Board members. More than 1,000 Board-related meetings later, I am steadfast in my respect for their work and dedication.

I have been connected to CJE for many years, dating back to when I was actively involved in JUF’s Young Leadership Division. At that time, I was appointed to sit on CJE’s Board. Later in my career, I was called in to CJE as a consultant. While I was very impressed with CJE during these early years, having a full-time leadership role has been inspiring and rewarding. My commitment to serve our older adult population and advance the quality of life in our wonderful Chicago Jewish community is unwavering. Needless to say, the past 10 years have been immensely satisfying, personally and professionally. Of course, what I am doing now bears no resemblance to my initial career goal of being a pitcher for the N.Y. Yankees. However, the journey here has been marked by fulfilling moments and deep relationships.

Since 2004, we’ve accomplished a great deal. I’m proud to say that we have built a great team of dedicated staff who work hard to make sure that CJE continuously delivers on
its promise to uphold Jewish values and are committed to enhancing the lives of older adults and their families.

At the beginning, my initial assessment of the organization confirmed that I needed to spend time rebuilding trustworthy relationships with staff, Board members and other affiliated organizations. To do this, I developed a 90-day Plan to better understand CJE’s challenges as well as the organization’s vast opportunities to grow and serve an even larger community.

I met with dozens of people—staff members, Board members, residents and clients—visited our 12 locations throughout the city and suburbs, and met with Federation
leadership. Most importantly, I decided to knock down a glass door that barricaded the Executive Offices from the rest of the employees. This practical and symbolic decision encouraged an open work environment, confirming that from now on new ideas and thinking would be welcomed, appreciated and implemented as much as possible.

These steps were the first of many to transform the corporate culture into one of openness, trust and transparency.
From a business perspective, I led the charge in 2004 to involve CJE’s lay and staff leaders in the development of a new Strategic Plan. After 14 intensive months, we emerged from the process with a Strategic Plan that included a refreshed Mission, enhanced Values Statement and a new Vision Statement. Though it has been thoughtfully revised several times over the past decade, we have used this Plan as the foundation—and lens—for advancing our efforts to serve a more diverse population with innovative programs in a larger geographic area. It has guided us in improving our business operations and as a result, has advanced our credibility with donors and funders. In short, our Strategic Plan has moved us closer to our Vision of becoming the premier eldercare provider of choice in metropolitan Chicago and a model for eldercare providers across the country.

Additional accomplishments in the past ten years of which I am especially proud include:

  • Affirmation of CJE’s Jewish values as we respond to an increasingly diverse community, reflected in 2008’s name change to CJE SeniorLife.
  • Development of a strong and passionate management team.
  • Development of a wide range of staff development and recognition activities.
  • Revision of our corporate by-laws with enhanced Board relationships based upon transparency, strategicand mission-driven ownership and strong committee structure and performance.
  • ŠŠInnovative and responsive programming that acknowledges opportunities and challenges in the eldercare marketplace.
  • Closer alignment with the shifting health care system.
  • Robust relationships with synagogues.
  • Financial stability (though not without making some tough decisions), even during the economic downturn starting in 2007.

The list could go on; however, it is also important to focus on the priorities that will ensure our collective future, which again, are driven by our Strategic Plan.

As the President & CEO, it is my responsibility, in partnership with our Board of Directors, to make sure that:

  • We will proactively seek new revenue sources so we have the ability to serve more people in need.
  • We will integrate new models of care in alignment with the changing health care system.
  • We will develop and advance our business practices and operational systems.
  • We will advance our brand and strengthen our promise to be trustworthy, customer-centric and innovative.

In our on-going commitment to these priorities and resulting activities, we continue to believe in our Mission, practice our Values and strive to realize our Vision.

In the years to come, my goal is to continue to provide leadership based on hard and focused work, trust, transparency and a desire to build strong and supportive relationships.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve CJE SeniorLife, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and the Jewish and larger community. I am especially appreciative for the dedicated service of our staff. This ranges from our nurses to our social workers to our bus drivers to food service employees and to all those who provide direct care and required administrative support. Their commitment to our residents and clients is a daily reminder of the significance of who we are, what we do, how we do it and what we need to do to further CJE’s mission for years to come.

I offer a very big thank you to my Board of Directors, my management team and to everyone who has taken this journey with me over the past 10 years. While we have faced many challenges, I remain optimistic about the health and future of CJE. I have been honored to serve for these past 10 years and look forward to my next 10 years leading this wonderful organization.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of LIFE, CJE SeniorLife's quarterly magazine.