Management Secrets of Top Westchester CEOs: Susan Wayne, CEO of Family Services of Westchester in Port Chester

Susan Wayne has a master’s degree in social work, not business, but that hasn’t stopped her from keeping the $20 million Family Services of Westchester (FSW) on sound footing during extremely trying economic times. One thing that helps is the 60-year-old’s deep knowledge of the organization itself, where she started as an intern in the 1990s while a student at Columbia. After graduation, she served as a licensed clinical social worker, then worked her way up through the administrative ranks until she was appointed CEO in 2008.

“In today’s environment, it’s tough being able to meet needs,” she says. “Sometimes, difficult decisions have to be made; programs may have to be cut. That’s what keeps me up at night.” A good CEO doesn’t let adversity get her down, though. When obstacles arise, she finds a way over, around, or through them. Even when she was still interviewing for the position, Wayne promised the search committee she’d be spending 50 percent of her time looking for funding for the $20 million organization. She also “put more resources into development, so that they’ve continued to be able to raise more money each year.” Between those increases and decreased administrative costs, FSW has maintained its pre-crisis budget.

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Wayne used what she calls her “people-centered” approach when difficult decisions—like closing FSW’s Mount Kisco branch—became inevitable. She communicated with staff regularly through e-mails, letters, and a strict open-door policy to explain the decisions and hear ideas for softening difficult moves. Eventually, the team realized they wouldn’t have to let anyone go because they were expanding in Sleepy Hollow at the same time. “Looking back, the transition was very smooth,” Wayne says.

FSW touches the lives of 30,000 people in Westchester every year, providing services to people in every stage of life through 55 programs, ranging from Early Head Start to home healthcare for the elderly. The organization has about 150 part-time and 300 full-time employees.

“It’s very, very, very scary,” she says, “because there’s always something coming up for renewal.”

Photo by Cathy Pinsky

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