When Susan Wayne walked through the doors of Family Services of Westchester to begin her internship in 1995, never in her wildest dreams did the social-work student think she’d join the staff, stay on 13 years, and rise through the ranks to become its fourth president and CEO. “I entered the field because it was a passion of mine to work directly with people,” says Wayne. Ultimately, however, she welcomed the challenge of the increased responsibilities. “Starting out as an intern and moving up the ranks has helped me significantly in becoming a better leader. I’ve walked in many of the same shoes as our staff and interacted with clients through direct service.” As a result, Wayne feels she’s able to make decisions from a more global perspective. “Westchester is a very diverse community, and I feel that my greatest impact has occurred with my advancement in the agency,” she says.
As president and CEO, Wayne oversees a staff of 450 employees spanning seven locations across Westchester, who provide a diverse roster of 50 different mental-health and social-service programs for County residents on a $22 million annual operating budget—everything from local Big Brothers and Big Sisters chapters and Head Start programs to elder care and assistance to families affected by HIV/AIDS.
Wayne’s presidency was tested quickly and unmercifully when the Great Recession drained the organization’s coffers while simultaneously amplifying the need for its services throughout the County. “I became CEO in July and, by October, we started to feel the loss of funding,” she says. Wayne rallied her troops and established a task force of key executives to steer the nonprofit through narrowing financial straits. Under Wayne’s stewardship, FSW enacted prudent belt-tightening measures and successfully weathered the storm. “Our fundraising efforts and program enhancements allowed us to keep employment levels virtually flat,” Wayne says.
Since then, she has led a successful $1 million capital campaign to create the new Center for All Ages in White Plains three months ahead of schedule; developed and implemented new programs to meet changing needs, such as a new Veteran’s Outreach and Support Program; and established a Junior Board to work with the leadership board to increase recognition of Family Services.
Wayne insists she’s never experienced the barrier of the proverbial glass ceiling. “During my time in the business world,” she explains, “I achieved many milestones in a male-dominated environment. I tend to anticipate potential barriers and outline strategies to overcome them. It’s part of my M.O., and it has been helpful throughout my work and personal life.”