After abrupt exit of former CEO, new leader takes helm at National Ability Center
On Aug. 15, the National Ability Center announced the departure of eight-year chief executive officer Gail Barille. Her departure, according to Kevin Stickelman, the organization’s interim CEO was abrupt.
“It’s not like we were planning this for six months,” he said. Instead, the transition was announced at a meeting two weeks ago, and Stickelman has already taken over leadership. But he also said the former CEO left the organization in good hands after she and the board of directors assembled a strong executive team and culture, which Stickelman will now oversee in an interim role with the possibility of becoming the full-time head of the NAC.
Stickelman’s future in that position depends on his performance over the next 12 months, and Barille’s shoes will not be easy to fill. Over Barille’s tenure as CEO, the organization’s annual participant base grew by 96 percent. She also oversaw the NAC’s merger with the outdoor nonprofit Splore, allowing the organization to expand into new outdoor activities including river rafting and rock climbing. Her tenure left what the organization described in a press release as “an indelible mark.”
Stickelman plans on adding a mark of his own.
He said his biggest assets coming into the position include 20 years of experience in the outdoor recreation, hospitality and ski industry.
Before coming to the NAC as its first chief operating officer in April 2016, he was the president and general manager of Lee Canyon Ski Area near Las Vegas for over five years, and was director of guest experience at Mount Bachelor in Bend, Oregon, for more than four years. He also served on the board for Oregon Adaptive Sports, an organization similar to the NAC, for more than 3 years, though the NAC was his first time working for a nonprofit.
“Having worked (at the NAC) for more than two years, I think I know the lay of the land,” he said. “And this position is more than just one person. Leading an organization as the CEO requires faith in everyone working for you – the 2,000 volunteers we have, the rest of my executive team, our community partners and our board of directors.”
Along with his business experience, Stickelman said his other major asset in leading the adaptive sports nonprofit is the absence of his lower right leg.
It was amputated below the knee 13 months after birth due to a congenital condition, and he said it helps him relate to the NAC’s visitors, many of whom are amputees or are otherwise disabled.
“I walk every day in the shoes that our participants walk in, so I can speak first-person what it’s like to be and to live and to have that as part of my everyday life,” he said.
Stickelman will have little time to adjust to his new position. He jumped into the job just over a month out from a massive project in which the NAC will expand its facilities around its base in Quinn’s Junction, as well as a new and much-anticipated mountain center for adaptive skiing at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.
Other than those projects, Stickelman said he hopes to support the organization’s staff and volunteers, maintain a solid base of returning winter staff, maintain the organization’s positive culture and convey a sense of steady leadership.
Stickelman said it was important to him to show that he and the staff would be “walking forward as one team.”
In the long term, he plans to secure the NAC’s position as a leader in outdoor adaptive recreation.
“We are already in the top 1 percent of programs in a size and participation standpoint,” Stickelman said, “but it would be my desire, and something in our strategic plan, to be an employer of choice within our industry and the go-to organization for adaptive recreation.”
Barille commented on her exit through a spokesperson, saying she was excited for the future.
“It’s been a busy eight years, so I will take a bit of a breather and then continue doing what I do best – helping people and organizations grow and succeed,” she wrote. “Like those that visit, participate and support NAC, I will take what I learned at the NAC with me to my next adventures along with many great friends. And you can always count on me to be an advocate for inclusion and all abilities within our community, businesses and beyond.”
Stickelman said he has been working with Barille on the best way to transfer her duties, though she no longer works for the organization.
For Stickelman, his duties start immediately.
“Gail had indicated she would be in her position for two, three, four, five years – it was not specific,” Stickelman said regarding his impression of the organization when he accepted the COO position. “I hoped when I was hired this would be an opportunity in the future. I didn’t know it would come this soon, but I’m thankful that it has come.”
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