If effective leadership means translating vision into reality, then Cindy Dowd Greene ’78 has been extraordinarily successful.
The chemical engineer-turned-corporate executive enjoyed a 25+-year career in the pharmaceutical industry, most notably at Bristol-Myers Squib. There, she moved up the ranks of the company’s Technical Operations Division, leading a worldwide third party sales team to increase sales over 400% in five years, and the strategic sourcing group to save a half a billion in costs.
She then joined the company’s U.S. Oncology/Immunology Division where she was responsible for maximizing the lifecycle of the entire product portfolio.
But by 2000, Dowd Greene was looking for a change. She left the world of big pharma to help build several start-ups, relocating with her husband Mark ’77 and children Bryan ’04 and Beth ’07, to her central New York hometown of Baldwinsville.
Dowd Greene soon found herself involved in a bid to help save a local hockey rink, which developed into a leadership role developing and building a YMCA in the town.
At the time, Dowd Greene was consulting for a company based in Maine. She joined the YMCA board in 2002, and soon after became vice chair (and eventually chair) of the project. “I knew that this would be a great asset to the community and that if we could build it, people would come.”
But getting the project off the ground turned out to be another thing altogether.
Dowd Greene went to a lot of hearings and town planning meetings to build support for the project, worked with architects and presented the project to potential donors.
“We were trying to raise funds, which was often challenging as there was often a level of uncertainty about the project,” she says. “At the same time, we needed the backing of the community so we had to keep residents informed, engaged and excited about the project.”
“With that support, we could stand up before the planning groups and the YMCA of Greater Syracuse and explain that we needed a $14 million loan.”
There was also the challenge of finding a location. The leadership team looked at more than 20 sites, faced wary neighbors and two law suits. They lost a projected building site in 2011, and had to start looking all over again. Eventually, they purchased an 11 ½-acre plot for just $1. Despite all the roadblocks, in 2013 the planning board approved the site plan. Construction began in 2014.
For Dowd Greene, the hardest part was keeping the people around her from getting discouraged by the setbacks along the way. “There was a lot of fatigue and I had to convince people to stick with it.”
“I knew we could do it. We had a clear goal in mind, and one thing I have learned over many years of leading projects is that there is always a way around a problem.”
That perseverance paid off.
On June 8, 2015, Dowd Greene saw the vision become a reality. That day, the 100,000-square- foot, $20 million Northwest Family YMCA of Baldwinsville officially opened its doors.
When it is fully operational, it will employ some 300 people.
“The Y is much more than a facility,” she says. “It is strengthening the community and becoming a center of activity for people throughout Northwest Onondaga County and South Oswego County.”
The new facility includes an aquatic center featuring a family pool, lap pool, therapy pool and learn-to-swim programs; three basketball courts; an outdoor track; a teen/tween center that will also offer programs for senior citizens; a wellness center serving cancer survivors; and an arts and music studio with classes for all ages.
“There is even free coffee in the lobby,” Dowd Greene says. “I go there now and can’t help but smile.”
Today, she is working full time with a start-up medical diagnostic company, Motion Intelligence Inc., although she remains involved with Northwest Family YMCA.
“To me leadership is about leading by example. You have to be dedicated and willing to jump in. You have to be clear about what you want and you have to inspire others to get behind the goal with you. Then you have to keep everyone moving toward the goal.”