Katherine Cecala

by Katherine Cecala

What most notably stands out about your leadership style or what is an example of leadership success you can share with our readers?

Trusting, empathetic and supportive — each is fundamental to empowering a team to succeed. As leaders, we must believe in the individual members as much as in the greater group — trust that they will put in the work, they are committed to the goals and that together, and only together, we can achieve our shared vision. 

We must foster environments where our teams know we care, where we see the whole person and where we celebrate their individual contributions and value as part of the greater success. We must support our teams through coaching, development, generative thinking and helping to carry the load when necessary. 

I truly believe it is because of those dynamics that the JA team chose to see the pandemic as an opportunity to expedite innovation rather than the crisis it has been. As a result, the organization and the students we serve throughout the state benefit the most!

What impact has COVID-19 or the disruptions of the past 18 months had on you as a leader?

The past 18 months have been emotional. It was stressful to manage a significant decrease in revenue for JA and the uncertainty around how we would deliver our critical programs. 

Pre-COVID JA served more than 80,000 students per year entirely in person. The JA team worked together to adapt existing programs and to develop new programs to serve 70,000 students all virtually during the last school year. 

I was so proud of our team. We had staffing reductions and pay decreases, and yet everyone rallied around our mission, volunteering to work even harder to expedite innovation and serve our students. 

I knew JA was a great place to work before, and yet I was blown away by how much we accomplished. In the midst of all of this pressure and uncertainty, JA staff satisfaction was the highest ever (95%). As a leader working with this team, I could not be more excited about our future. Stress, pride, excitement — what a roller coaster journey.

What do you feel we can be doing as a business community to empower economic growth here?

We can spend more effort on making a difference and taking action. Have a bias for action and be more nimble. 

I believe we have the expertise and, if we partner and draw on everyone’s strengths, we can accelerate economic growth. 

JA is working with schools, businesses and organizations throughout Arizona to prepare our students for success in work and life. Our youth are our future and are key to economic growth. Let’s work together, take action and invest in their education.

What is new and notable for your company’s near future that will impact our economy?

JA Inspire! One of the programs that JA developed earlier this year is a virtual career exploration and work readiness program where middle and high school students explore the careers of the future and gain critical work readiness skills to prepare them for success in the future. 

The only program of its kind in Arizona, JA Inspire connects students to our state’s top industries and businesses via our on-demand virtual experience with three parts: (1) online, pre-event career assessment and preparatory lesson(s); (2) the virtual career experience; and (3) a post-event reflection and debrief. Combined, this program offers valuable context for students’ career and educational pathway planning. 

JA is partnering and collaborating with leading education and business groups to enhance and grow this program. We have already reached 6,000 students and plan to reach 25,000 more this school year and more than 100,000 within the next two years. JA Inspire is preparing Arizona youth for the work world. These students are much more likely to succeed and, as a result, benefit our state’s economy and business community. 

Name of Leader: Katherine Cecala
Position of Leader: President
Organization Name: Junior Achievement of Arizona
No. of Years with Organization: 6
Main Local Office Address: 636 W. Southern Ave., Tempe, AZ 85282
Phone: (480) 377-8500
Website: jaaz.org
Number of offices in Greater Phoenix: 1
Year Established Locally: 1957
City Nationally Headquartered: Colorado Springs, CO

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