Tracy Techau serves as scout executive/CEO of the W. D. Boyce Council, Boy Scouts of America. In this role he is responsible for the successful delivery of the scouting program for 14 counties in central Illinois. The council covers the largest geographic area in the northern half of the state, from Mendota and Ottawa to Princeton, to Canton, Lincoln, Clinton, to Bloomington and Pontiac.
In 1980, Techau earned the Eagle Scout award as a teen in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In 1984 he graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in sociology and an emphasis in business administration.
He was commissioned by the Boy Scouts of America in 1985 and began his career in St. Paul, Minn.
He was promoted to serving the growing suburbs south of St. Paul in 1987. He was elected president of the Eagan, Minnesota Rotary. Specific scouting responsibilities included relationships with 19 United Ways in the communities outside of the St. Paul metro area. In 1988 he was promoted to a mid-level leadership position responsible for the council's field executive staff's efforts in fundraising and youth recruiting.
In 1990, Techau was promoted to serve as the director of development and public relations for the council in Minneapolis. His principle duties were to build the council's relationships and visibility within Minneapolis' extensive corporate base.
He joined the council headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., in 1995 serving as director of field service. In his 30 months in Kansas City, his staff of 35 executives supported 15,500 volunteers and increased youth membership by more than 12,000 to 51,000 Scouts.
He relocated to central Illinois to lead the then troubled W. D. Boyce Council in September 1998.
He was recognized in October as a 1999 recipient of the "40 Leaders Under 40" award.
His interests include cycling, running, and triathlons. He and his wife, Jean, have two daughters; and part of his motivation for the success of the scouting movement is so that he can look forward to having high quality sons-in-law in 20 years.
Tell us about your background, schools attended, family, etc.
My family raised hogs on a farm south of Council Bluffs, Iowa. My father purchased a small portion of my grandfather's farm and also worked full time as a refrigerator and appliance repairman. My dad is the son of German immigrants from Hamburg and East Prussia. I had an ideal childhood in many ways. My grandparents were nearby and the farm was carved out of the dramatic Loess Hills along the Missouri River valley. The topography is very much like the river bluffs that grace the Peoria area.
My grandfather was one of 14 children–all of these big German farm families married into other big farm families–so I seemed to be related to most of the county. The "family" aspect of our very large, very close group of relatives was wonderful, and seemed quite normal to me growing up. It wasn't until years after leaving my original home I realized the blessings I had as a child.
The farm background helped me develop my work ethic and gave me insights to life and the way the world works. My father and my recently deceased mother are the hardest working people I have ever known. I was raised in an environment of tireless people who were truly driven to make a better life for their family.
Scouting was an important part of my childhood along with high school track, writing, and too many teenage jobs to mention. The hardest job I had was detasseling corn, something I did for six long, hot southwest Iowa summers.
Iowa State University and Sigma Chi fraternity were my home from 1981 to 1984. Next to Scouting, Sigma Chi and the Greek social life was the most important influencing activity in my formative years.
How did your background prepare you for your current position?
The scouting career is a phenomenal incubator for learning how to serve and lead others. Some agencies utilize volunteers as a part of their human resources; our movement is comprised of 1.2 million volunteers nationwide and only 4,000 professionals. You can see the importance of volunteers to scouting. When I joined the scouting movement as a professional at the age 22, many of the volunteers I was responsible for had been active in scouting since before I was born.
In Peoria we have several incredibly wonderful individuals who have served on our board for more than 40 years. In an environment such as this, it is absolutely essential to be a leader, a servant, a statesman, a politician, a communicator, and able to break bread with people from all walks of life. And I do mean all walks of life. This is the part of the job I love the most.
As a management training experience, leading and serving such a large number of diverse volunteers is a world-class leadership development experience. In fact, many of our young professionals are ultimately lured from the movement early in their careers to take other employment positions of great responsibility. All non-profits must avoid the trap of substandard compensation and expecting to remain competitive in the job market.
At the risk of being too sentimental, I found my calling when this career found me in 1985. The "average" scouting volunteer is usually a person who is exceedingly giving of his or her own time and resources. These volunteers are people who will go to extraordinary means to make the life of a child better. Many of our volunteers are so giving, so selfless in their interests that I feel humbled at the end of the day because I know in my heart they are more giving, more generous, more patient and all around better people than I could ever hope to become. There is an important document titled the Scout Executive's Code. Part of this pledge calls for "losing oneself in the service of volunteers." Living up to this standard is easy with the people who I am privileged to serve and lead.
Has scouting always been part of your life? Are you an Eagle Scout? Is that a qualification for Scout Executive? Did you ever envision yourself as CEO of a Scout Council?
My mother initiated joining scouting for me. Scouting was important to her family in Shelby, Iowa, population 300. Her dad was left fatherless at age 3 and raised by his mother. Grandpa Harold did not have a father in his life but he became a Boy Scout in 1917. Even though grandpa only achieved the rank of Second Class Scout, he memorized and lived by the Scout Oath and Law. He found quality adult mentoring in those critical years. I really believe his life, and ultimately the lives of his children, were dramatically improved by this experience in his youth. My grandfather's son (my uncle) later became the first Eagle Scout in Shelby. My uncle is in his 60s yet carries his original Eagle wallet card even today.
My brother is an Eagle Scout, and he claims his success in the armed forces stems from his ability to lead others learned as a Boy Scout. My favorite experiences with my own dad were when he served as our Scoutmaster. Together, we backpacked 70 miles at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. These are the types of memories every father and son should have. It was the exposure to the community, however, provided to me as a Boy Scout that taught me how to challenge myself. Scouting gave me the belief in my abilities and the desire to accomplish great things that drives me today.
My mother passed away just a few days before I moved to Peoria in September 1998. She was buried wearing her wedding band and with two Eagle Scout mother's pins on her favorite dress. Scouting will always be a very important part of my life.
Scouting experience as a youth is unnecessary to be a successful Scout professional. A strong work ethic, organizational and people skills, however, are essential. I am very proud of my staff in the W. D. Boyce Council. I have worked with some of the best professionals in the nation. Our council's staff is extremely dedicated to the success of the program, and to me they are family.
I did not consider the career track of becoming the CEO of a council as a youth or even in the first part of my career. The first scout executive/CEO I worked under was a charismatic, visionary leader. The second was a master strategic planner and manager of resources. I had another staff leader who taught me how to lead others to achieve improbable goals. My scout executive/CEO in Kansas City was an incredible mentor and role model for me. He is now the third highest-ranking professional in our national structure. It's amazing how much an interested mentor can positively influence your career, and your life, just by directly addressing your development "head on."
It is this philosophy I try to utilize in leading my staff today. I hope I am as successful in developing others as my role models were for a significant number of career professionals. Today I enjoy terrific support from my professional liaisons at the BSA region and area offices.
You came to a troubled W. D. Boyce Council. Explain the history of the central Illinois council. What were some of the issues that first had to be dealt with? What issues still need to be resolved, if any? How do you plan to do that as executive director? What future goals has the council set?
The potential for the positive impact scouting can make on the greater Peoria area is staggering. One of the reasons we have been so successful at immediately involving some of the communities most recognized business leaders is that they recognize opportunity when they see it.
Think of the old W. D. Boyce Council as a sports team with star athletes who had little coaching; fans that did not cheer but who still attended the games; and a huge amount of potential ticket buyers who were waiting to see a new coaching staff, front office, and direction. This council was at the brink of dissolving, but had enough untapped assets to excite a corporate raider. The new council, and it is a completely new organization, is getting star performance out of its athletes–old and new fans are cheering. It's a wonderful time to be in the W. D. Boyce Council.
Scouting came to our area in about 1910. Our current council was formed in 1973 when the councils based in Peoria, Bloomington and Ottawa, merged. Our council is named in honor of the man who founded the BSA, William D. Boyce, publisher of several Chicago papers and a resident of Ottawa. The council enjoyed tremendous strength at the time of the merger under the leadership of Scout Executive Al Roberts. He and the board assembled the 962 acre Ingersoll Scout Reservation near London Mills (formerly Wilderness Scout Camp) and built the service center we use today.
Many of the problems that became so serious for our council resulted from an ambitious capital campaign in the early 1990s, and subsequent decisions to continue to build Woodland Scout Camp in Washburn. Many dedicated and well-intentioned people pursued a dream of a new camp for area youth. Unfortunately, the business plan or finances to support this effort failed to become realities. As construction of the camp proceeded, finances worsened. With capital funds short, loans from banks and an endowment fund were taken to continue building. Other issues also became serious problems. In early 1998 the council's deterioration became a crisis of grave fiscal, governance, service, morale, and relationship concerns.
In September 1998 the council's phone service and electrical power had been interrupted due to non-payment of bills. Scouting's well publicized financial, relationships and other problems had brought the council to insolvency, and its continued existence was threatened. There was a very real possibility of the council folding or having to divest of remaining assets–including its Scout Service Center in Peoria. The vehement disagreements within certain groups of the board, and some very un-scoutlike activity of others, produced the most acidic environment I and other Scout professionals had seen or known.
Many of our long-term financial supporters in other communities had ceased or greatly reduced funding, or placed the council on probationary funding status. Many of our own pack and troop volunteers formed new channels of support from other councils as far away as suburban Chicago or Champaign. Morale of the staff, the board, and just about everyone was lower than I could have ever believed possible. Several people actually wanted to see the council fold. It is exhausting to think about the fall and winter of 1998 for our council. Even I wouldn't believe these bizarre circumstances without having lived it. Many of my superiors said that several new all time lows for scouting were established here during 1998. As difficult as this was for everyone involved, the staff that stayed through the crisis suffered the most.
I decided to interview for the CEO position here because I saw an opportunity to be of significant service to a movement that had been so good to me. After being selected, I had 30 days to close out of my position in Kansas City, sell our home, and relocate to Peoria.
I was not prepared for the immediacy of the financial and relationship situation of scouting in Peoria. I will always be grateful to several board members, my staff, and a few saints in the community who took a personal interest in my well-being at this difficult time.
Our insolvency was an immediate crisis. We were four months behind with accounts payable, and had owed some vendors significant amounts for nearly a year. I immediately detailed our finances for our bankers, and asked for more time on the past due loans and the notes that were due within 30 days. We were fortunate to have bankers who exercised patience and proactive support.
I met with officials of the Heart of Illinois United Way. Again it was apparent that another significant friend for the council was ready to help. Members of the council's board, several council professional staff, and scouting volunteers personally guaranteed an emergency loan extended by the Heart of Illinois United Way to the council.
I must credit Paul Wilkinson of our professional staff for leading our renewed efforts to sell Woodland, the camp that was in large part responsible for the council's problems. The camp was only in operation for one year after its construction and was closed for the last two seasons. The camp had been on the market for almost two years, but there had been no current interest in purchasing the property. Ultimately a buyer for the camp was secured and the camp passed on to another organization. With these funds we were able to satisfy our immediate creditors and construct a plan to rebuild. Without the divestiture of this property, our council would have been forced into actions that would have produced very unfortunate consequences for scouting's ability to support local packs, troops, and posts. Our council retained the use of our primary camp, Ingersoll Scout Reservation, and Cache Lake Scout Camp on Bach Bay in Canada.
Dave Ransburg of L.R. Nelson Corporation was an invaluable help with cash flow planning and by assembling a group of six blue chip Peoria business leaders who opened doors and helped us establish a campaign of building credibility. Ransburg earned the Eagle Scout award as a youth and decided to help the council at this great time of need.
In 1999 we operated on a dramatically reduced expense budget and staffing level. We had very successful fundraising campaigns with our volunteers and scout families. Again, my staff and our very best volunteers and board members made this happen. They deserve the credit for the huge Friends of Scouting campaign increase. Congressman Ray LaHood led a successful fundraising dinner to honor Ransburg for his civic involvement. Along with the funds, we raised our visibility and credibility. The committee that backed the dinner was an impressive collection of Peorians who care about their community. Brad McMillan, LaHood's head of administration, was terrific.
We utilized technology to become more efficient. Through the generosity of Caterpillar, State Farm, the BSA and others we are assembling an enviable local area network. Each staff member now has a networked pentium machine, and we just received a donation of a dozen laptops for the staff to use in serving volunteers. Technology is not a toy for us, it has been a lifesaver, and our goal is to become one of the most technologically advanced councils in the country.
Through 1999 we controlled expenses. We micro-managed every nickel. Sometimes, we made some unpopular decisions to save money, but no one really complained. It was amazing to me how previously disenfranchised volunteers became so supportive. We added 18 new, highly capable individuals to the board. Morale improved quickly across the council. Our most beneficial direct service improvement for scout families was the opening of SCOUTfitter's, a supply and resource center in our local Scout Service Center on Madison Avenue. The net income from the store increased more than 300 percent throughout last fall. Because of the store, many scout moms and dads now had a reason to actually come to the service center. We tried to give each one first-class treatment, and people began to understand that this really was a new council.
Today, our remaining issues are centered on continuing to rebuild the depth of program support, staffing levels, and community linkages necessary for a strong BSA council. Even though we addressed some of the camp and service center maintenance issues that had languished for more than a decade, we still have several hundred thousand dollars of obvious, pressing needs at the camp, and less costly but important accessibility issues at the service center.
Our plan is to continue to recruit highly capable people with positive "can do" attitudes to the board and volunteer posts. We are looking for people who are open to new approaches and methods. We are proactively building partnerships with school districts such as District 150 and Dunlap to provide new programs. We are continuing to raise funds aggressively, but we are still keeping expenses at conservative levels.
Our most important direction will be established through a strategic planning process. There are those who wish us to take our momentum and launch into immediate improvements at Ingersoll, or projects that will require a great deal of money and attention. We will not do this unprepared. The council will not initiate another crisis by chasing dreams without a business plan. Our strategic planning process will be slow, deliberate, thorough, and will involve a large number of business and community leaders, volunteers, parents, and partnering organizations. The BSA has tremendous tools for us to use, and will provide staff expertise at no cost to the council for strategic planning, camp planning, and many other purposes. We will take full advantage of these resources.
Part of my job is as a relationship builder. I really enjoy this. Each community our council serves requires a separate effort to build linkages to the volunteers, the business community, school officials, and each of our 16 independent United Ways. With a small full-time staff, this requires great efficiency and immediate effectiveness. I spend a lot of time cultivating relationships. I'm in Bloomington frequently, and I rely on our McLean County field office for support. In the future, we will examine opening other field offices or satellite service centers. These improvements will require money, staff, and time–just like all other improvements we are discussing.
What is your philosophy on working with volunteers in a not-for-profit organization? What unique challenges present themselves in a not-for -profit organization? How do you best deal with those challenges?
Our number one customer is the volunteers who lead each Cub Scout pack or Boy Scout troop. We have nearly 350 packs, troops, and Explorer Posts, Varsity Teams, Venture Crews, and Learning for Life groups. Each unit has 10 to 15 volunteers. These volunteers go through an application process, require training, and work best if they are kept informed and get an occasional pat on the back.
Ten years ago everyone predicted volunteerism would take a hit as more and more families had two working parents or as single parent families became more common. I am happy to report this has not had a devastating effect on scouting. Parents still make time to invest in the development of their children.
In the early 1990s the council in St. Paul conducted an extensive study on the number of hours a volunteer spends helping to shape children through scouting. The weekly total for troop Scoutmasters averaged 22 hours. The average tenure for Scoutmasters in this study was 11 years. The maximum number of years a boy can be a Boy Scout is seven years. Our average Scoutmaster was serving four years longer than the maximum time he had a son in the program. Isn't that incredible? We have 4,200 volunteers in this council alone, and 1,200,000 in the nation. What other movements in our country leverage this kind of volunteer time for the benefit of children?
Scouting has condensed many of its volunteer training programs into a reduced number of hours, and our council distributed several hundred copies of "Fast Star Training" video tapes, free of charge for the first time last fall. We will develop more on-line resources in 2000 as time and funds are available. We make at least five banquets annually to recognize volunteers' efforts. I am also proud of our 50 or so seasonal employees who serve on our summer camp staff. They are extremely sensitive to meeting the needs of our 1,000 campers and the several thousand parents and families that visit the camp.
My staff are executives by day–volunteer recruiters, trainers, and coaches by night. It is not uncommon for a professional scouter to be out three or four nights a week attending volunteer meetings. Many, many Saturday and Sunday activities require professional support as well. Being there shows you care. We follow the philosophy that people only care what you know when they know that you care. I do, on occasion, decline attendance at Sunday afternoon functions as my primary responsibility of being a father takes precedent at times. Our volunteers are very supportive of professional scouters needing time for their own families too.
Boy Scouts of America have been under scrutiny in recent years for banning homosexuals. What is the policy of the W. D. Boyce Council regarding homosexual members and volunteer leaders? Regarding females as members or volunteers? Do you see a change in the future? How so?
The BSA and our council have three programs that enjoy the participation of girls: Exploring, Venturing and Learning for Life. Approximately 50 percent of the participants in these programs are girls. Females are welcome and encouraged to serve in any capacity as a staff member or volunteer including Scoutmaster. Both of my daughters will participate in BSA youth programs as well as those offered by the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Our council follows the membership and leadership policies of the BSA, as this is a national program.
Clearly, our nation is very divided on the issue of homosexuality and its place in marriage, religious leadership, and role modeling for children. External forces have placed the BSA in the forefront of an issue that has very little to do with the development of youth. It is amazing to me, and to most of our volunteers, that some members of the public expect this private organization to set the social agenda for America on an extremely divisive issue that has not been agreed upon by society in the history of mankind.
This is a very complex issue and current court cases have been initiated by external forces using scouting as a vehicle to push their social agenda.
I can only speak from my experience as a professional scouter in four councils delivering the program in five states over the last 15 years. Most of the parents, volunteers, and partnering organizations involved only want what is best for the children. Social agendas of others are not their main scouting concern. Their main scouting concern is placing role models with children who emulate the values and lifestyles that their parents desire.
The US Supreme Court will examine the constitutionality of a case brought against the BSA in a New Jersey court of law. This is an important decision for the BSA and all private membership organizations in our country. At stake is the question of whether or not private organizations set their membership standards, or if others set the standards for them.
What is the trend line of Boy Scout membership in the area? Nationally? What are you doing to increase local membership? Is it working?
Since 1980, membership in the Boy Scouts of America increased every year. Last year, more than 5,000,000 youth participated. Our most significant increases have been in the last four years.
Locally, the council has lost about 4 percent of its overall membership base since 1997. Our year-end 1999 membership was 11,400 youth. This loss is due almost entirely to the reduced staffing level brought about by the financial problems of the council. With the positive financial results of 1999, I have been able to add back three service and recruiting positions. We have been fortunate to employ some very talented people.
We are also aggressively working to partner with select school districts and inner city organizations and churches to recruit more at-risk youth. This type of programming is very expensive and difficult as we rely heavily on volunteers. Watch for developments, as our board is very committed to making scouting viable in all neighborhoods.
New programs such as Learning for Life focus on partnerships with schools and school-to-career programs for boys and girls. Most Learning for Life participants have not been Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts. In this school-based program, students are exposed to career choice information as well as non-controversial values that are core to scouting values. Our council dramatically increased Learning for Life membership in 1999.
Another contemporary feature of scouting is its very proactive work in protecting children from potentially dangerous situations. "Youth Protection" Training for adult volunteers and scouts helps prevent potential abuse situations in or out of a scouting context. The BSA earned numerous awards from national child protection organizations. We share these training materials freely with other youth agencies and youth athletics. Protecting children is a central priority for Scouting.
What values does the Boy Scout program add to the all-round education of youth?
Values, leadership skills, learning the joy of helping other people; this is the real outcome of Scouting.
What would you like readers to know about W. D. Boyce Council?
The recovery of the W. D. Boyce Council in 1999 was a success story brought by the concerned citizens Peoria and nearby communities. I think there are many individuals who can be proud of their role in this victory. I have received a lot of attention for the councils turnaround, but the real credit goes to those who made sacrifices and extended faith to me and others who were new to leadership posts.
Scouting can make a whole community stronger; lets use the program to give Peoria an edge in developing its next generation of leaders. IBI