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Interview with our new Chief Executive Officer Ken Rawlins

I’m sure that what people really want to find in this issue of The Tie That Binds is something more about Ken Rawlins, the new CEO of Holland Christian Homes. So, in the second week after he took on this position, I invited him to sit down with me for a casual interview, so that we can all become a little better acquainted with him. He was glad to make the time available. (Plans are also being made for public meet and greet opportunities with all our residents in the very near future.)

In our meeting, Ken was completely relaxed and yet genuinely focused on our conversation. This impressed me because just minutes before he had come from a lengthy meeting with the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors. Maybe that meeting had gone well and he was in a good mood, but regardless, he gives his full attention to the person right in front of him.

Early in our conversation he said he really wanted to express his thanks for the way everyone from Holland Christian Homes has interacted with him in the process of his coming here. With regard to the Search Committee, he said, “I felt so comfortable in the process. It was clear that they were passionate about the institution they serve, and they were genuinely seeking God’s guidance in the process. That made the comfort level just right for me.” He went on to mention John Kalverda. “When I arrived, he was so good to me. He had graciously agreed to stay on for a little while to make the transition as seamless as possible. I wondered about what it was like for him to see me sitting behind that desk which he had occupied for thirty years, but he was nothing but helpful.” Regarding our staff he said, “They have been great; they really welcomed me into their work. This is remarkable because I have a lot of experience helping other organizations make changes and this doesn’t always happen. So I am very thankful to them all.”

When I then asked about how he felt about taking on this position at Holland Christian Homes, he answered, “In many ways I sense that through all the things I have done up ’til now, God has been preparing me for this job.” He went on to explain. His university education was in chemistry and his first job was with a pharmaceutical company called Miles Laboratories. One day, however, someone from the human resources department talked to him and suggested that he might not really be cut out for working in the lab, but that he might really be more suitable for a job in sales. Having just studied all that chemistry, he protested. “But,” he said, “when they offered me a raise in pay and a company car, I said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ I could have spent the rest of my life as a chemist, but God had other ideas.”

He did well in sales. After some time another company, which sells CAT scan machines to hospitals, invited him to become the sales leader with their Canadian division, and he accepted that position. But, behind the scenes again, God was at work. Up until then he had worked with companies associated with medicine, but now he went to other places where he learned more about leadership: bringing the best out of other people and helping to solve organizational problems. One company, a division of Xerox which specialized in skills training, asked him to come aboard with them. That led to contact with Royal Trust who first invited him to train their sales team, and later to lead it. When Royal Trust was taken over by the Royal Bank of Canada, it was Ken’s job to transform the sales team to fit into a completely different way of doing business. At the Royal Bank of Canada, he became a vice president.

“But,” Ken said, “I grew up in a family where both of my parents were officers with the Salvation Army, and they always wanted to know when I was going to get ‘a real job.”‘ Fortunately the opportunity presented itself for Ken to approach the Salvation Army and offer his services for what he thought would be two-year project in a role where he could “give back” while using his skills. They gladly accepted his offer and asked him to help them merge the fundraising arm of the organization with their public relations division. This is where he met Keith Lohnes who was at that time the leader of the fundraising division. Keith now lives in Hope Tower and along with his wife Gael sometimes leads the music for our worship services. “Keith really helped me understand that aspect of the work,” he said, “and he was great to work with.” While at the Salvation Army, Ken also served on the Board of The Toronto Grace Hospital and helped restructure the Meighen Health Centre, which provides Seniors Supportive Housing and Long-Term Care services. Most recently, he was the director of the Mennonite organization in Toronto called St. Clair O’Connor Community, a wonderful retirement residence in Toronto, which at that time offered long-term care, day programs, and public housing.

Ken really believes that through all these experiences God was leading him to where he is now at Holland Christian Homes. When I asked him about some other things he has appreciated about HCH so far, he answered, “I really appreciate the way the staff leadership works together. They are passionate about their work, and it feels like family. And when they get together on Monday mornings there is a time of prayer. I’ve got to tell you,” he said, “that doesn’t happen at the Royal Bank.” Then he added, “Just on the way over here, I came through the balcony overlooking Heritage Hall and songs were coming up from the birthday celebration going on down there. It was great to hear them singing some of the great hymns. And last week I listened for five minutes near Harmony Hall while the choir was practicing. It did me a lot of good.”

(Ken also serves as a Board Member of the Salvation Army Citadel where he worships, and for 10 years was the director of the Salvation Army Hockey League where he met a lot of Christian Reformed players with Dutch names who were glad the league didn’t play on Sundays.)

H. Bruinsma.