Kevin Bolding | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin Bolding


Kevin Bolding is the President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, a local association of YMCAs. Bolding has spent more than 20 years with the organization. After beginning his YMCA career in 1994 at the Hunton YMCA in Lynchburg, Virginia, he spent a decade at the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, before moving on to the YMCA of Greater Miami in 2006. He was recruited to the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh in 2009 to serve as district vice president for the YMCA’s urban branches. He was promoted to COO in 2015, and was appointed CEO In May 2016. 

The Mistake:

I didn’t have a true appreciation of the amount of complexity every initiative has.

I had been with the Y for many years, and always thought if I could get to the position of CEO, there was so much I would do to right the ship.

My first job at the Y was in Lynchburg, Virginia. We had a budget of $115,000, which included me, the program director and a part-time administrative assistant. We were open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and after we closed for the day, me and the program director would clean until 10 p.m. That was my routine six days a week.

So when you come from that kind of humble beginning, you see how things could be changed for the better. I thought about how important it would be to turn the organization back over to those in the field, to those volunteers impacting kids and families every day.

I came into this job with all these different initiatives, of things I thought that were very important for our Y. Our work is community work, so every initiative has many stakeholders involved in the process. The strength of our organization is our volunteers, but it makes it a challenge at times, because there’s no one decision that affects just one group.

I have a much greater appreciation for the amount of preparation it takes to advance a single idea.

The Lesson:

Don’t try to change too much too fast.

I think of it now like I was standing at the top of a mountain with all these snowballs, and started rolling them down the hill. They picked up a whole lot of speed while they were rolling, and maybe picked up some twigs and some people along the way. Then they started crashing into each other and creating a mess.

Now, I have a much greater appreciation for the amount of preparation it takes to advance a single idea. Had I known then what I know now, I probably would never take on more than two initiatives at a any given time, and one of those initiatives would be leadership development.

That doesn’t mean I can stop the snowballs we’ve already got rolling; we have 13 rolling right now. But we’re not going to start anything new until we make sure what we already have in place is working well. Our Ys are reflective of our communities, and we have to make sure we have the focus on making sure we look at the diverse needs of our people within, even as we start to look forward.

Follow Kevin Bolding on Twitter at @YPghCEO_KevinB​.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Bolding.

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