2011 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Patricia A. Wachtel

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President and CEO, Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis

Sphere of influence: She put three decades of corporate experience to work at Girls Inc., which has quintupled the number of girls it serves at a fraction of the cost. The turnaround has earned the organization a host of awards. And the expansion is far from complete.

Pat Wachtel has become an expert on change.

Dayspring Center, a family homeless shelter, was on the brink of collapse in 2002. Wachtel, who was chairwoman, led the board through the difficult decision to temporarily shut down the shelter and permanently close its soup kitchen, which meant laying off the entire kitchen staff. But the restructuring paid off, and the shelter is thriving today.

Next, when Indiana Landmarks’ longtime president retired in 2005, chairwoman Wachtel was asked to step in as interim president. She spent a year searching for a new leader while easing the organization through a cultural shift.

wachtel-patricia02-15col.jpg (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Four years ago, Girls Inc. of Indianapolis hired Wachtel as president, to turn the organization upside down, by abandoning its clubs in favor of an outreach model. In three years, Girls Inc. drastically extended its reach while slashing costs. The organization went from serving 600 girls at an average cost of $235 per hour to serving 3,000 girls for less than $35 an hour.

The secret to its success: The decision to abandon the need for its own real estate. Instead, the organization approached churches, schools, libraries and community centers, asking to use their space in exchange for bringing in Girls Inc.’s high-quality programming. Today Girls Inc. presents its research-based, outcome-driven programs in space borrowed from more than 80 local facilities. That compares to just two club buildings that Girls Inc. had five years ago.

“We’re leveraging existing resources to do a better job for girls in our community,” said Wachtel, 56.

Girls Inc. has expanded into Hendricks County, and plans to move into Hamilton and Boone counties as well. Its goal is eventually to reach all 105,000 school-age girls in those counties and Marion County, inspiring them to be “strong, smart and bold,” Wachtel said.

Key to that expansion has been training more than 300 volunteers and developing technology to manage communications with them.

Girls Inc.’s success earned it Indiana Achievement Awards in 2008 and 2011, and earned Wachtel a Torchbearer Award in 2009 from the Indiana Commission for Women.

Wachtel said she was inspired to excel by her parents, who always urged her to “Do the right thing, the right way for the right reasons.”

She said her biggest career mistake was taking too long to learn how to be a good listener. “The faster you learn that skill, the better you are at everything you do. So often we think it’s more important to talk than to listen.”

Wachtel moved into the not-for-profit sector after 28 years at Irwin Mortgage Corp. and Huntington National Bank, among others. Today she often mentors women considering the leap into not-for-profits. For her, it wasn’t a difficult choice.

She was among the first generation of female bank officers, which presented its share of challenges. She welcomed the opportunity to help girls prepare for careers, whatever path they choose.

Her advice to young women: Learn to think critically and to negotiate.

“So much of what we as a gender complain about has everything to do with our own ability to advocate for ourselves,” Wachtel said. “Developing good negotiating skills is an important part of that.”

Wachtel, a native of Hammond, enjoys reading, cooking and playing golf.•


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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.