Kenneth Gladish first laced up his sneakers as a YMCA kid in Northbrook, Ill. Decades later, he tightened his tie as president of the national organization.
In between, Gladish was a central figure in the Indianapolis charitable sector.
Now his time at the YMCA of the USA has come to an end, and Gladish's next step is up in the air. But one thing's for sure-he'll be maintaining his ties to Indianapolis.
Gladish, 53, has accepted a three-year appointment as a visiting scholar at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, where he'll assist graduate students with theses and engage in classroom discussion, among other duties.
Although he'll commute to the city only when needed, Gladish (pronounced GLAY-dish) is excited about collaborating with researchers here. Among his interests: identifying new not-for-profit leaders, improving governance and increasing organizational ethics.
"I view [IU] as the premier center on philanthropic studies in the U.S.," Gladish said.
He's no slouch himself. Gladish is on the boards of national organizations such as American Humanics and Independent Sector's Panel on the Nonprofit Sector. His work has earned him a spot in Non-Profit Times' list of the 50 most influential people in philanthropy-twice.
Engaging someone like Gladish will enhance the center, said Executive Director Eugene Tempel.
"People like Ken bring a perspective to our students," Tempel said. "He's someone who has led such a notable career and the students can learn from that."
Gladish's passion for philanthropy has been burning since he was young. He grew up watching his friends and family volunteer. He said he never saw himself doing anything else.
Fresh from graduate school, Gladish made his Indianapolis debut as executive director of the Indiana Humanities Council in 1984. While there, he helped create what is now the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance, an organization that promotes effective grant-making statewide.
He became executive director of the Indianapolis Foundation in 1993 and four years later helped launch Central Indiana Community Foundation. CICF combined the resources of the Indianapolis Foundation, Legacy Fund of Hamilton County and the William English Foundation and has become one of the largest organizations of its kind in the country.
"Ken is a tremendously energetic change agent," said Brian Payne, his successor at CICF. "He has a personality for leadership in philanthropy."
Gladish said his Indiana experiences made him appreciate the relationship between for-profit businesses and the not-for-profit sector.
"Some of the most inspiring volunteers ... are those who work in the profit sector," Gladish said. "Their willingness to give their time and treasure is completely a matter of free will, and that's something very unique in the American community experience."
Even before his time at YMCA headquarters in Chicago, Gladish was making a name for himself nationally. Carol Simonetti, now CEO of the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance, worked with Gladish when she was at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foundations.
"Ken is ... a creative visionary and future thinker who doesn't see obstacles, but opportunities," she said.
Gladish said he's realized there's not a broad enough appreciation for philanthropy-something that can be addressed by educating young people about the impact of the sector.
"I'm encouraged that there is a yeast in this rising generation," Gladish said.
Gladish's leadership skills and ability to implement change is what impressed the YMCA, even though he didn't travel the organization's professional path.
He arrived with an ambitious agenda that included reorganizing services, improving governance, strengthening finances and increasing public policy work.
Something worked. During his tenure, membership at YMCAs around the country increased from 17 million to 20 million, and revenue climbed to nearly $5 billion.
When he accomplished what he set out to do, Gladish knew it was time to go. He resigned in March, but he's not retiring. Instead, he's looking for a job where he can continue to make contributions, possibly in higher education or another large charity.
Gladish said he and his family have strong affection for Indianapolis.
"It's wonderful to see how Indianapolis is growing and impacting the world of philanthropy," Gladish said.