Haven for Hope announced Monday that longtime San Antonio businessman and civic leader Kenny Wilson was selected by its board to become its president and CEO.
One of the first things on his to-do list, Wilson told the Rivard Report, is to dive deep into the business structure and programming of the city’s largest homeless shelter and services provider – including the infamous Prospects Courtyard, where anywhere from 700 to 900 people stay on any given night.
“I’m going to spend a night or two there myself,” he said.
Wilson will be leaving his current position of 16 years as president of Bank of America in San Antonio in about 30 days to take over at Haven for Hope, which provides shelter and services for hundreds of homeless individuals and families in Bexar County on its Westside campus. He’ll be bringing with him decades of experience gathered as an executive in the private sector as well as a leader of various nonprofit and organizational boards. Through this work, he’s already familiar with Haven and many of the 92 different agencies that it partners with.
“(Wilson is) well thought of and well regarded in the community,” Haven for Hope board Chairman William “Bill” Greehey said to more than 50 Haven employees during a meet-and-greet reception on Monday. “If you look at his resume, he’s been involved in so many nonprofit organizations … He will be able to pick up (the phone and) talk to any business or community leader in San Antonio.”
His own deep local connections will indeed be a key asset that he brings to the table, Wilson said, but his first step is to learn the ins and outs of the nonprofit.
“I don’t know what I don’t know,” he said with a chuckle to his soon-to-be employees. “I’m counting on you to teach me. What you do is remarkable.”
After so many years of success, it’s natural for Wilson to want to give back, said Greehey, a philanthropist who also is chairman of NuStar Energy and a former Valero CEO.
“You’ve been so blessed that you really want to share that success with others and give back to a community that has been so good to you,” Greehey said, noting the substantial pay cut that Wilson will take to join the Haven team.
At Bank of America’s Central and South Texas regional office, Wilson was in charge of about 1,000 employees. Haven for Hope has a little more than 200 employees, Greehey said, but more than 1,400 people are utilizing Haven’s Transformational Campus or services at any given time.
Haven received dozens of emails and phone calls congratulating the team on finding a person of such stature to join the team and mission of Haven, he said. “It speaks volumes about the importance of Haven’s work that Kenny would leave behind such an accomplished and lauded business career to join us in the fight against homelessness.”
Haven’s $100 million, 17-building campus opened in April 2010 after a five year effort led by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger.
More than 2,600 individuals have graduated from Haven for Hope and have moved into permanent housing, according to Haven documents. “Another 4,500 individuals who were considered chronically homeless due to mental and/or physical illness, have been moved into higher levels of residential care and treatment programs, or into permanent housing.”
Area residents and Haven’s enrolled population receive free medical and counseling services from physicals to dental work and vision care.
“It’s a busy, complicated, massive place with many endeavors and I look forward to learning about how it all fits together and how I can help the people here,” Wilson said. “(At Bank of America) I do two things. I communicate and I solve problems. And I think that’s kind of my role here.”
Wilson and his wife Sharon, the former children’s and student minister at Oak Hills Church, are deeply motivated by faith.
“They are partners in every way – and we really are getting two for one,” Greehey said.
Wilson has also received dozens of messages congratulating him on his new position.
While his colleagues at Bank of America are sad to see him go, once they find out where he’s going they are immediately impressed and understanding, he said.
Former Haven CEO Mark Carmona resigned his post at the end of 2015 to start a local business venture that will help families who have had their homes repossessed to recover their equity. Some of the profits from the venture will support his deceased sister’s missionary work in Honduras.
When Wilson was asked if he would be interested in taking over as president and CEO, he wasn’t looking to leave Bank of America at the time.
About 20 local resumes were originally considered for the position, but none unanimously impressed the board, Greehey said. So they turned to Jan Lehman, a top headhunter based in Austin, to complete the executive search.
When Lehmann put Wilson on a very short list of people that the board could all agree on, Greehey said, it clicked.
“This was an answer to a prayer,” he said. “Everyone felt it would be a disservice to have anyone come in from Houston or Dallas or Austin when no one is as qualified as Kenny.”
One the greatest challenges Wilson sees for Haven as a whole is Prospects Courtyard.
“The real offering of Haven to the city and the country is the transformation process,” Wilson said, adding that he’ll be looking into extending some sort of programming into the courtyard. “Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can help move an obstacle or give a new runway to do something. I’m hoping I can do that. ”
Haven for Hope’s facilities by no means “solve” homelessness in the San Antonio area. Some people don’t want to or can’t comply with sobriety rules because of mental illness. Some people, especially the older homeless population, are in need of permanent housing that Haven is not designed to provide. The Prospects Courtyard provides people with basic needs – food, bathrooms, showers, and some degree of safe sleeping – while enforcing less-strict requirements, but some homeless individuals find even those rules, or the inhabitants, intimidating.
That service gap is outside of Haven’s sprawling campus, but not outside of Wilson’s purview. The City and area partners are rolling out new policies that are changing the way police officers and the courts handle cases of homelessness.
“One of my first stops is to see the (San Antonio Police) chief and city manager and (Bexar County) sheriff,” he said, “to learn about what they see and how Haven can help be a solution provider.”
Top image: Bank of America San Antonio President Kenny Wilson speaks with Haven for Hope employees after publicly accepting the president and CEO position at Haven. Photo by Iris Dimmick.