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VOL. 121 | NO. 220 | Friday, November 10, 2006

Lawler Uses National Recognition To Teach About Youth Villages

By Amy O. Williams

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"Our success is directly related to the people who work in this organization, along with the board, the volunteers and foster parents. We try to assemble as many as people as possible to be passionate about this work and help young people live successful lives."
- Patrick Lawler
Name: Patrick Lawler
Position: CEO
Company: Youth Villages
Basics: Lawler, who recently won national acclaim for his leadership of the nonprofit organization, surrounds himself with talented people to achieve the mission of helping emotionally or mentally challenged young people, a colleague said.

Patrick Lawler keeps a list of about 20 questions he asks successful businessmen. The questions he feels are most important have stars beside them.

"Who do you learn from?" "How often do you meet with your top people?" "Do you have a crisis plan?"

He takes the answers they give to heart, and sometimes applies them in his position as chief executive officer of the nonprofit Youth Villages, which provides children's mental health services.

"They tell me their secrets of success," Lawler said. "You learn a lot that way."

A study in leadership

That work ethic and genuine interest in being a great leader has driven Lawler to national recognition. It was his leadership of Youth Villages that led to Lawler being named as one of America's Best Leaders in the Oct. 30 issue of U.S. News & World Report.

In partnership with the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the weekly news magazine recognized 20 American men and women "who are doing extraordinary things to create change in our nation."

Lawler made the list with such well-known icons as Wynton Marsalis, Warren Buffett and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

When he got the notice in the mail, Lawler said he didn't believe it was legitimate, and he even had the public relations department check it out. Once they told him it was for real, Lawler did not think of personal gratification. Instead, he was busy thinking how the national exposure could help Youth Villages.

Even after attending an elegant awards dinner Oct. 23 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, Lawler still thinks of Youth Villages first.

"I am hoping it will bring more attention to our organization and let people know what we do," he said.

Good PR

For Lawler, attention like that brought on by a national award is hard to come by for an organization like Youth Villages, which treats children with a variety of problems from substance abuse issues to behavioral disorders, he said. Some of the children who end up at Youth Villages have emotional disorders, have been physically or sexually abused or have problems with depression. Many of the children - from birth to 22 - have more than one problem, such as learning disabilities.

"It's easier to read a feel-good story," he said. "A lot of times people have to be particularly interested to understand what we do."

Lawler received a bachelor's degree from the University of Memphis in criminal justice in 1977, and a master's degree in counseling in 1981. After graduating, Lawler worked as a probation counselor, intake counselor and detention monitor at the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County.

Since it was formed in 1986, Youth Villages has grown with Lawler's help from one small facility in Bartlett with about 40 children to a mental health service provider serving more than 10,000 youths with locations in six Southern states and the District of Columbia.

For example, Youth Villages opened a new operations center earlier this year at 3320 Brother Blvd. in Bartlett. Bartlett businessman Ronnie Randall, who serves on the organization's board, donated the five acres on which the operations center stands. It is a 39,000-square-foot building valued at $4.2 million. A capital campaign is paying for the new building.

Lawler attributes the success of the organization to the staff, which is made up of about 300 people who have completed master's degrees, Lawler said.

"Our success is directly related to the people who work in this organization, along with the board, the volunteers and foster parents," he said. "We try to assemble as many as people as possible to be passionate about this work and help young people live successful lives."

Zest for success

People such as Mike Bruns have seen Lawler at work and describe him as extremely energetic, compassionate, fair and charismatic. Bruns is chairman of the Youth Villages board of directors and president and chief executive officer of Comtrak Logistics Inc., a logistics company headquartered in Memphis.

"There's a great sense of pride in watching Pat lead the company to the levels that it's reached," Bruns said. "He has been successful because he's a wonderful leader who never runs out of enthusiasm and recognizes talent, and surrounds himself with it."

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