We had the good fortune of connecting with Deborah Martin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Deborah, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I sometimes think the term “risk taking” in terms of leadership can be misunderstood and misapplied. We often hear of successes because a CEO took a great risk, but we hear less often of those who took risks that put companies out of business and left employees without jobs. When I read business articles about how taking risks shows confidence and creates opportunity it’s not that those things aren’t true, but it somehow seems to minimize the value of risk management and other pertinent – yet less flashy – leadership skills. To me a good leader and CEO is a risk manager – someone who minimizes and mitigates risks – while capitalizing on opportunities with calculated and proportionate risk. In my experience, it also takes an equal amount of risk to be patient, to slowly build from the ground up with no short cuts, and to painstakingly lay a solid foundation for the growth and success of an organization and its employees. It takes risk to stay the course when others are racing by you and there are temptations to skip a step or find success more quickly for the stakeholders and the optics. Like any CEO, I have taken many risks of one sort or another, but the ones that yielded the best results were the ones where I was patient, didn’t succumb to pressure by others, and trusted the path I was on. Those are the risks I am most proud of.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
ElderHelp of San Diego is a part of an amazing San Diego story of local nonprofits bettering our community. Founded in 1973, our Mission is to provide personalized services and information that help seniors remain independent and live with dignity in their own homes, but that only scratches the service of this little engine that could. From transportation, to companionship, to grocery shopping, roommate matching, housing services and more, we’ve provided supports and services to more than 235,000 seniors and their families over the years with an annual budget of around $1.5M. We are a small team of 20 – mostly degreed social workers – and approximately 400 volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure seniors are given the opportunity to age as they choose. I call myself the accidental director as I did not initially set out to run this amazing organization due to other commitments, but I feel so passionately about our Mission and the seniors we serve that I’m deeply honored to have been given this opportunity. Before that I spent 25+ years in the meeting and event planning industry and weathered just about every challenge you can imagine. If I had to choose words to describe the journey they would be determination, perseverance, flexibility, and resilience. I feel confident and comfortable knowing that any opportunities I’ve had have been the result of 100% sweat equity, paid dues, and some fantastic colleagues and co-workers every step of the way. I’ve am blessed to have always been surrounded by a loving, supportive tribe.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many fantastic things to do in San Diego, a week would never cover it! And of course it depends on the time of year. For dining there are so many great choices, but a few of my favorites include brunch at SEA180 Coastal Tavern in Imperial Beach, Jakes Del Mar for Happy Hour and a Dukes Mai Tai, dinner at Buona Forchetta or the back patio at Alexander’s in South Park, Saiko sushi in North Park has fabulous fresh sushi, Cucina Sorella in Kensington, tacos at La Olas, El Comal, Don Bravo or Las Cuatros Milpas (but there are more great places), cocktails on the patios of La Valencia or George’s in La Jolla, a burger at Rocky’s or The Waterfront, most anything along the water including C Level and the bar at the Fish Market, or a wine tasting dinner at the Wine Vault just to name a few. If my friend loved seafood as much as I do we’d check out the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market or Catalina Offshore Products, and it’s always neat to stroll through 99 Ranch Market. Walking Seaport Village and the Embarcadero and then taking the Ferry over to Coronado for a bike ride during the day or dinner at Il Fornaio is also so much fun, strolling through Liberty Station and doing whatever strikes us, attending most anything at the Bayside Summer Pops venue. We might also grab our coffees, beach chairs, books and music and head to Coronado shores early in the morning to see the ocean and the dolphin before it gets busy. Or go paddle boarding in Coronado followed by lunch at The Henry. But this only scratches the surface of the more obvious attractions in San Diego I love to show my guests. There are also so many little gems in this city I’ve not begun to touch on.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by amazing teams most of my life, both on the athletic field and in the companies I’ve worked for. I can’t point to any one person or event that has shaped my success, but I do owe a great debt of gratitude to my father to exposing me to the business world, teaching me how to change the oil in my car, and how to properly use every tool on the work bench. My biggest cheerleader and unconditional supporter was my loving and fun Mom whom I miss dearly. She never ever doubted I could do anything I set my mind to – despite my hearing loss – and she was just a hoot to be with. I definitely get my sense of humor from her. I regret she passed before she could see my work with ElderHelp as it is driven in large part by my love of her and her friends. My adventurous and strong-minded sister who passed away 2 years ago was also an enormous influence. Her love of travel, new experiences, and not wasting a minute on earth is deeply embedded in me. And the ElderHelp team and the seniors we serve also inspire me everyday. It’s a privilege to wake up each day and do this critically needed work.