ISyE Alumnus Jim McClelland: A Life of Public Service
Jim McClelland (BSIE 66) has spent a lifetime devoted to helping others both professionally and personally. Describing why public service is so important to him, McClelland said, “That was just the value system I grew up with.”
McClelland served as the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana for 41 years prior to assuming his current role as Indiana’s executive director for drug prevention, treatment, and enforcement. He also has remained involved in the life of his alma mater via volunteer leadership and service through appointments on the ISyE Advisory Board and the Georgia Tech Grand Challenges Advisory Board.
McClelland graduated from Georgia Tech during the Vietnam War and served a three-year military tour of duty. His last assignment was in Washington, D.C., and during his free time he volunteered as a tutor for a church-based program that served children in low-income neighborhoods. The church also had a Saturday program for children with disabilities, and McClelland volunteered to transport the kids participating in the program.
“I got more satisfaction out of those volunteer experiences than anything I had done up to that point,” McClelland reflected. “I started wondering if there was a place where I could use my IE skills in a paid position and get a similar kind of satisfaction. So I started calling nonprofit organizations headquartered in D.C., and the one that really expressed interest in me was Goodwill Industries.”
After going through an executive training program and running a Goodwill organization in Texas, McClelland was recruited to Indianapolis, Indiana, to serve as vice president of operations for Goodwill of Central Indiana. In less than a year, he was promoted to president and CEO, and he spent the next four decades helping to transform lives through the organization.
“It turned out to be an incredible experience,” McClelland said. “We had the freedom to try lots of ways to grow our businesses and accomplish our mission. As importantly, we had a board that gave us the freedom to fail at some of what we tried and learn and grow from the experiences.”
Under McClelland's leadership, Goodwill of Central Indiana grew to over 3,200 employees with an annual revenue of more than $130 million.
McClelland and his team began examining the links between poverty, low education levels, crime rates, births to young unwed mothers, and a myriad of health issues. They found “an enormous amount of data showing how these issues are all interrelated; they reinforce and compound each other,” McClelland said.
“And yet, as a society, we don’t tend to treat these issues as if they’re related. The public sector tends to operate in silos, while the not-for-profit sector is incredibly fragmented. Neither sector is structured to deal effectively with complex social problems. A lot of organizations are very good at dealing with a piece of a much larger issue, but we’ve done a lousy job of connecting the pieces. So we began exploring how we could bring someof the pieces together for much greater long-term impact.”
This wealth of information eventually led to the 2010 opening of The Excel Center, a diploma-granting high school Goodwill designed for older youth and adults who had dropped out of high school. There are now 13 Excel Centers operating throughout Indiana, and the model is being licensed to organizations in other states.
In 2011, Goodwill began implementing the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) in Indiana. NFP is a home-visiting program for first-time mothers in low-income households. Expectant moms voluntarily enroll, and a registered nurse then visits the home on a weekly or biweekly basis until the child is two years old. “While the nurses address health issues,” McClelland explained, “they also teach parenting skills and how to create the kind of environment in the home that’s conducive to the proper health and development of the child.”
Goodwill links the young moms (median age 20) with education opportunities in The Excel Centers and employment opportunities at Goodwill or other companies. They also help connect families with other services they might need in a holistic, two-generation approach that has lasting impact.
McClelland noted that his IE skills have come into play throughout this process: “We’ve taken a systems approach to it. It’s important for organizations to see themselves in a larger context. They need to understand where they fit in the larger community and the fields they operate in. They need to understand how what they’re doing relates to what others around them are doing and look for ways they can leverage their resources and capabilities with those of others to cause some good things to happen that otherwise aren’t likely to happen.”
After stepping down as CEO in 2015, McClelland thought he was transitioning into retirement. Then he had a conversation about the impact of the opioid epidemic in Indiana with the chief of staff for Governor-elect Eric Holcomb. That fateful conversation turned into a job offer to become Indiana’s drug czar. He reports directly to the governor.
“The opioid epidemic is destroying lives, devastating families, and damaging communities. It cuts across all socioeconomic lines. It’s an incredibly complex problem, and the only way we’re going to substantially reduce it is through a systems approach that includes complementary public health and public safety approaches. My job is to coordinate, align, and focus the relevant resources of nine state agencies and to leverage the state’s resources with those of other sectors — business, higher education, health care, philanthropies, and faith-based organizations for greater impact,” McClelland said.
He added, “We’ve got a lot of work to do. And while there’s no short-term solution, we must act with a strong sense of urgency.”
When asked if there is anything about his life’s direction that has surprised him, McClelland paused. “I certainly never set out to follow the path that I took. My career with Goodwill was much more than I ever imagined. One of the most enjoyable aspects of it was getting to know and work with people at every level of society and in all parts of a community. I also never expected to be doing the kind of work I’m now doing, but I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
As he forges ahead in this second inspiring career, McClelland continues on his path of helping others while embracing lifelong learning. “I have a very low need to be entertained but a strong need to learn. You just have to keep learning,” he said.