Feature

After nearly 40 years with APA, Jack McKay, the association's vice president and chief financial officer, is retiring. He will leave behind quite a legacy, not only in the financial stability he has built but also in the other assets he brought to the organization: his dedication, honesty, kindness, sense of humor and lively demeanor.

"We all love Jack," says APA's 2007 President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD. "Let's put it this way: If you were lost in a forest, who would you like to be with? The answer is Jack. He's fun to be with, and he'd figure how the heck to get out!"

McKay has indeed been the compass who successfully guided APA through some dark financial times to the security it enjoys today. Known as the ultimate negotiator, McKay secured partnerships that enabled APA to build its Washington, D.C., headquarters building as well as a second office building a block away: Together they have a combined market value of more than $250 million, resulting in $135 million in real estate equity for the association. During his tenure, the association's portfolio has grown from $19 million in 1996 to $80 million today. APA's 2008 budget of $112 million is among the world's largest for a behavioral science organization.

But, say colleagues, he is perhaps most respected for his straight talk on fiscal responsibility.

"Jack was the one and only source of restraint in an organization that by its very nature would have spent every dime it could lay its hands on," says William C. Howell, PhD, the former APA executive director for science.

In his typically humble way, McKay deflects credit for APA's financial success, praising instead APA's staff, leaders and members. (Even when approached for this article, McKay said, "What's to talk about? I come to work, do my job, end of story!")

But, says former APA Treasurer Judith E.N. Albino, PhD, "The buildings, the financial policies that represent best practices in association management, the high standards that APA sets in the way it conducts business-quite simply, Jack is responsible for all of these things."

At the same time, says APA Chief Executive Officer Norman B. Anderson, PhD, McKay is able to "combine his overwhelming competence with humility, generosity and selflessness, which is not easy to do. Someone of his many talents and abilities could easily drift into arrogance, but that is not his style."

Brutal honesty

McKay began his illustrious APA career in 1964 as a junior accountant (annual salary $5,404). Two years later, he left APA to serve in the U.S. Air Force, but rejoined APA in 1970 as a senior accountant. By 1983, he was deputy executive officer for business and communications.

Colleagues credit his rise in APA not only to his financial expertise but also to his honest, direct approach. "He [held] people accountable for their fiscal decisions while working hard to see that what people wanted to do could be accomplished," says Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., PhD, who worked with McKay on staff and as a member of APA's Council of Representatives.

Ironically, it was that highly respected refusal to ever sugarcoat the truth that led to McKay's firing in 1983. At the time, APA's Board of Directors was embroiled in debate over whether to purchase the magazine Psychology Today. "People thought it was the right thing to do," remembers McKay. "But I never could see how financially it would work as a commercial venture for APA."

When the board voted in favor of the purchase, McKay was asked to leave because he was "not on the party line," he says.

The married father of three was swiftly hired as treasurer, vice president and corporate secretary of the Human Resources Research Organization in Alexandria, Va., a nonprofit organization that provides training and performance research to federal agencies.

Meanwhile, back at APA, the purchase of Psychology Today was draining APA's funds (more than $17 million by the time APA sold it in 1988). "That's how right Jack was about that fiasco," says Benjamin.

In 1988 incoming CEO Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, sought to lure Jack back. It wasn't easy, recalls Fowler. "Jack was tempted, but his family was much opposed because of the way he had been treated in 1983."

After long phone calls and numerous dinners with McKay's wife, Roberta, Fowler eventually persuaded Jack to return as chief financial officer and vice president. At that point, APA's net worth had dwindled to about $8 million.

"I thought then that hiring Jack back was the best thing that could have happened to APA, which was hovering toward bankruptcy, and I have never changed that opinion,"says Fowler.

McKay's mentors

It was a triumphant return, though of course filled with hurdles. His greatest challenge has been "to try to satisfy the appetite of psychologists to be all things to all people," he says. "There are never enough resources because it's such a well-intentioned and diverse organization."

But he says he has thoroughly enjoyed every single day at APA. "I'll most miss the opportunity to work with such bright and dedicated people," he says. "It's been a privilege. Together, we've been able to accomplish almost anything we set out to accomplish."

In fact, McKay is adamant that he-and the association-wouldn't be where they are today without the strengths of many people, and, he chuckles, "the effect the Jesuits had on me!"

He praises APA leadership and staff for the association's success. "Nobody gets where they are by themselves," he notes. Professionally, McKay says his most influential mentor was former APA Chief Financial Officer Boris Cherney, whom McKay worked for when he was first hired by the association. "I owe a lot to him," says McKay. "He was a retired Navy commander and a graduate of Harvard Business School. He did a lot to make me who I am today."

McKay also credits former APA staffer Forrest Mullins, who not only ran APA's management information systems, but also was critical to helping secure the partnership with Trammell Crow to develop APA's buildings. "Forrest was very influential and helped get us on the right track," says McKay.

And of course, McKay lauds the talents of APA's finance staff, whom he is known to introduce as "the brains behind the operation." In particular, he's thankful to have worked for more than 20 years with deputy CFO Susan Graves, Administrative Operations Director Skipwith C. Calvert and Special Projects Manager Jeannie Williams. "It's the best team anyone could hope for," says McKay.

The next step

McKay will be sorely missed, as staff, association leaders and anyone who attended the moving farewell tribute to McKay during the August Council of Representatives meeting will tell you.

"The best thing I can say personally about Jack is that he is a CEO's dream CFO, and I consider him a collaborator, a confidant, a mentor and a lifelong friend," says Anderson. "I am so thankful he stayed at APA long enough for me to have had the privilege of working with him and getting to know him." APA Treasurer Carol D. Goodheart, EdD, who has worked with McKay for nine years, says she will greatly miss working with him. "He has an incredible combination of qualities, including vision, integrity, creativity, tough-mindedness, respect for others, the ability to compromise balanced by the ability to hold his ground when necessary, a readiness always to give credit to others, a quick sense of humor, and love for our association, " says Goodheart. "He has dedicated most of his adult life to the welfare of APA, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude."

After McKay officially leaves office, his immediate plans are to travel with Roberta, his wife of 39 years, and to enjoy his first two grandchildren: Leann Madison McKay, born in October, and Joshua James McGuckin, born in November.

He will, though, be deeply involved in choosing APA's next chief financial officer and will be on call to ensure a smooth transition. And he promises to be at APA's 2008 Annual Convention in Boston just to see the familiar faces.

"Meeting the psychologists I've met has been a fabulous experience that can't be duplicated. I love working with these people. I love everything about APA. It's gonna be tough to leave."