I believe you can learn something from every person you meet, whether they are a CEO of an international corporation or a college freshman trying to find their way. There are many fascinating people on the Thought of the Day distribution list, and Liz’s THD Reader Feature is a way to share that wisdom.
Kathy Fish is a wife, mom, friend, Chief R&D and Innovation Officer of Procter & Gamble, Michigan State Swim Alum, sports fan (favorite team is Notre Dame!), and Chair of “A Matter of 50 Meters.” Here is Kathy’s story.
1. How did you get on the Thought of the Day distribution list?
I had so much respect and affection for Bill Keating, Jr., who I got to know well when our kids were swimming for the Cincinnati Marlins. I loved the concept of the Thought of the Day, so I asked him to add me to the list. It was so well written and thought provoking, I started sharing with other friends.
2. What is your favorite Thought of the Day and why?
This is a very hard question. I saved so many that spoke to me over the years. I narrowed it down to two that I think impact my life every day. The first reflects the biggest impact I think the sport of swimming has had on my life – resilience. It is so important in both my professional and personal life.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. We must learn that the setbacks and grief which we endure help us in our marching onward.” – Henry Ford
To Do Today: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.” – Vince Lombardi
The second reflects a habit I have worked hard to adopt, where I have seen a big difference personally, and recently learned that this habit can change your brain chemistry in a positive way – gratitude.
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” – Willie Nelson
To Do Today: Write down 10 things you are grateful for. Tape it to your mirror so you see it every day.
3. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Graeter’s Chocolate is definitely the best!
4. What is your life’s purpose?
For me, family first. One of the biggest compliments I have ever received was from my kids – saying that despite everything I have taken on at work, they never felt like they were second. Beyond family, making a difference is so important to me. At work, I have embraced a concept from the book Good To Great by Jim Collins of a Level 5 leader. Level 5 leadership is an aspiration – hard to live up to, but something I strive for every day. A Level 5 leader has a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Their ambition is for the organization they are leading, not to build their personal legacy. The best thing we can do as leaders is to unleash our organizations to make a difference. I think every day about what I can do to help those in my organization be successful. It’s also an important barometer for how I approach things outside of work. I want to get involved in things where I believe I can personally make a difference.
5. (Besides marriage/having kids/etc.) What are you most proud of in your life?
I am proud of the difference I have been able to make in my role at work and being named the first female Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer at Procter & Gamble would have to be the highlight. It is such a privilege to lead the amazing R&D organization – 7,000 strong – committed to improving the 5 billion consumers’ lives we serve every day with products that solve meaningful challenges and tensions in their lives.
6. From your experience, what’s most important in life?
I think what’s most important in life is to be authentic to who you are and what’s important to you. Everyone is different and trying to define success based on someone else’s view is a recipe for unhappiness. When you are authentic, you strengthen relationships with those who matter most. You can be vulnerable and as a result build even stronger relationships, get support from, and learn from others. And you stop defining your success in comparison to others, which lead to being content with the choices you have made.
7. What do you believe in?
I have a very strong faith which has strengthened over the years. I believe that God works in mysterious ways in our lives and sometimes we don’t understand until much later.
A fun story is that my husband and I met coaching swimming for the Cincinnati Marlins in 1985. I was working at P&G and coaching the 8&Unders in the evening. He was working in NY. As a result of the Olympic boycott in 1980, all the athletes who did not get a chance to compete in 1980 hung on until 1984 (remember you had to be an amateur to compete in the Olympics back then) and retired. USA Swimming put out a call for those committed to swimming to help raise the next generation. Stephen took a leave of absence from his job on Wall Street and came to the Cincinnati Marlins, one of the top teams in the country at the time. The crazy part of the story is that our families had a deep connection more than 1,000 miles away. Stephen’s grandfather was the minister that married my parents in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His father dated my Aunt Dorothy for 3 years. The families used to vacation together in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. All unbeknownst to us at the time. We both believe that God had a role in bringing us together.
8. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Swimming was my passion. I dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it, but I did make it to NCAAs and Nationals and I have no regrets. Swimming was my most formative experience growing up. I learned the value of hard work, discipline, team work, resilience, and made life-long friends.
9. What is the one thing you need to do every day to get ready to take on the day?
I try to start my day, every day, by giving thanks. It’s so easy to focus on challenges and what’s not going well. But we have so many things to be thankful for, and starting the day that way puts me in a more optimistic frame of mind, ready to take on whatever the day brings.
10. What is the one defining moment that changed the course of your life?
I think most defining was my decision to come to Procter & Gamble. I am a Chemical Engineer and had a pretty miserable internship experience at a chemical company after my junior year. It would have been easy to decide to move in a different direction and even choose to move away from STEM fields into business – and then I met P&G on campus. The interview was inspirational and here I am more than 40 years later, still at P&G and living in Cincinnati. I met my husband, raised my children, made great friends, and have had a career that has provided many opportunities for growth and to make a difference. I also got involved in the swimming community here, first with Powell Crosley YMCA, then the Cincinnati Marlins and most recently the Mason Manta Rays.
11. What are you currently doing to positively impact your community and why?
I am currently leading a project called “A Matter of 50 Meters”. Our committee is partnering with the City of Mason which has committed to an aquatic center to support the community and its swim team, the Mason Manta Rays. The project will upgrade the outdoor 25-meter facility to an indoor 50-meter complex. This opens up a lot of possibilities for the city, the surrounding area, and all who are interested in competitive swimming and aquatic sports. The new aquatic center is designed for versatility and elite achievement. This year-round facility with a movable bulkhead will be highly reconfigurable. For swimming, it can be a 10-lane, Olympic-sized venue or a 20-lane, short-course venue. For water polo, two full competition pools with warm-up areas are possible. Subdividing the space finally opens up opportunities for programs like Masters and Triathlon training, as well as swim lessons – all that have previously wilted from lack of usable water time. And the space will be available to host a wide variety of competitions bringing in an estimated $2.1 – $4.8 million economic impact to the area, depending on the quality of the facility we are able to afford. For the Manta-Rays specifically, it will allow them to double the size of the current team, which is capped at 300 swimmers due to space constraints. It will also allow the team, which has already had tremendous success, the opportunity to train in a 50-meter facility and advance to the next level.
Cincinnati has a storied history in the sport of swimming. The donation by the Keating family in the 1960s to Keating Natatorium was a true step change for swimming in the area, with Cincinnati teams placing swimmers on the US Olympic and National teams on a regular basis, and Cincinnati attracting National level meets to the area. Unfortunately, the facilities available in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region today don’t meet the full demand for water time for events and training, and are not robust enough to attract high level regional and national meets. As Mason has announced plans, we have had inquiries from many directions on possibilities – including a university and the possibility to host their conference championship meet. Mason is a terrific location, midway between Cincinnati and Dayton, and convenient to Northern Kentucky and Columbus with plentiful hotels and restaurants in the area.
We have put together conservative estimates of the economic impact the base facility Mason has committed to, and used Warren County Economic Impact data. The base plan will allow us to host 14 club and high school meets across swimming, water polo and synchronized swimming with a projected economic impact of $2.1 million. We are confident in our ability to attract these events given the realities above. The base plan is a pre-fabricated metal building with seating for 900 and a Myrtha Pools competition pool with Myrtha Track blocks, modern air and water filtration systems, and a two meter movable bulkhead.
A Matter of 50 Meters is partnering with Mason with the goal of delivering the base plan and having a bigger impact for the community, the region and the sport of swimming. Our commitment is to raise $5 million in private contributions to close the public-funding gap for the desired center over the next five years. This commitment will help deliver the base plan and lay the groundwork to elevate the facility to a more robust position to be able to attract larger, regional and national meets.
The design for the 50 meter pool includes flexibility for future expansion opportunities if we can exceed the $5 million commitment. Possibilities include items such as a warm-up pool, additional spectator seating, meeting space, and other amenities required to attract prestigious, high-level national meets which would attract Olympic athletes. Our dream is that this facility, overtime, would have the impact and exposure for swimming that the Western Southern Open has had for tennis.
We are off to a great start with almost $1 million committed to date and several strong leads. There are a host of opportunities for corporate, group, and individual participation that give everyone a chance to contribute.
Sponsorship and naming rights are available. From those of you who have seen the benefits of aquatic sports to health and wellness and developing discipline, confidence and resilience, to those of you who see the potential to elevate swimming in the Tri-State area and want to continue to develop economic opportunities in Mason, we hope you will consider making a contribution. If you are interested in learning more, click here. If you are interested in more information, a call, or private meeting, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12. Why did you decide to take on this project?
My daughter Margaret finished her USA Swimming career with the Mason Manta Rays and her coach, Ken Heis (Manta Rays Head Coach), was transformative. Not only did her swimming improve dramatically, but she gained confidence and resilience. We have remained friends with Ken over the years and I have been so impressed by the strength of the program that he and his assistant, Todd Billhimer, have built. For those of us in the swimming community, we understand how special this team is. They are ranked in the top 1% nationally, they have won back-to-back Junior National titles, they have 50 All-Americans, placed 4 individuals on the USA Junior National Team, have 10 swimmers ranked in the world 18&Under Top 100, and have 11 swimmers (and counting) qualified for the 2020 Olympic trials. All this has been accomplished without a 50-meter pool. The program is also outstanding for junior swimmers and has grown from 110 swimmers to 300 with a waitlist of 150 swimmers, which they could accommodate with more space.
13. What difficult situation happened to you that, in hindsight, turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
This goes back a very long time. Growing up I had two very close friends on our swim team. A group of three girls isn’t always easy. We were on a team trip to Florida and somehow I got caught gossiping about each of them to the other – and they compared notes. Obviously I was embarrassed and felt terrible. It took them both a long time to forgive me. But, it was a great lesson. Gossip serves no real purpose and is very hurtful. Since that time, I try not to go there. I also learned that if someone is gossiping/talking negatively about someone else to you, they are very likely gossiping about you to someone else. It’s a good lens to use as you decide who to trust.
14. When was a time when your own preconceptions/rush to judgment turned out to be wrong?
My husband is from New York, where the culture is quite different than Cincinnati. I am an introvert, which I will explain further in the next question. He’s direct and can be loud. When I first met him coaching at the Cincinnati Marlins, I was a bit hesitant – I thought he was too loud for me and had some other judgements that came with that. Well it turns out, he has the biggest heart of anyone I know. He connects with kids and older adults alike. He looks for opportunities to help them. He is direct, but you always know where you stand. He is a lot of fun – there is never a dull moment! He can still be loud, but when you understand all that comes from him being sincerely excited about something, I am very lucky to find myself “lifted up” by him.
15. If you could change one thing in your personal or professional path from the past, what would it be and why?
I am an introvert. For those of you who are or have introverts in your family, one of my favorite books is Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It is very well written and insightful, I really relate to it. I have always had great relationships with people at work, but never liked presenting to a large group. As my jobs increased in scope and responsibility, this was an important part of the job. Whenever possible, I delegated, or if I had a partner, I let them take the lead. In fact, I didn’t aspire to the role I have currently, because it requires a lot of time on stage. At some point, I began to want the Chief R&D and Innovation Officer role. I believed I could really make a difference, but to do so required improving my leadership presence. I got a coach and worked with her and learned that leadership presence is like any other skill, requiring intentional practice and hard work to improve. I have become very comfortable today. My regret is that I assumed for so long it just wasn’t a strength and avoided opportunities to improve.
16. How do you find balance and fulfillment in your life?
Finding balance starts with recognizing there is no such thing as having it all and making choices to focus on what matters most to you. It also requires knowing yourself and making choices and decisions that work for you – without fear. For me, I have a strong will and focus, but I also need rest, exercise, and time with friends and family. And, while very committed to my work, family comes first. I also work in R&D and am responsible for innovation which requires thinking “out of the box” and I lead a large organization which means I need to inspire and coach/develop others. I am much better at work when I am rested – I listen better, I am more patient, more creative, more collaborative, etc. Setting up boundaries that enable this are key for me.
17. When was the last time you took a leap of faith?
A couple months ago, I took a leap of faith to attend a mission trip to Mexico led by Back2Back Ministries with a group of women I didn’t know well. One of my best friends invited me, which made it easier, but she was the only one I knew, so saying yes wasn’t natural. It was an amazing experience! A great time for spiritual renewal, an opportunity to give back, and to connect with an amazing group of women and missionaries.
18. What do you want your legacy to be?
I hope that I was available, thoughtful, kind, and made a difference for those I touched.
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