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Denise Baker interviews Kevin McCort for The Leaders Corner

17 November 2014

Denise Baker’s The Leaders Corner on Vantage

Kevin McCort grew up on a farm in Ontario, with no conscious career goal except not to be a farmer. Little did he know that his eventual career choices would make him a potential kidnap target, see him caught in cross fire in a war zone and experience being charged by a large hippo (not all on the same day!).

The theme of travel has been constant in Kevin’s leadership journey. It began with his first trip to the wilds of Alberta with 4H, which opened his eyes to the world. At 17 years old, he travelled to Borneo with Canada World Youth, and from there experienced many other journeys including 7 years in Africa with CARE and WUSC.

A respected leader in the international development community, Kevin is committed to making individuals and communities stronger. He believes that funders and the public must look beyond programs and invest in building the administrative strength of organizations – because if the infrastructure is broken, then programs are in jeopardy.

Leader: Kevin McCort, President
Organization: Vancouver Foundation
Tenure: 1 year

Leadership or life motto: My first exposure to leadership and life mottos was in 4H. The 4H pledge has always impressed me, and while it is a bit long to quote on a regular basis, it does sum things up pretty well.

”I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

Upcoming projects/challenges: I’m working with Imagine Canada to lobby the federal government to implement the “Stretch Tax Credit” in the next budget. In the medium term at Vancouver Foundation, we’re looking to get our endowment past the $1 billion mark and sustain our giving to charities in B.C. at over $50 million per year. In, in the longer term, Vancouver Foundation turns 75 in 2018, so I’m starting to think and plan for this important birthday! As I probably won’t be the CEO when Vancouver Foundation turns 100, I’m thinking I’d better make sure the 75th is a success!

How would you describe your leadership approach/brand/philosophy? I’m a team leader who knows that more can be done with a well-oiled, high performance team than can ever be accomplished by any individual.

You have been at Vancouver Foundation just over a year. What has surprised you? What have you learned? What surprised me is the extent that our granting (which is now close to $1 million per week) is driven by our donors and fund holders, compared to what is at the discretion of the Foundation. Almost 70% of the grants we distribute are to fulfill their charitable wishes, which really highlights the importance of the stewardship we provide to donors. Perhaps my biggest learning this year is the degree to which community members contribute to our discretionary granting. We have almost 140 community leaders on our advisory committees.

What is the best advice you’ve received? When you see someone do something that impresses or pleases you, to tell them that you appreciate what they are doing. It doesn’t always come naturally to people to say thanks, so make the effort!

If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would it be? David Livingstone. One of the best books I ever read was a biography of Livingstone by Tim Jeal. I was living in Zambia at the time, so it was quite relevant and informative.

What were you like as a child? A combination of out-doorsy and bookish. I grew up on a farm, and was never the kind of kid who had to be sent outside to play or work, being quite happy to do both. But I was also studious and a reader, so would do my homework outside whenever possible.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’ve always been quite restless, and need to allow myself to be more ‘in-the-moment’ and not always think about what’s next. Smart phones have not helped me control this aspect of my personality!

Who was your favorite comic book character? Growing up I was a big Superman fan. I had an extensive collection of comic books, many of which came from my uncle’s collection from his childhood. I don’t know what happened to them, but wish I still had them. The earliest ones were from the 1950s.

When do you get your best ideas? Usually, in conversation with other people since this leads me to associate or combine ideas from what we are talking about, what I’m thinking about etc., and from time to time, something new, innovative or creative results.

What do you consider your greatest professional achievement? I was a co-founder and first chairman of the Humanitarian Coalition, which was designed to enable five charities to launch a single, coordinated emergency appeal, rather than five competing appeals for the same disaster.

>What are people most likely to misunderstand about you? I can be quite inscrutable at times (sometimes by choice, often by default). While I am quick to judge or size-up a situation an observer will never know what’s going on inside my head if I decide to keep it to myself. So perhaps more than misunderstand, people may simply not understand what I’m thinking or going to do.

What do you do for fun? I love to ski, which is part of the reason moving to Vancouver was so attractive. Hockey and squash are high on the list too. I have travelled extensively over the past 30 years, probably logging 1 million air miles, visiting 70 countries, and all continents (except Antarctica). Travel was fun once, now I’m happy to do less of it!

What are you reading right now? War and Peace – though if you asked me last year, you’d get the same answer!

Many thanks to Denise Baker, Executive Director of Vantage Point. Her interview with Kevin was originally posted here as part of her Leader’s Corner Series. 

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