Ex-city resident picked as chairman
One of the most prestigious leadership organizations in the world has a surprisingly strong Fort Wayne connection.
The Young Presidents’ Organization, an international network of business leaders younger than 50, will soon install its third international chairman with local roots.
The odds of one medium-sized Midwest city producing multiple international YPO leaders are beyond long. The nonprofit’s membership includes more than 27,000 chief executives living and working in more than 130 countries.
Elizabeth Zucker, who was born here and now works in St. Louis, is YPO’s incoming international chairman, its 68th. She will start her year at the helm on July 1.
Randy Waterfield, who grew up here and now works in New York City, was the organization’s chairman from 2017-2018. And Shep Moyle, a Fort Wayne native who still lives here, held the office from 2005 to 2006.
Richard Waterfield Sr., Randy’s father and former head of Waterfield Mortgage Co., joined the organization when his children were in grade school. He called the string of local leaders “truly remarkable.”
“It speaks well of the Fort Wayne educational system,” he said. Forming international relationships through YPO, Waterfield said, “promotes business partnerships and good cultural relations among young leaders all around the world.”
Randy Waterfield, a chartered financial analyst, is chairman of Waterfield Group, a diversified holding company that has interests in technology, real estate and asset management. He qualified for YPO membership at age 31, when he launched an investment firm.
“It was an aspiration,” he said of joining the organization that was founded in 1950.
“There are so many wow experiences” that come with the chairmanship, said Waterfield. “The window you get to world events through YPO is just astounding.”
The three with Fort Wayne ties who have achieved the organization’s top leadership position attribute their success, in part, to Midwestern values of hard work, kindness, humility and respect.
YPO chairmen meet with presidents, prime ministers and heads of world religions, including the pope and the Dalai Lama. That’s in addition to exchanges with some of the world’s top business minds.
Moyle, the 56-year-old chairman of online party supplier Shindigz, said his experiences included cruising the Amazon with Jane Goodall, learning jungle survival skills from Brazilian army members and dining with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Although YPO is apolitical, the organization’s leaders have facilitated talks between India and Pakistan and between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
Waterfield believes his Hoosier background allowed him to broach some tough conversations on controversial topics during his year in the chairmanship “without starting World War III.”
His year at the helm helped raise Fort Wayne’s international profile. Waterfield remembers being introduced onstage in China and Japan as being from Fort Wayne and having people afterward ask him about his hometown.
The YPO chairmanship comes with a degree of celebrity that Waterfield found a bit unsettling, however, including requests for photographs and autographs.
“Why me?” he remembered wondering. “I’m just a simple guy from Indiana.”
That’s a matter of opinion. The Harvard University graduate and member of Mensa, an international society of people with high IQs, worked on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs before heading his own firm.
Zucker, who joined YPO in 2007, is managing partner at Interior Investments of St. Louis, the second largest Herman Miller furniture dealer.
When she bought into her business, Zucker searched online for leadership organizations. She found YPO, which offers monthly forums : support-type group meetings of eight to 12 members in non-competing industries. Members discuss professional and personal challenges while maintaining strict confidence.
Zucker had never heard of the organization before she stumbled across its website, but she soon found many high school friends and other acquaintances were members. Historically, the organization has grown by word of mouth, with members inviting qualified business and personal contacts to join.
Prospective members must meet certain qualifications related to their age and their company’s workforce size and annual revenue.
“YPO is a well-kept secret,” Zucker said, adding that she doesn’t think that was intentional.
She hopes to raise the organization’s visibility by revising its branding. For example, although many members participate in social impact projects, YPO has guarded its neutrality by maintaining a distance from those efforts. Now, the nonprofit is recruiting leaders who give back.
Zucker’s primary role as global chairman is to refine and execute the multi-year strategy YPO launched last year. The 44-year-old married mother of three is YPO’s second female chairman.
Moyle, a married father of three, shares another connection with Zucker. Both are graduates of Duke University. Zucker and Waterfield, a married father of four, have known each other since childhood and both attended Culver Military Academy’s summer academy for several years as teens.
Each of the three emphasized how much their families have benefited from YPO’s programs for spouses and children. Moyle’s goals as chairman included expanding programming for families.
All three have worked on increasing YPO’s diversity, including promoting women to board positions.
Zucker’s goals for the coming year include encouraging people to take advantage of what YPO offers in terms of networking, education and support for themselves and their families.
“I think, like most leaders,” she said, “I want to leave the organization better than I found it.”
Moyle said the leadership organization isn’t the only one that benefited from the time he’s devoted to it.
“There’s been no more powerful impact or influence on my company than YPO,” he said, adding that members in Taiwan helped him start importing products for his retail operation.
Moyle’s many YPO contacts helped lead to his decision, announced last year, to move Shindigz’s headquarters to downtown Fort Wayne. Other cities he considered include Austin, Texas; Durham, North Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
“YPO,” he said, “is about learning from others around the world who have different experiences.”