As many of you know, Herb Eibensteiner has recently been appointed as Covenant House Vancouver’s new CEO—a very challenging, but fulfilling, role. Herb was kind enough to sit down and chat about his new role, his previous role at CHV and the path that led him here.
Could you tell us about your career path prior to Covenant House Vancouver?
Sure. I was in real estate and construction, prior to coming here. I started off working for a paving company. Then, I was part of the development group for InterWest, which was the company that was building resorts, like at Whistler-Blackcomb, all over North America. After that, I went and worked for a couple of start-up real estate development companies. Then, in 08–09, the bottom fell out and I thought that it was not a good place for me to be in a start-up real estate development company. So, I went to the Business Council of BC, which is a nonprofit. I worked at the Business Council for about five years.
I’ve worn many hats over the years, but mainly either CFO or COO.
How did you find your way to Covenant House?
A mutual friend referred Krista to me to help her find someone for the role that she needed filled. Krista called me up and basically said this is what we’re looking for, and if I knew anybody, to call her. It was about a 10-minute conversation, and I said, well, actually, I’m interested in this role! She had enticed me with the CEO position in about 10 minutes. I knew of Covenant House, and I was ready to move on from the Business Council, because I wanted to do something really different—something that had more meaning and purpose.
And that’s what led me here in November of 2014. I started off as the Director of Finance and Operations, which included departments like food services, housekeeping and facilities maintenance. When I came on board, Krista told me about the expansion project and that she wanted me to lead it.
In November of 2018, I was promoted to the Chief Operating Officer. At that time, my portfolio grew to include Development and the Communications and Marketing teams.
What were your biggest challenges in that role?
I have a strong finance and business background. I’m a Certified Public Accountant. I really think that contributed to my role at Covenant House. The operations role here is definitely different than at the Business Council or in real estate development. I was used to the facilities side of things, but not the food services side, so that was a challenge.
Technology was a bit of a challenge here, when I first started. I remember asking for the WiFi network and password. And I was told that we don’t have WiFi. I think I laughed and said you’ve got to be kidding me! There were literally computer servers that had so much dust on them that at times they broke because they were smoking—literally smoking.
What are the accomplishments that you’re the proudest of in the role of COO?
Well, fortunately, I’ve always been kind of a technology buff. So, I undertook a major overhaul of our technology. And now, I would say, we are leading as far as technology maturity. Everybody’s got mobile laptops, and thank goodness too, because it really prepared us for the pandemic. I was trying to lead down that path of having people being able to be more mobile and, eventually work remotely. So, we moved everything up to the cloud, and now we have lots of mobility and flexibility. And, it’s just been a game changer.
I initiated and led the COVID response team. That team and plan worked very well. We kept everybody safe and had almost no onsite transmissions.
And, of course, the expansion. I’ve led that for almost eight years now. That was a lot of work. I think that the young people that are with us are going to be quite happy with these new spaces, more beds and more programs. And I think the staff are going to be happy. So that’s definitely up there on the list of accomplishments.
I would have to say too that the team that I’ve been able to create and the culture that I’ve been able to help lead and foster has been very gratifying and rewarding. The trust, the care for one another, and the respect, is incredible. We have a culture that lives our values.
How do you separate your work life from your home life?
You know what? I don’t actually look at it as something that I have to separate. It’s not like I’m just going to stop thinking about my family as soon as I’m at work. You’re always thinking about these things, and life in general. No matter what, I’m thinking about my family, I’m thinking my personal wellness, and I’m thinking about Covenant House. I enjoy what I do.
If I need a break from any of those things, I’ve got my outlets. I get out into nature. That’s my go-to place to recharge. Getting out into the forest, even if it’s just simply going for a walk with the dog. I love the outdoors. I ski, I mountain bike, I golf, hike, camp—I wish I could do more camping. I’m an introvert, who is a learned extrovert. But I need the quiet time for recharging, and that’s where I go to get it.
Congratulations on your appointment as CEO of CHV! What aspects of this role are you really looking forward to embracing? What do you think will be the biggest challenges?
Thank you so much!
I’m really looking forward to working with the entire organization. I think that excites me the most. Moving into these new spaces, new beds, new programs, strengthening the culture and leading with our values. I think that we are going to be unstoppable.
Being in a transition as an organization, and me moving into the role as CEO is a little challenging. But you know, I’m prepared for that. I think the biggest challenge that we could potentially face is the economy. We could be moving into a recession. And we rely on our donors as they provide 90% to 95% of our funding. They are fantastic and generous and caring. I feel that we’ll make it through. We’ve made it through rough times in the past. And for the youth, there’s the opioid crisis, which is a real challenge. We’re doing good work on elements like harm reduction and we’re looking to open our sanctuary program. It’s just heartbreaking when we get notices of youth overdosing.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Accounting is a heavily process-oriented field. So, transitioning into managing and leading people was a big change that took some time to adjust to. I had an executive coach who told me to focus on people over process. When you’ve got the right people around you and you give them work that is engaging and inspiring, then you can start managing and leading. People over process; that’s what I would tell my younger self to start doing earlier in life.
If you could switch your job with anyone else within CHV, whose job would you want? Why?
Well, it’s kind of funny that you’re asking me this now. If you would’ve asked me seven days ago, I would have one hundred percent said the CEO position, because this is honestly a dream job.
If I could switch, I’d work in food services. I’d work in the kitchen. Just because food is just such a comfort thing for the youth. It brings warmth and comfort. To create tasty, amazing meals and see that bit of joy that they’re getting from that food. I know that the kitchen staff take a lot of pride in their work and take great satisfaction out of seeing the youth enjoy their meals. I think that seeing the gratitude and happiness in the youth would be quite fulfilling.
If you had to tell someone why CHV is such a special place to work, what would you tell them?
I think that it would be the same reason that brought me here—it is the feeling you get when you’re part of helping these young people have hope and get onto a different trajectory towards a brighter future. It means a lot to me. It’s also the culture here. We have amazing people that work here. The amount of heart is in this organization is like orders of magnitude more than anywhere else that I’ve worked.
Complete this phrase: “Something that most people don’t know about me is _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _”
Something most people don’t know about me is that, ever since I was a kid, I am absolutely fascinated by space and science. Everything from books on quantum physics to space and space travel. I like to watch YouTube channels that cover all the rockets that are being developed. I’m just fascinated by space. So, that’s probably something people don’t know about me.
Is there someone, real/fictional/alive or dead who inspires you?
I would have to say my family—they’re my inspiration.