Rick Neal mapped out his mission even before he stepped into his role as chief executive of Goodwill of Southern Nevada in June — two months after the organization emerged from bankruptcy.
The retired Air Force colonel realized during his interview process that Goodwill needed to highlight how it puts donations to use in a way that would spur more growth.
“Most people are very familiar with the retail stores and, in a very broad sense, they understand if I donate or shop here money is generated and it helps people, but they don’t really understand how,” Neal said. “(Each) Goodwill has different mission sets. For us, we’re trying to connect people to work.”
Goodwill is working with a clean slate since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017 because of high operating costs and increased debt, including $22 million in bonds from 2015.
It then overhauled its finances and operations under interim CEO John Helderman.
Helderman originally took the helm for three months but stayed for two years, until Goodwill became financially stable.
“Nobody realized how challenging the situation was, how little money there was and just the changes that were necessary,” said Helderman, who initially served as board member. “I wasn’t going to take the company to Chapter 11 and abandon it. You’re not going to be able to find a great CEO in Chapter 11 — it just makes the company radioactive.”
Helderman said his focus then was less on developing its career services and more on resuscitating Goodwill’s finances.
He said the nonprofit still has to repay its $22 million bond but was able to negotiate a few concessions putting it in “a decent position” to make its bond payments “before it tries to be ambitious and do anything else.”
Every dollar raised from fundraising is applied toward Goodwill’s mission of helping job seekers. Meanwhile, donated goods sold through its 15 thrift stores and two clearance centers support the mission but also fund operational costs such as employee salaries and store leases.
Goodwill has nearly 800 employees — when it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017 it had about 1,000 workers across 21 locations — and expects to hit just over $35 million in annual sales this year.
While it plans to open more stores in the future, it’s treading softly on that front right now, Neal said. Only one store is in the pipeline, and it is slated to open in November at Cheyenne Commons in North Las Vegas.
It’s a shift in strategy from earlier years when Goodwill grew from eight stores to 21 locations in five years.
“I’m not sure it’s fair to say the expansion was too quick,” Neal said. “It was just how it was managed.”
Moving forward, he said, stores that can’t support themselves will have to be evaluated to determine whether they should continue to exist.
Plans also call for consolidating its two distribution and clearance centers, one housed at its headquarters off West Cheyenne Avenue and a second near Blue Diamond Road and Dean Martin Drive, into one centrally located warehouse and clearance center. The move would also require Goodwill to move its headquarters into a new office.
“We’re currently in negotiations to try and find a location to consolidate, which will reduce some of the cost but allow us to distribute product across the valley … so our routing for trucks is also more efficient,” Neal said.
When Goodwill’s board was ready to replace Helderman earlier this year, Neal checked all the right boxes.
“His qualifications really set him up nicely to lead an organization like Goodwill because he already has a service mindset,” Helderman said.
Neal previously held the role of chief operating officer and chief of staff and external relations at the Clark County School District. Before that, he followed in his father’s footsteps joining the U.S. Air Force, serving 25 years, most recently as commander of the 799th Air Base Group at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs.
Neal wanted to remain in Las Vegas, where he’s lived with his wife, Adrienne, and six children for seven years, making it the longest he’s ever stayed in one place.
“This is the first place I’ve set down roots,” he said. “I wanted to be able to give back to my community.”
His focus is on giving job seekers more tools and better skills to set them apart.
“Just training people for work won’t (help), we have to know within our market what employers want and what do they need,” he said. “We’re going to link up with other nonprofits and employers to help build an employee for an employer.”
It’s why Neal said that his mission is to raise awareness about Goodwill being more than just an operator of thrift stores and that retail sales help provide free job training, education and placement services for residents. Goodwill also has a mobile career coach.
“When people understand what they’re giving to, my hope is that more people will want to donate and more people will want to support us,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re having a positive impact.”
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