Janet Koch, Life’s WORC chief executive officer, has dedicated her entire career in support of people with developmental disabilities.
A self-proclaimed “numbers person,” Janet spent decades in accounting and financial roles at nonprofit organizations, rather than joining a large corporation; a conscious decision she made right after college.
Janet joined Life’s WORC in 2009 as Chief Financial Officer and was later chosen to become its Chief Executive Officer in 2014. With 25 – plus years of industry experience with a proven commitment to quality services for people with special needs, she was the perfect fit for the role.
During her tenure as CEO, Life’s WORC budget grew from $43 million to over $60 million and Janet facilitated $12 million in debt restructuring to purchase the Life’s WORC Family Center for Autism, opened in 2015, which is now a $3 million non-OPWDD program.
In addition, she advanced the Life’s WORC Trust Services program, supporting more than 300 people with $8 million in assets.
Outside of her role at Life’s WORC, Janet serves as director on the following boards: Long Island Alliance, Advance Care Alliance and Interagency Council.
How do you define success?
Success to me is when you have not just grown professionally, but achieved a level of growth that allows you to utilize your skills while at the same time being personally fulfilled.
While both professional growth and personal fulfillment are important individually, to be able to find both in your career is the ultimate success for which I am very grateful.
What is the best advice you have received that has made an impact on your business?
I was once told, “You learn more by listening than talking,” and I find this to be true in all settings, but even more so in business. I do my best to consider all points of view from throughout our organization, including varied representation in decisions we make, gathering feedback from colleagues and staff at every level, as well as from the people we support.
For me, it’s also about observing and not just listening. While I listen, I pay close attention to the response of others, not just what they say but their body language. By observing the reactions from the people in the room and the interactions between the speaker and his or her audience, you learn about interpersonal relationships and whether the idea will be well received by a larger audience.
What drives you to succeed?
It comes from something deep inside me that I can’t help but pursue. I am the youngest of my siblings yet was always the one “in charge,” a natural leader. I constantly gather information everywhere I can and analyze how we might apply it to benefit the mission and business of Life’s WORC.
The work we do here is to help people, to ensure equitable and successful outcomes for the people we support, which is truly what drove me to the field. This also applies to our staff, the belief that everyone should be treated equally and have opportunities for success, however they define it.
I hold myself and others to a higher standard in hopes that everyone will reach their fullest potential. Helping others achieve success is what pushes me forward each day.
What are the most significant challenges you have as a woman in your industry?
I have found this industry to be inclusive from the start. Supporting people with special needs, the industry looks for fair and equal rights for all, and general acceptance regardless of your differences.
However, as I moved into the CEO role, while the workforce was and remains predominately female, the top executives were still often male, including my predecessor.
My experience transitioning to the CEO role was different than my experience working my way up to that point. It was my own comparisons to others that made me less confident in my role initially, but once I shifted my focus to what I could contribute based on my unique strengths and skills, my confidence grew and allowed me to become a better leader.
That experience has further driven my efforts towards mentoring and coaching other female professionals.