Making an Impact

By Romi Carrell Wittman

It’s common these days for people to wear many hats in their jobs. Even so, Suzanne McFarlin, executive director of the nonprofit Greater Tucson Leadership, wears more hats than most folks. A lot more.

In addition to her GTL duties, McFarlin is the owner of Changing Tides Coaching & Consulting, a firm providing executive and leadership training to a variety of firms, including Raytheon Missile Systems, the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson Unified School District and the University of Phoenix. She’s also actively involved in a number of local nonprofits.

McFarlin earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Michigan, then embarked on a marketing career for a video company that took her from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. She moved to Tucson in 1990.

“I raised two stepsons and a daughter and a son,” she said of that time. As the years went by, McFarlin realized she was ready for the next step in her life. “I went back and evaluated things. I knew my real love was human and organizational transformation.”

Like most things she does, McFarlin jumped in with both feet. She studied coaching and became a certified coach with Martha Beck, best-selling author of Finding Your Own North Star and monthly columnist for O Magazine. She also received the certified International Coach Federation Associate credential from the International Coach Academy.

McFarlin learned about the GTL program and decided to give it a shot. “I was looking for a way to get more involved in the community and step up my leadership,” she said. “Going through GTL reinforced that I have a voice just like everyone else and I can make an impact.” She graduated with the GTL Class of 2005.

Her experience with GTL led McFarlin to the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, which hired her to put on a regional town hall. That led her to the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, where she built and ran a literacy coalition.

Throughout, she maintained a strong relationship with GTL – serving on the governing board and eventually assuming the role of president. This experience gave her a unique perspective on the many challenges and opportunities facing the small nonprofit. She said the main issue was figuring out a way to sustain the small, but tenacious organization well into the future.

“I knew it would be ideal to partner with an organization that shared our mission. It just so happened that Bill Holmes (then with the Tucson Metro Chamber) joined our board that year.”

McFarlin transitioned off the GTL board and became GTL executive director after former executive director Kim Bourn accepted a position with the Critical Path Institute.

The first order of business was establishing a formal relationship with the chamber, a task McFarlin ran with. Rob Stenson, GM at Goodmans Interior Structures and a member of the GTL board, said McFarlin played a critical role in structuring the partnership agreement between GTL and the chamber.

“Suzanne [was] instrumental with the alignment of the Tucson Metro Chamber and Greater Tucson Leadership,” he said. “Suzanne’s organizational skills, passion and work ethic have made the transition highly successful.”

McFarlin admits that the process hasn’t always been easy. Taking on the job was really a labor of love and her dedication to the organization is evident.

Mike Varney, CEO of the chamber, said, “She’s a visionary. She’s articulate. She’s a leader. She brings the complete package and, as a result, the GTL product is first rate. I think the world of Suzanne.”

McFarlin said she simply saw a job that needed to be done and did it.

“I had a great love for the organization and was willing to do what was necessary to make it work. It’s taken a lot of perseverance – but I’m really excited to see the direction we’re going.”

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