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News Gazette's 'Beyond The Boardroom' Featuring CEO Lily Walton

Date Posted: 03/22/2024
Category: Board of Commissioners

Written by Editor for The News Gazette Jeff D'Alessio

From her dad, a Navy man, LILY WALTON learned the value of service. And from her mom, no matter the night, she learns the latest on "current events, celebrity gossip and whatever else is going on in our lives" during 365-days-a-year FaceTime calls, Walton says, adding: "She's my rock."

Walton's life took a turn for the powerful just over three years ago, when the one-time executive assistant of the Housing Authority of Champaign County was promoted to executive director and CEO, succeeding David Northern.

The northern Illinois native and Eastern Illinois alumna oversaw the agency's YouthBuild program prior to her 2021 move up the org chart, turning a $1.5 million Department of Labor grant into an initiative that provided 84 at-risk community members aged 16 to 24 with basic education and career opportunities in the construction industry.

The Champaign Bark District regular took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D'Alessio in the 224th installment of our weekly speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.

My philosophy on meetings is ... treat them like tweets: rapid, clear and centered solely on solutions, with no room for excess chatter. Turn off the comments.

Most importantly, if the subject matter could be covered in an email, then it absolutely should be one.

My professional role model is ... my dad, Lacy Walton. Raised in rural Mississippi, he embodies American excellence.

From a young age, he instilled in me the value of service. His 30-year military career, culminating as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 in the United States Navy, inspired my commitment to serving others, my love for our country and my adaptability to serve wherever I'm planted.

His influence is why I'm deeply connected to the Champaign County community, despite being a "transplant." Military families learn to give back and love people not because of where they're from, but because of shared human experiences that bind us together.

The hardest thing about being a leader is ... making tough decisions that affect lives, knowing not everyone will understand or support your choices.

I can't live without my ... little white Bible my grandmother, Lillie B. Logan, gifted to me on my 10th birthday. Although she transitioned from this life 13 years ago, her message to me remains clear: "When you are happy, or when you are sad, read this book every day, it will make you glad."

I hold that advice close to my heart.

My single favorite moment of all-time in this job was ... the first YouthBuild graduation.

The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are ... compassionate, fair and creative.

On my office walls, you'll find ... quotes and other sayings that are inspirational, motivational or downright hilarious.

If I could trade places for a week with any other business person in town, I wouldn't mind switching with ... Mr. James Barham. He is a low-key community change-maker. He needs no recognition because it's truly heart-work for him.

Mr. Barham is a good friend of mine, a huge supporter of the work the housing authority does, and quite simply a very good human.

My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is ... treat our clients as you would want to be treated if you were on the other end of the desk.

To me, this means demonstrating empathy, providing quick responses and ensuring fairness.

The single-most important question I ask job candidates during interviews is ... if an alien landed in your back yard and asked you to come with it, would you go? Why or why not?

There are no wrong answers. It helps me understand how open-minded a person might be, and usually breaks the ice and makes them more comfortable.

The first thing I do when I get to work most days is ... scarf down a quick breakfast while going over my daily schedule.

For lunch, I like to ... squeeze in a good working meeting. The best solutions are developed while breaking bread. Good food always helps me get inspired.

When work's over for the day ... I love ending my day taking Milo to the Champaign Bark District.

I have met some of the most wonderful people there.

The last good book I read was ... "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable," by Patrick Lencioni.

My exercise routine consists of ... walking to various staff offices when I could easily call their extension. I could call but I rarely have the most up-to-date directory.

I prefer face-to-face interaction anyway.

The first job I ever had was at ... a lemonade stand at Six Flags Great America. It taught me how to talk to people and make random conversation and connections with people from all over the world.

I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living at age ... 22. That was when I first started working with the Family Self-Sufficiency Program at the Lake County Housing Authority.

The particular moment was seeing my first client graduate from the FSS program and purchase a home. It showed me how important stable housing is to the success of low-income families and how I could stand in the gap to make sure we provided housing assistance beyond brick and mortar.

I love designing programs that build self-sufficiency.


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