Freddy Williams says he used to avoid competitions like the Business Observer’s 40 Under 40 program because he was afraid of being judged by his age. He landed his first CEO role in 2012, when he was just 28, leading the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lake and Sumter counties. In 2016, he joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, headquartered in Clearwater, as president and CEO.
“I told myself, ‘When I've been a CEO for 10 years, then I can come out with my age,’” he says.
Over the past decade, Williams, a Boys & Girls Clubs alumnus, went to great lengths to burnish his business credentials so his peers would look past his youth. He earned a MBA from Florida International University and followed that up by graduating from Harvard University’s Performance Management for Non-Profit Organizations certificate program. He also engaged the services of Vistage Florida, a business advisory and executive coaching organization, and joined the CEO Council of Tampa Bay.
Williams is also a board member at the Pinellas Community Foundation, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the University of Florida Muma College of Business and the Forbes Nonprofit Council.
So, he’s not lacking in credentials. You might even say Williams is overqualified, given his relatively young age. “Outside of being ‘classically trained’ in business, I also joined for-profit peer groups so I could be around for-profit CEOs and learn from them,” he says. “What I realized, and what I know to be true, is that running a for-profit entity and running a nonprofit is the same thing.”
Williams has been in the nonprofit world long enough to have secured a firm grasp on the priorities he should be tackling in his job — the well-being and development of children in the care of his organization, above all else.
“I would argue that the complexities of running a nonprofit are greater than those of a for-profit,” he says. “If you’re a for-profit, it’s pretty easy — you want to increase shareholder value; however, we have this tight balancing act. Growing the balance sheet comes at the expense of the services we can provide for kids. At the end of the day, the only difference is our tax status. We don't create shareholder value; we create community impact.”
Name: Freddy Williams
Employer: Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast
Title: President and CEO
Birthplace: Panama City
Years in the area: Six
Marital status/children: Married/three children
Alma mater/degree: University of Florida/bachelor's degree, Florida International University/MBA, Harvard University/graduate certificate
Are you working from the company office, home office or hybrid? Hybrid
What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had? Or the weirdest task you’ve ever been assigned? I was a professional bingo caller at a couple of bingo halls while in college.
What’s your top tip for being productive? Just as you would develop a vision, mission, values and goals for your business, it is important to have this in your personal life to govern yourself and prioritize time. This makes it easier to know when and where to say "no" or "not now." Additionally, I break my workday into two parts: I utilize my mornings to be on "offense" with meetings or initiatives that provide strategic benefit and my afternoons as being on "defense" to respond to emerging tasks.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? Wine sommelier or a food and wine pairing expert
What’s your favorite off-hours activity? Spending quality time with my wife and kids
What’s the most significant item on your life bucket list — and what’s keeping you from completing it? I would like to spend a year traveling so that I can spend one month in 12 different countries working to gain perspective (street cook in China, rent surfboards in South Africa, bartend at an English pub, etc.). Waiting on my kids to graduate from high school.
What’s your favorite podcast? Leadership in Action (produced by the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business)
At what percentage on your phone to you start to get low battery anxiety? 10%
What are the top three apps used on your smartphone? Outlook, text messaging, TikTok (I have no shame!)
What books are you reading now? I am re-reading Good to Great and The Four Disciplines of Execution. I am finding that re-reading these books post-pandemic provides an interesting perspective.
What’s your go-to music genre, band or act to be inspired? Pitbull's Globalization on Sirius-XM radio (hip-hop/reggaetón/pop)
Who would play you in the movie of your life? Denzel Washington
Where is your happy place? The beach
Describe yourself in three words: Optimist, loyal, innovative
Who is your mentor for your career and why? My wife, Melissa Williams. She thoroughly understands my strengths and weaknesses and pushes me to be the best version of myself. She is a trusted confidant that I seek counsel with nearly each substantive decision that I make (personal and professional).
What are the biggest lessons you have learned from your mentor? I admire my wife's selflessness, drive, courage and entrepreneurial spirit. She left a pretty cushy job as the managing attorney of a large law firm in The Villages (and a professor at the University of Florida’s law school) to move to the Tampa Bay region so that I could take my dream job in my dream market as the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast. She started her law firm from our dining room table, and she now has a thriving law practice with offices in St. Petersburg and Lakewood Ranch.