Jenny McAleese explains how she rose to the top of a specialist mental health provider and helped to turn around its finances

When Jenny McAleese jumped at an opportunity to work for a mental health provider, she never thought she would need to access support for her own mental health.

Twelve years down the line, Jenny has, with the help of her management team, turned around York-based mental health provider the Retreat, which was on the verge of making a£1m loss when she arrived.

Jenny joined the Retreat's senior management team in 1996 as finance director after a career as a chartered accountant.

"When I left my job, I was told I was committing career suicide, but I've never looked back, despite some rocky times."

Breaking even

"When I joined the Retreat, it felt as if I was running and everyone else was walking. The management accounts showed a turnover of£4m, but there was going to be a loss of£1m. I like a challenge, so I decided to stay and see if I could make a difference.

"I worked like crazy, and at the end of that year we made a significantly smaller loss. Over the next two years, we moved to a position where we actually broke even."

Jenny was made chief executive in 1997 and began building up a strong management team.

"It was a long journey, but I wanted to get the right people in the right places. I feel now that we know where we want to get to and I have the right people to help us get there.

"I've had to make changes in a way that the organisation has found acceptable - I didn't want to rip the heart out of the Retreat's community. I hope people will see that the Retreat has changed in a way that is sensitive to the people involved and hasn't rocked the values at the heart of the organisation.

"For me, it has been about showing that an organisation can be both financially successful and remain true to its charitable objectives and key values."

During her time at the Retreat, Jenny has helped the organisation gain financial stability and establish its reputation as a provider of high-quality specialist services.

Personal journey

After handling an extremely challenging issue at work in 2003, Jenny was forced to take three months off suffering from work-related stress and depression.

Having the right team in place to run the organisation paid dividends, and Jenny was able to trust them to hold the fort for her during this difficult period in her professional life.

Back at the helm, Jenny and her team have a long-term vision to grow the organisation and take it to the next level of achievement, while maintaining its key values.

She says: "One of the keys to our success is our governance structure and our Quaker values."

Balancing these principals with providing the mental health services people need is a fundamental part of Jenny's work.

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