Past TWS President Don Yasuda reflects on his term and looks to the future

Yasuda spent his presidency focusing on strategic planning, communication and more

During his year as TWS president, Don Yasuda spent much of his efforts focused on the future. Embarking on a strategic planning process was one of his top goals for the Society, paving a future for presidents to come.

A member of TWS since 1995, Yasuda has seen the Society make great strides, but he noticed early on that strategic plans within TWS often came down to short-term decisions made by Council. To create a strategic plan, he thought, the process could be more strategic, too.

During Yasuda’s term, an outside consulting firm came in to guide strategic planning beyond just five-year increments. “I was really excited to be on the ground floor of helping TWS adopt a more strategic, strategic plan,” Yasuda said.

Yasuda explains the new process as being longer term and focusing on building partnerships before launching big programs. A key component to these plans is also finances, he said.

“I think this is the place where a lot of organizations stumble,” he said. “We get big eyes when we see a new program, and we get so excited that we start building the program and implementing the program, and everybody loves the program. But we forget that we have to have secure finances to sustain the program once we develop it.”

Yasuda also focused his presidency on instilling a sense of shared leadership with Council. “It isn’t just the president’s decision,” he said. “I wanted it to be our decision, because I think that ensures that we have a broader perspective.”

Those perspectives are important, Yasuda said, because they allow for a diversity of worldviews, life experiences and different connections to different segments of TWS membership in making decisions. “In that way, we really did do our best job at representing our members,” he said.

Yasuda, himself, represents diversity in the profession and the Society. A Japanese-American, he is the first TWS president not of European descent. He has served as the chair of the Ethnic and Gender Diversity Working Group, and has inspired young people, including his own daughter, to join the profession. From 2007 to 2013, Yasuda also served as the Western Section representative to TWS Council.

Yasuda is proud of his ability during his term to empower chapters, sections and working groups within TWS. “Those are, to me, the parts of TWS that are closest to our members,” he said. He was able to provide these entities a direct voice to Council by instituting voting district representative reports to Council. Each of eight representatives now write a report to Council as a representative of the section that they’re in.

“We’ve often heard from members that they don’t know what Council does. They don’t really know what their representative does,” he said. “I see this as an exciting way to try to strengthen our relationships and really help us become one true family.”

Now that he is leaving office and turning the position over to Bob Lanka, Yasuda said he plans to continue working with the leaders of the future.

“Anybody that knows me knows I invest a lot into our future leaders—students or early career professionals—those that are engaging in and interested in and really hungry for leadership,” he said.

As times continue to change, Yasuda sees future leaders needing to be adept at being inclusive. “To address some of the conservation challenges, we need everybody to be operating at their fullest potential,” he said. “I feel very confident that TWS is in good hands with our current leaders and our up-and-coming leaders.”

Header Image: Don Yasuda completed his term as TWS president. Credit: David Frey/TWS