Interview with the CEO: Gail Kahl

For almost two decades, Opportunities for Positive Growth, Inc. has been providing services for individuals with intellectual disabilities throughout Central Indiana.  

Originally regarded as Consultation Services for Behavioral and Educational Growth by CEO Gail Kahl back in 1998 (changing name the following year), OPG has grown exponentially over the years – receiving numerous awards along the way.

I sat down with Gail to discuss the journey, both personally and as a company; achievements that have been made; and her vision for OPG going forward

Why OPG? What made you start the company?

When I began working with people with disabilities through Medicaid waiver services, what I was seeing happening from the time they got up in the morning until the time they went to bed at night, was that they were not being treated as I would want one of my loved ones to be treated.

I could either make a choice to ignore it, to complain about it, or I could make a choice to change it. So, I became certified, not only in behavioral supports, but to expand that service to include supported living services as well as music therapy.
I understand you started the company in your basement? Did you imagine then that OPG would grow to be what it is today?

Yes, in 1998. And no, that was never supposed to happen. It was supposed to be me and maybe one other behavior specialist. I hired that one other person and then I contracted an accountant to make sure my quarterly taxes were being paid. It was that simple, so no I never even had that thought.
When you first started out, what were your goals? What was your mission statement when you conceived the idea of OPG?

Gail Kahl, Chief Executive Officer

I started Opportunities for Positive Growth when my husband, Dan, joined me as my Chief Operating Officer. He said we can’t start anything until we write a business plan. Way before we even thought we would become an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), we knew that decisions that were made about the company had to be inclusive of the people that were in the company.
​Would you say that you’ve achieved everything you set out to do up until this point in OPG’s life?

I will never be satisfied that everything I set out to do has been accomplished. All I can hope for is that we as a society becoming more human-focused, and becoming more kind. So, if nothing else, we’re the model of the way to do it. Hopefully that will give us the edge so other providers are wondering maybe we should figure out what they’re doing too. 

You mentioned Dan – your first employee, so to speak – how do you balance that boss/husband and wife dynamic?

We have grown into understanding what that is. When we first became Opportunities for Positive Growth – and yes, I am his boss and continue to be his boss – we had times where we found that we were stumbling over each other. We realized we had to define our separate roles. 

We couldn’t work together in the basement, so that’s why I gave myself a “promotion” and gave myself the upstairs where I had a window. When we got an office, we made a rule that as soon as we step into the front door of our house, we are not allowed to talk about work until we get back to work the next morning. And we hold true to that. 
OPG recently received a Top Workplace award for 2017. When you began the company, was a core aim of yours to lift OPG above companies offering similar services? 

I’ve never been an athlete, but I’ve always been competitive. Being the middle child of nine siblings, I think that you have to be noticed somehow. It’s natural for me to try to be first, or be better than anybody else. I am so confident that we are getting it right that I don’t even think about competing with other providers; there’s nothing to compete with, we are just better. 

How do you ensure your employees look forward to come to work? Is an uplifting work atmosphere important to you?

It is extremely important. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for that; Dan is the one who gets credit. The way Dan acts at work is the way he acts with his friends, at home, and when he’s playing golf – what you see from Dan is what he genuinely is. 

So, with OPG winning Top Workplace for eight of the previous nine years, how does it feel being recognized once again this year?

To me it’s just unbelievable. I can’t even embrace it as I can’t even understand that that happens simply from survey questions that our employees actually cared enough about to open up the link to fill out the survey and submit it – which is what lead to us being recognized. What a privilege.
And there’s a further congratulation this year, as you’ve also been recognized with a Leadership award. What was your reaction when you found out?

I found out in the interview from the reporter through the Indy Star; he said “it can’t leave the room until it’s published, but I need to tell you that you have won the leadership extinguishment”. So, I ended up crying for the rest of the interview. I guess we got it right.
With all the awards OPG has received throughout its lifetime, it seems people enjoy working here. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of the job?

That we are living and breathing our mission. It is not just something on the wall. People have a relationship with me because of who I am, not because of my title.
There’s been a lot of reflection about the past, so to finish off, where do you see OPG 10 years from now?

Like it is today… so I guess I’m not ready to retire yet.

Here at OPG, we couldn’t be happier to have Gail leading the way! To read more about our distinguished awards from The Indianapolis Star, read the article here.

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