Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, president and CEO of Compassion International, was born in El Salvador and raised in seven different countries. As a result, Mellado has experienced the powerful impact that local churches can have on their communities, especially in under-resourced environments.
Prior to joining Compassion in June, Mellado was president of the Willow Creek Association — a global ministry completely dedicated to helping local churches thrive. During his 20-year tenure there, WCA’s income grew from $2 million to more than $20 million and membership grew from 860 churches to more than 7,000.
Mellado has a mechanical engineering degree from Southern Methodist University and a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School. At SMU, he was a member of the 1983 NCAA Division I indoor and outdoor track and field national champions, competing in the decathlon and setting the school record. Mellado went on to place fourth at the 1987 Pan American Games and 26th in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, competing for El Salvador. Mellado and his wife Leanne have three children.
What brought you to Compassion, and how did your past prepare you for this role?
I’ve admired the work of Compassion International for many years. My former organization, the Willow Creek Association, and Compassion enjoyed a strategic partnership, as both organizations believe deeply in the potential of local churches to redeem and restore our world for Christ. Through that partnership, and my family’s personal Compassion child sponsorship experiences, I’ve come to love Compassion’s cause, the excellence with which they go about fulfilling it, and their chosen strategy to work with the local church. When the opportunity to lead this remarkable organization was presented, my wife and I both felt God was clearly leading us to accept.
Since graduating from the Harvard Business School, I’ve been in the CEO role at the Willow Creek Association for 20 of the 22 years. I was able to lead that global organization through multiple eras of development from start-up to sustained growth, plateau, multiple reinventions and renewed growth. The demands on me as a leader changed dramatically during each era and required a significant amount of leadership elasticity that was incredibly forming for me. I’m excited to bring that learning to this new role as Compassion’s CEO and to continue growing through this new adventure that God has called me to.
What are some of your biggest objectives at Compassion? Any big changes on the horizon?
One of the blessings of joining Compassion at this juncture is that the ministry is flourishing. This will afford me a season to develop a deep understanding of what God is doing through Compassion and the core areas behind our success that we need to build on and enhance.
Over these last few months, as I’ve listened to and learned from others at Compassion, a few things are starting to come into focus regarding our future. Chief among them is a deep-seated conviction about the organization’s existing distinctives that will not change with my leadership. I am committed to preserving Compassion’s Christ-centered ministry and working through the local church to remain child-focused as we continue to champion holistic child development.
A landmark, independent study of Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program has shown that children who participated in Compassion’s program between 1980 and 1992 stayed in school longer, were more likely to have salaried or white-collar employment as adults, and were more likely to be leaders in their communities and churches than their peers who did not participate in the program. Compassion’s unique approach to holistic child development through sponsorship is clearly working. We will continue to build off of this strong foundation.
Compassion recently acquired the former Lexis Nexis building. How many employees will be there? Has the number of staff in Colorado Springs been growing or declining, and what do you think the future trend will be?
That 202,000-square-foot facility adjoins our existing campus and was purchased in preparation for future growth. The space is currently 58 percent tenant-occupied and we’re utilizing a portion of the property for a special project team.
About 900 of Compassion’s 2,600 worldwide staff are located in Colorado Springs. Our local workforce has been steadily growing for the past several years, averaging slightly over 3 percent annual growth over the past four years. Given that Compassion is blessed to be one of the fastest growing charities in the U.S., we’re anticipating a growth trend will continue into the future.
Your past experience as an Olympian should help to make you a great fit in Colorado Springs. Tell us about that experience and what athletic characteristics you draw on to lead.
My athletic journey has definitely influenced my leadership. The decathlon, my chosen event, is a multi-discipline effort involving 10 events spread over a two-day period. It’s clearly an event for generalists verses specialists. Executive leadership by its very nature is a multi-discipline challenge. The emotional lessons learned in the decathlon have also served me well in leadership. When you perform poorly in one event you can’t get too down on yourself because the next event is coming right up. The same dynamics exists with a victory in one event. If you celebrate too much, you won’t be ready for that next challenge.
Organizational leadership is very similar. You have to maintain an even keel, remembering you are probably not as good as your victories indicate nor as bad as your losses reflect either. As in decathlon, training, perseverance, unbridled optimism and refusing to see oneself as a victim are critical to success.
What are you most excited about, living in Colorado Springs?
Colorado Springs is breathtaking. It’s hard to believe I get to do important work in a place that fills my soul just driving to work. I can’t wait to run, hike, ski and explore as I take in and enjoy God’s amazing creation that is Colorado!