If there were such a thing as Main Line sainthood, Helena Devereux would’ve been canonized a long time ago. In the early 1900s, Miss Devereux—as she’s reverently called by people who work at the nonprofit that bears her name—created programs for children with learning differences. Those kids were underserved, if not flat-out ignored, by public school systems.
In 1912, Devereux started a special-education school in her Devon home. The programs were so successful, and demand for them was so great, that she grew the school into an organization that served a wider range of people. Down syndrome, mental health issues, autism—Devereux expanded to address those and other disabilities. By the 1970s, the Devereux Foundation was synonymous with behavioral and mental health excellence, its Villanova campus seen as a beacon of light for some of society’s most vulnerable children and adults.
By the early 1990s, however, Devereux had racked up years of sizable operating losses. Despite its generous donor base, the organization was in a financial hole several million dollars deep. In 1992, Robert Dunne joined Devereux as a corporate controller. Now Devereux’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, he believes that the trouble originated with the organization’s expansion. “There was a period of really rapid growth, with Devereux opening new facilities and subsequently taking on a lot of debt,” says Dunne. “The debt burden was a challenge. Plus, the new facilities—primarily in Florida and Texas—struggled pretty significantly.”
In 1994, Devereux’s board of directors recruited Robert Kreider, a well-known economic guru and co-CEO of Fairmount Capital Advisors who’d just strengthened Main Line Health System by refinancing the debt of individual hospitals. Kreider launched an investigation of Devereux’s finances, and the news was shocking. The organization was overextended on finances, debt and human resources. Losses in Texas were so considerable that Devereux’s initial $14 million investment might never be recouped. “If the banks wouldn’t renew Devereux’s lines of credit, they had to be paid down,” says Kreider. “To do that, things would have to be pulled back. It started looking like Devereux was circling the drain.”
Debt refinancing, asset allocation and credit ratings are brain food for Kreider. He gets animated when expounding on them, and his financial gymnastics resulted in one undeniable bottom line: By the end of 1995, Devereux was on economically solid ground.
The remarkable turnaround earned Kreider a new job as Devereux’s CFO. By 2001, he’d been named executive vice president and COO. Three years later, he was president and CEO. Since then, Devereux has been fiscally stable.
In January, Devereux will face another challenge when Kreider steps aside as CEO. “If they haven’t gotten a good idea out of me by now, it’s probably not coming,” he says with a laugh. “It’s time for new leadership.”
What’s next for Devereux? That answer is linked to a national conversation about the need for behavioral and mental health expertise, special education, and child welfare services. The demand is huge, but state budgets are continually shrinking and the future of Medicaid is a constant concern.
In many ways, Devereux may be in better financial shape than our government. During his 23-year tenure with the organization, Kreider shielded it from national economic downturns and shepherded it through healthy expansion. Under its newly branded name, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, the organization cares for kids and adults in 13 states and employs more than 7,000 staff members. Through clinical, therapeutic, educational and employment programs, it helps people with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and mental health issues. Child welfare is also a focus, as Devereux now has foster-care programs in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Texas and Pennsylvania.
And Kreider has his eye on another at-risk population. In 2018, Devereux will launch The Last Girl, an international public education and prevention campaign aimed at ending sex trafficking of children in the United States. “We’re teaming up with some extraordinarily high-profile co-founders to make a major impact on the sexual trafficking of young women and men,” says Kreider.
Just as Devereux isn’t pulling back from its commitment to serving people in need, neither is Kreider. He’ll segue into consulting for the organization, though he won’t be the kind of consultant he was in 1994.
Back then, Kreider was a self-described financial gunslinger, moving from gig to gig. When Devereux’s board first offered him a full-time position, he agreed to just a one-year contract. But his bottom line has changed since. Kreider has traveled from state to state, evaluating the needs of different populations and meeting Devereux staff members who work at various centers. It’s their work he lauds, pointing out that he’s no behavioral health expert.
But Devereux has always had a wealth of behavioral and educational expertise. What it needed was a leader—and Kreider was that guy. “I feel great satisfaction in having been a part of this extraordinary organization,” he says. “If you’ve made even one child’s life better, what’s more important?”