Refocusing on the Family
A chunky silver bracelet flopped around the Ichthus tattoo on Yvette Maher's wrist as she told me about her work at Focus on the Family.
Initially, the senior communications specialist said, she covered up the tattoo, inked right after a change in the company's dress code. The shift meant that men could go without a tie, women didn't have to wear dresses or skirts and pantyhose, and employees could display tattoos. Eventually, the tattoo came out, as did her story: She and her two daughters had gotten the tattoos to show solidarity before an intervention for her two nephews, who were addicted to black tar heroin.
At the time, founder James Dobson was slowly moving out of his leadership role. Less than two weeks after Focus's board meeting where Dobson was asked to resign, his new radio program, Family Talk, was incorporated in California. This raised questions about whether constituents would remain more loyal to Focus on the Family or its dynamic founder.
Even though Jim Daly had taken the reins as president of Focus in 2005, employees said that the new dress code in 2009 was one of the first internal signs that Focus would have a new atmosphere.
"It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but to a lot of the employees, it was like, 'Wow that's new,'" says Maher, who sported a choppy, gelled haircut and dress pants. "God bless Jim Daly. He has launched us into the 21st century." She pauses to reconsider. "Or the 19th."
Daly, the youngest of five children born to alcoholic parents, entered the foster care system after his stepfather walked out during his mother's funeral, a story Daly tells in his 2007 book, Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family. After he and three of his siblings moved into a foster home of 10, his foster father accused Daly of trying to kill him. His biological father, who had left the family when Daly was 5, returned to take the boy from his increasingly mentally ill foster father. After a year of living together, Daly's father fell back into alcohol abuse and committed suicide.
"I come from a broken childhood. That's what gives me the energy. I don't have a Ph.D. in it, but I guess it's the school of hard knocks," Daly says, wearing a striped blue shirt and grey suit but no tie. "I have a driving passion to try to get every child a better home and to be an advocate for that child who has no home."
At 17, after living with his brothers, Daly found his own place—a trailer. He began pursuing his bachelor's degree and an MBA. He married at 25, and he and his wife, Jean, now have two boys, Troy, 10, and Trent, 8. They attend Red Rock Church, which is connected to Andy Stanley's Atlanta-based North Point Community Church. Daly was working at International Paper when he joined Focus in 1989 at one-third his previous six-figure salary at the Fortune 500 company.
Focus has made cuts of its own in the years since Daly became its president and chief executive officer. Last August, Focus slashed its staff to about 700, about half of its peak of 1,400 in 2002. It also reduced its 2010-2011 budget to $105 million after missing the previous year's $137 million income budget by $23 million. And that 2009-2010 budget was already more than 14 percent lower than its 2008-2009 budget of $160 million. (Income actually increased during Daly's first years as president, from about $149 million in 2006 to $152 million in 2008.) Listenership of Focus on the Family's flagship radio program dropped about 5 percent between winter and the following spring in 2010, according to the latest numbers from the Arbitron research firm.