Meet SightLife’s Interim CEO
As Interim Chief Executive Officer, SightLife’s Jim McCorkle brings a wealth of experience and perspective to his new role. In this Q&A, we explore what inspires him in his work for SightLife as well as key leadership lessons he’s learned over the course of his long and illustrious career, which began well before he joined SightLife in 2018 as Chief of Staff and then served, more recently, as our Chief Operating Officer from 2019 to 2021. Enjoy!
What has been one of your most rewarding experiences since joining SightLife?
There is no shortage of rewarding experiences when working at SightLife, but I remain deeply affected by a work trip to India and Nepal that I took two years ago. I did not fully understand the urgency of SightLife’s mission of eliminating corneal blindness until seeing firsthand the magnitude of need among low-resource, often rural communities with limited access to comprehensive eye care. Men, women, and children in these two countries, and around the world, are counting on SightLife and our incredible partners to help them not just see again – the impact goes beyond sight. It’s about renewing hope and second chances for an education, the dignity of work, and a livelihood over time. I am deeply proud that SightLife’s work in the U.S. contributes to meeting 100% of the demand for corneal transplants, but more than 12 million people worldwide continue to wait in darkness and an additional 1.5 million people each year suffer eye trauma that can result in corneal blindness. These numbers are staggering, and why I was so glad to also attend a conference organized by the Eye Bank Association of India as part of my trip. There, I met so many brilliant leaders and advocates passionately dedicated to addressing unmet needs in their communities. I left the conference, and Asia, truly inspired by SightLife’s partnership-driven approach to eliminating corneal blindness.
What has been your most surprising takeaway from working for a nonprofit eye bank and global public health organization?
SightLife is working to eliminate corneal blindness, which is largely preventable and treatable, but not all eye care systems of the world are created equal. In the U.S., we have a deep history of eye banking, government policies that support eye donation, and better patient access to comprehensive eye care. These three things in combination contribute to our comparatively low rates of corneal blindness. In many low- and middle-income countries, however, an untreated infected scratch of the cornea – something that frequently occurs when working in a factory or field without protective eye wear – can rapidly lead to blindness, with devastating consequences for individuals and their families.
What inspires you most about SightLife?
I am inspired daily by the people who make SightLife possible. Our team’s talent, commitment, and compassion are unparalleled. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire career. I’m also deeply inspired by the selfless generosity of our cornea donors and their next of kin, who work with us in the throes of grief to help give the gift of sight. Finally, I am in awe of the hard work and perseverance of every single one of our partners – from surgeons, nurses, and funeral home directors to community health workers and policymakers, among many more. Each one walks alongside us, helping to renew hope and healing for over 100,000 people annually through our comprehensive work in tissue donation, sight restoration, and blindness prevention. It’s truly remarkable what we achieve together through the gift of sight.
What has been your top “ah-ha” moment in your career, so far?
I’m an independent self-starter with a strong work ethic, but when I realized how much more you can accomplish when you invest in relationships and build strong partnerships, it completely changed the way I work. It also transformed the results I’ve delivered, and helped my teams deliver, across my career – including across the different sectors in which I’ve worked. Overall, teamwork is an extraordinary force multiplier that makes each success we achieve at work more meaningful and rewarding.
What advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
Always be open to change, growth and new experiences, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college – an accounting grad – who worked his way into corporate leadership roles in Finance, Supply Chain, Information Technology, and now as the CEO of the world’s largest nonprofit eye bank and global health organization dedicated to eliminating corneal blindness. My career has followed a path I could never have imagined, or would have experienced, if I had just played it safe.
Outside of work, what brings you joy?
I love spending time with my family. Favorite pastimes include watching Sunday football together at home, attending comedy shows, hosting BBQs or Game Night, and everything in between. After 10 years of living in different cities, my wife and adult children, plus their partners, are finally together again in one place, which to me, feels like a winning lotto ticket because my family not only centers me, they also refuel me. In addition, I learned early in my career at Microsoft that staying active significantly improves my mental health, and my ability to find joy day-to-day. So, you’ll also regularly find me at the gym, which keeps me fit as well as mentally resilient.
What memory from your childhood makes you smile?
I grew up in a rural area outside Pittsburgh, PA and spent a lot of time with my grandparents since they lived next door to us. They were the sweetest people. So kind and grounded, without many means but still generous in so many ways, especially in their commitment and willingness to help people in need. If a family member or neighbor was sick or without a car to get to work, my grandparents were always the first to show up and offer help. I learned so much from them in how to selflessly care for others, and to this day, their influence impacts me in how I show up as a leader, husband, and father. It makes me smile every time I think of them and the lasting impact they’ve had on my life.