By Paula Ann Solis
Woodway’s Chief of Police Yost Zakhary flew in from Washington, D.C., the night before, fulfilling his duties as the president and face of an international organization. He then switched into teacher mode as he wrote an email to one of his Baylor students around 4:15 a.m. Later at his office in Woodway, he was supposed to have a casual sitting with the mayor, but instead the two gazed over a 5-foot-long map of their town and discussed beautification and savings. His train of thought seems to only go in one direction – forward.
Zakhary is an exception to the phrase “those who can’t do, teach.” He has acted as chief of police for Woodway, a city landlocked by Waco with a population of just under 9,000, since he was 25. He also teaches criminal justice at Baylor, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1983 and 1993, respectively.
If he’s not teaching at Baylor, McLennan Community College or leading the police force of Woodway, he’s probably traveling the world representing the oldest global organization for law enforcement agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Zakhary was sworn in as the association’s president in October and since then he’s been busier than ever.
“I’ve actually had two face-to-face meetings with the director of the FBI in D.C.,” Zakhary said. “I’ve met with the majority of the folks at the Department of Homeland Security.”
As president of the association, he’s traveled to countries such as Costa Rica, where he represented the association at a meeting of the American Police Community (Ameripol) to discuss combating drugs, terrorism and human trafficking.
Zakhary said he has certainly come a long way from his first job as a fire hydrant painter while working his way through college. Though Zakhary said his law enforcement path was originally an act of rebellion after his father pushed him toward medicine, he realized he was on the right path during his time at Baylor.
“They’re all friends of mine now,” Zakhary said. “I really had so many good professors. The first ones that really kind of took me in, I would say, were Dr. Joe Cox in the business school and Dr. Maxine Hart. Those two really took a liking to me and always encouraged me to do better.”
That same encouragement to achieve great things is something Zakhary has carried over and passed on in every position of leadership. In fact, he said encouraging others is the key to assuring his own success.
“You hire better people than you are and you just get out of their way,” Zakhary said. “Seriously, you empower those people, let them do their job and get out of their way. What really helps is when the top people empower the staff to do the job and doesn’t micromanage. It makes it real easy. It’s all about hiring good people.”
Woodway mayor and longtime friend Don Baker said he knows all about that exact thing. He said hiring Zakhary has been both a financial and civic gain for Woodway.
Because Zakhary is the town’s city manager and chief of police, which are both full-time jobs, the city only has to pay one salary and that alone has saved the community more than $1 million.
“You got to give him credit for a lot of the good things that we’re doing,” Baker said. “There is no entity, no organization that has any character in and of itself, but it is a perfect reflection of the character of the people that run it. So when you look at the city of Woodway and you look at our public safety department and our city employees, they are a reflection of the character of those people and it all points to one person.”
While the mayor carried on about the great works of the city’s chief, Zakhary mumbled under his breath, “It’s no big deal,” and the mayor said that type of comment perfectly describes his character — avoiding the limelight. At the same time, Zakhary got an email inviting him to meet with the French Ambassador to represent IACP in Washington, D.C., again.
Instead of looking overwhelmed and tired, Zakhary seemed to look forward to this opportunity to be busy again and he said he never tires of it.
“It’s like I get renewed every day,” Zakhary said. “Anything to do with helping people is what I really like. But without the support of wife and two daughters who have sacrificed so much for me, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”