When I think back on my career and life at various points, my perspective on success has continued to evolve over time. At first, especially as an entrepreneur, success was about growing a profitable business, hiring the best people, and delivering value to my clients. However, over time, I began to ask myself, “what’s the point of this?” My companies make large corporations more efficient but we certainly don’t cure world hunger. While I’m proud of the clients we have helped and the jobs we have created, I constantly had this subtle, under-the-surface feeling that there has to be more than just being financially successful.
Talking with other CEOs, many grapple with a similar question. What can we as leaders and businesses in the community do to impact more than just our people, clients, and industry?
In 2010 my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This was my second go around, as my grandmother with Alzheimer’s moved into our house when I was young. My father succumbed to the disease in 2013. This journey was difficult for our entire family, but I realized that I had the potential to create the change in my community and the ability to encourage other business leaders to do the same.
1. Utilize your core competency and expertise to help others.
Every business has at least one, if not multiple core competencies. For my companies it has always been about technology – designing it, building it, leveraging it to help clients succeed and achieve their business outcomes. As a business leader, I wanted to leverage not only my company’s core competency, but my skills when giving back too. In 2016, I created the Windward Foundation, a non-profit foundation focused on Alzheimer’s caregivers, led by my sister, Michele Darwin.
“There are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and the physical and financial toll it takes on caregivers is staggering. The Windward Foundation is proud to develop programs to ease the burden to families and help them navigate the difficult journey that comes with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias,” said Michele Darwin, Executive Director of the Windward Foundation.
The Windward Foundation is leveraging my knowledge about technology and building technology platforms, to enable people to engage caregivers seamlessly.
2. Ultimately, Leaders have Leverage.
I champion the commitment from leaders like Warren Buffett, Bill & Melinda Gates, and others. I agree that companies and leaders have tremendous leverage to move the needle significantly and more quickly now – every day.
Even if we are not billionaires, I believe companies can do more with a small amount of their resources than any citizen can do with a small amount of their limited resources. For example, if every business gave 1% of their revenue to their community, it could drive significant impact. A company that makes $20,000,000 in revenue could donate $200,000 a year – whereas a person donating 1% of their income if making $80,000 is only $800. This represents a 250x impact potential.
Leverage is truly a super-power for change.
The latest Chronicle of Philanthropy Philanthropy 50 list shared that “Just 21 of the people on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans appear on this year’s Philanthropy 50” – we need more leaders to engage to drive change.
3. What business leaders can look for at any stage of their business. Self.
At any point, as an entrepreneur, and as a business owner, you have the opportunity to become more self-aware and understand what success looks like for you, your people, clients, and also for your community. Every business owner has an opportunity to consider what matters most to them, as well as their tribe, and consider investing and giving back accordingly. The more aligned an organization is with a cause, not just cutting a check, the bigger and more authentic the impact. For me, seeing my family struggle as caregivers, and meeting caregivers at different facilities, lit a fire and passion around what I, as well as the resources at my disposal, can do to make a difference.
4. Find Your Tribe. Who has the skills to deliver the most impact?
As I mentioned, my skill is in defining our strategy, developing solutions, and promoting our mission. I am not the best at advocacy, developing community programs, and meeting with politicians. Which is why my sister was the perfect choice to lead the Foundation as the Executive Director. Every business owner should consider who in their network can assist them with driving change. It could be people on your staff who would love to lead community initiatives, maybe a set of external constituents such as Community Foundations, non-profits, etc. Build a team to help you as a founder decide where to invest, how to invest, and increase your impact. Many businesses have Boards. For your philanthropic focus, consider having an employee led Advisory Board to start. Build your tribe, don’t let yourself as the owner get in the way of impact.
4. Consider the timing and your long term plan.
Many companies have growth cycles and owners should consider when/how to launch their philanthropic efforts as well as how to do so. I take great pride that my company, the Windward Consulting Group, has always been a very philanthropic company for the last 20 years. But I found that I wanted to do more and create focused, game-changing, long-lasting impact. Initially our philanthropy included donations to events, sponsorships, and evolved into a company-wide focused effort, and ultimately launching a foundation. It was important for me to continue to expand our impact over time and I encourage business leaders to do the same.
While my focus is on Alzheimer’s caregivers, there are causes for everyone. We as Americans have a massive potential to affect change. As entrepreneurs we don’t sit on the sidelines for anything. We cannot and should not wait for anyone else to solve our problems, including our government.
I believe that capitalism and compassion can coexist (and do coexist) for many companies. As a business leader we can choose to embrace both – meeting our personal financial goals, as well as our business goals and improve our communities. I focus on caregivers because I have seen up close how much it impacts the people I work with day to day. As a business owner, many of life’s challenges are related to health and family, and businesses need to tackle this head on – because if it is good for your people, it is good for business too. Although I chose to focus on Alzheimer’s caregivers – leaders will continue to face the challenge of helping their employees through taking care of their loved ones.
I hope business leaders join me on this journey to change the world for good.
* Follow Sean on Social Media at @wheelsupworld
Founder of Windward Consulting Group. In addition to Windward, Sean was the Founder and CEO of RealOps, Inc., the pioneer in enterprise management Run Book Automation solutions which was acquired by BMC. Before starting Windward, Sean held senior positions with Predictive Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton.