Fast Company

Giving Back

Unit of One

Record highs for the stock market. Record lows for unemployment. Record prices for mergers and acquisitions. Record multiples for IPOs. A good year for getting and having -- but what about giving? Every holiday season, in our Unit of One section, we talk to leaders from a wide array of industries and backgrounds to learn how they use their time, skills, and money to give something back. Our goal is not only to identify various ways in which one person can make a difference but also to suggest that making a difference is something that all of us can do. Here are 17 leaders, doers, and change makers -- 17 givers -- who offer instruction and inspiration on giving back. At a time of unparalleled getting and spending, they testify to the power of giving and sharing.

Michael Roux

President and founder
Crillon Importers Ltd.
Paramus, New Jersey

The best way to give is to give much, often, and anonymously. Don't speak about your giving, and don't think when you give. Just give, both with your means and with your heart. And give spontaneously. Real charity can happen at any moment in life. I came to this country from France with a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket, and I started working as a dishwasher in a Houston hotel in 1964. At one point, I had to buy a car, and a coworker -- someone I barely knew -- offered to cosign for the loan. Was this charity? I don't think so, because he didn't give me anything material. Instead, he gave me his confidence, which was the greatest gift in the world. If you have the resources to give away a lot of money, then by all means do so. But don't underestimate the value of personal charity.

I've always operated on the principle that your first real dollar isn't the first dollar that you earn. Your first real dollar is the one that you give away. Since I've had the good fortune to become successful in America, I want to depart with no more than the $200 that I had in my pocket when I arrived here. By the time I die, I want to have given back to this country just about everything that I've received here. I have a family, so I have to give something to them, but I'm not going to spoil them for generations. They must build something of their own. Once I've fulfilled my responsibility to them, I'll give the rest back. The world is your larger family. You have a responsibility to provide for its future as well.

Michel Roux took an unknown Swedish vodka -- Absolut -- and turned its squat, short-necked bottle into an American icon. This year, he founded his own company, Crillon Importers, which distributes imported products, including such fanciful concoctions as Elisir du Dr. Roux, a 94-proof herbal liqueur that is said to have aphrodisiac qualities, and Le Vin du Coeur, a wine that features same-sex couples on two of its three labels.

Elsie Meeks

Executive director
Lakota Fund
Kyle, South Dakota

I run a small business and a microlending program on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in the poorest county in the United States. We provide loans of up to $25,000 to the Lakota people, as well as ongoing technical assistance and a seven-week training course that covers basic business topics. Our main function is to lend money, but our mission is to develop people. Yes, we want to build a private-sector economy here, but what we really want is for people to learn to be good managers and to run their own lives. We're starting businesses, but we're also building a nation. If you want instant gratification, working with a struggling community isn't the way to get it. But there are some very simple ways that you can make a difference. Make yourself available to whatever economic or small-business development program is in your area. Explain what it took to get your business up and running, and how your type of business works. And consider hiring people from a welfare-to-work program. Then teach them what you know. How else will they learn?

Elsie Meeks (info@lakotafund.org) is co-owner of the Long Creek Grocery, in Wanblee, South Dakota, and executive director of the Lakota Fund. Established in 1986, the fund has distributed 500 loans, which are worth a total of more than $1.5 million. The fund also operates an arts-and-crafts marketing program, which introduces artisans to basic business concepts and which serves as a wholesale distributor for their work. Lakota quill and beadwork products are available on the fund's Web site (www.lakotafund.org).

Chuck Collins

Cofounder and codirector
United for a Fair Economy
Boston, Massachusetts

I am the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer. In 1986, I inherited a little less than half a million dollars, which I immediately gave away to various charities. If I had kept that money and invested it in an index fund that tracked the S&P 500, I'm told that it might now be worth $6 million. Why did I give it away? Because I didn't want my life to be governed by things that happened four generations ago. For me, the money was like a spiritual barrier to finding my own path in life. I don't regret the decision. Once in a while, I think it would be nice to have more economic security, but now I'm in the same boat as most people I know. If we go down, we'll all go down together. I don't want to live in a different America than everybody else.

I was 26 years old when I gave away my inheritance. At the time, I was working for a nonprofit organization that helped low-income communities develop affordable housing. I strongly believed -- and still do -- that a society with too much inherited wealth becomes a plutocracy: It is governed by wealth instead of by democracy. We need to recognize that our individual abilities are only one small factor in our personal success. Instead of thinking of ourselves as successful individuals, we should think, "I work hard, and I'm lucky." Some of us are privileged -- largely thanks to God's grace.

Chuck Collins (stw@stw.org) is cofounder and codirector of United for a Fair Economy, a nonprofit organization committed to reducing inequality in income and wealth. The group promotes corporate philanthropy, conducts seminars for businesses and religious groups, holds rallies, and sponsors shareholder resolutions calling upon companies to shrink the pay gap. Collins is coauthor of "Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap" (United for a Fair Economy, 1999) and "Robin Hood Was Right: A Guide to Giving Your Money for Social Change" (W.W. Norton, forthcoming in 2000).

Norma Kamali

Founder and owner
OMO Norma Kamali
New York, New York

I know it sounds like a cliché, but the greatest gift that you can give yourself comes from helping someone else. We get so caught up in our own lives and in our unrealistic worlds. We're so busy achieving and competing and worrying about silly little minutiae that we lose sight of the larger picture.

I give my time and resources to six public schools in New York City. I first started volunteering at my old high school -- Washington Irving High School. Washington Irving was rough when I went there, and it got much worse after I left. I grew up poor, and I remember my mother telling me to learn to type, because art would get me nowhere. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to make a living.

So I offered to help the kids start a T-shirt company -- to teach them how art and commerce work together. I want them to understand the opportunities that are available to them. We meet regularly throughout the process, from concept and design to marketing and sales. This year, the students chose a millennium theme for the T-shirts. I also helped them create a Web site (www.nycpublicschoolart4u2c.com), which displays the students' artwork and provides information about how to hire an intern or help a school.

The work turned out to be incredibly rewarding, so I started helping other schools too. There are many ways to show kids that someone's there for them, and they barely take any effort at all.

Norma Kamali has been a fashion trendsetter for more than three decades. Her designs have adorned people ranging from choreographer Twyla Tharp to talk-show host and actor Oprah Winfrey.

Michael Dell

Chairman and CEO
Dell Computer Corp.
Round Rock, Texas

The best advice I have about giving back is this: Do it. If you're leading a company, or if you're in a management position of some stature or power, it's just as important to serve as a role model as it is for you to help a specific cause. You have a responsibility to live up to the respect that people give you. If leaders aren't leading, why should anyone else?

Also, in my opinion, giving isn't just about forking over money and saying, "See you later." It's about making sure that you're getting the desired outcome. My company has played a role in encouraging nonprofits to measure their progress and to track their impact in quantifiable ways. It's really easy to hand over your money and feel like you've done your duty. But that's no solution. Find out what, exactly, is going to happen with the funds that you give to an organization. What has that organization's productivity been in the past? Does it have a team and an infrastructure to make good use of the money? You make more progress if you hold people accountable and measure their results. So if you're going to get involved with something, make sure that you're getting your expected outcome as a return on your investment.

Michael Dell has focused on giving to organizations that benefit children in central Texas. Those organizations include the Austin Children's Museum, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Children's Hospital of Austin, and the Austin Public Library. Dell Computer has established the Dell Foundation, a charitable organization (unaffiliated with the Dell family) that is dedicated to serving the needs of children.

E. David Ellington

Cofounder, CEO, chairman, and president
NetNoir Inc.
San Francisco, California

If you want to empower people, invest in them. When you give people a loan, or you donate money to them, they're indebted to you. But when you invest in people, you demonstrate that you believe in them. I founded NetNoir, a multimedia company and Web site that caters to the African-American community. On the side, I cofounded OpNet, a multimedia internship program for disadvantaged youth. At OpNet, we train students for five weeks in HTML, Java scripting, and other skills, and then provide them with paid, four-month internships in local multimedia companies. We've been incredibly successful in placing our interns: So far, we've had 90 students come through the program, and about 55% of them got long-term jobs through us. Those interns went from making $19,000 a year working at Burger King to making $35,000 or more in multimedia gulch. And none of them have a college degree.

Here's the point: This revolution is not going to leave anyone out. The medium is still in its infancy. We need for people to understand that there is a place for the less-skilled worker in the digital economy.

E. David Ellington (david@netnoir.com) is cofounder, CEO, chairman, and president of NetNoir Inc., a multimedia-services company focusing on the African-American marketplace. He is also president of the Telecommunications Commission for the city and county of San Francisco, and cofounder and chairman of the advisory board for Opnet (www.opnetwork.org). OpNet's mission is to bridge the "digital divide" by promoting economic opportunities for low-income young adults, increasing the involvement of women and people of color in the digital economy, and helping to meet the growing demand for skilled multimedia workers.

Roy Richards Jr.

Chairman and CEO
Southwire Co.
Carrollton, Georgia

A couple of years ago, I went on a fishing expedition with a friend of mine, Chris Sawyer, who happens to be the chairman of the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit conservation organization that works to preserve land for public use. The local chapter of his group was working on conserving a portion of the Chattahoochee River that runs through the Atlanta metropolitan area. We came up with the idea of the Chattahoochee River Greenway Project -- creating a nearly continuous park that would stretch for 180 miles on both sides of the river. Now I'm chairman of the campaign to raise private funds for the project. And in less than two years, we've brought the 180-mile parkway idea from concept to reality. You don't have to be a Fortune 500 type to make a difference in your community. What communities need are leaders, and the American economy produces leaders by the millions.

Roy Richards Jr. (Roy_Richards@Southwire.com) is chairman and CEO of Southwire Co., a wire and cable manufacturer that his father founded a half-century ago. The company employs 3,500 people and has revenues of roughly $1.5 billion. Richards's fund-raising committee has raised about $25 million for the Chattahoochee Project. In all, more than $100 million has been raised.

Edward Asner

Actor
Studio City, California

The greatest service that you can do mankind is to expose hypocrisy, question authority, and blow the whistle. These are not popular activities. There are punishments for those who participate in them. But it takes no courage at all to give your name or your money to the symphony orchestra. If you really want to make a difference, stand up for an unpopular cause.

I've always felt that it is incumbent upon me to put my name where my mouth is. I'm one lucky son of a bitch. I was a young Jewish kid in America during the reign of Hitler, and I was a no-name aspiring actor at the time of the blacklist. Had I been a little more accomplished at the time, I would have given my name to a cause, and I would have been blacklisted too. So I always felt like I owed someone a few favors for my good fortune. Speaking up has been my way of giving back.

Still, being a whistle-blower can be a very tiring game. One of the lessons that I've learned is that there is nothing that you undertake on your own, freely. I've been publicly attacked many times, and those attacks have taken their toll, not only on me but also on my family and on people who work for me. But I have no regrets about the choices that I've made -- except insofar as I regret the hurt that those choices have caused others near and dear to me.

Edward Asner is best known for his award-winning comedic portrayal of Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore's gruff but lovable boss. He has received seven Emmys and five Golden Globe Awards, and he served as national president of the Screen Actors Guild for two terms. He frequently appears at rallies in Los Angeles, and he has loaned his name to such groups as Amnesty International, the Guatemalan Human Rights Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Native American Rights Fund, Peace Now, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Tim Gill

Founder, chairman, and chief technology officer
Quark Inc.
Denver, Colorado

For the past two years, I've been giving half of my income to a foundation that I created shortly after the state of Colorado voted to abolish all laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. As a gay man, I was devastated to find out that more than half of the people in my state don't believe that I deserve equality. That experience was life-altering for me. I had spent $40,000 to fund a campaign to defeat the amendment, which seemed like a lot of money at the time. My business partner, Fred Ebrahimi, suggested that I pledge $1 million to convince people that discrimination is bad for society. I did, and have gradually given away more money. Now I give away half of my income -- which came to $23 million last year. What other use do I have for that money anyway? It would just sit around. I might as well give it away now, so it can earn interest tax-free.

An entrepreneur can become moderately successful doing the same thing that everyone else does. But if you want to be wildly successful, you have to do what no one else has done. The foundation is an attempt to make a unique contribution. We aim to be wildly successful.

Tim Gill founded Quark Inc. in 1981 with a loan of $2,000 from his parents. He released QuarkXPress in 1987, making layout, typography, and color control available to the ordinary user. Quark, a privately held company, continues to develop and distribute page-layout software. Gill lives in Denver, Colorado with his partner of 13 years. Learn more about the Gill Foundation on the Web (www.gillfoundation.org).

Kay Koplovitz

Chairman and CEO
Koplovitz & Co.
New York, New York

Let me tell you a story. I was having dinner in Paris with Steve Wynn, the chairman of Mirage Resorts, and a few other people. We were chatting, and Steve asked me how I built USA Networks. When I was finished speaking, he said, "You know, we started at about the same time, and you've built a bigger business than I have. The only difference between us is that I met Mike Milken early on, and you didn't." He was right. High-yield bonds were the venture capital of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and women who started media businesses or startups back then didn't have access to the junk-bond market.

Women are still out of the loop. In 1998, only 2% of venture-capital money invested in this country went to women-owned businesses. That's a woefully small number, considering that there are over 9 million women business owners in the United States, and that they employ one out of four workers in the country. My way of giving something back is to change this state of affairs. I'm chair of the Women's Business Council, a presidential appointment that I accepted because I feel passionate about bringing women into the mainstream. It's very important that women don't miss out on another major round of financing. As chair of the council, I've started a series of venture-capital forums for women entrepreneurs. The first one is going to take place in Silicon Valley in January, and it will be hosted by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. This is not a token gesture either; it's a pure business play. We're accepting applications from women entrepreneurs who need between $1.5 million and $15 million.

There's a tremendous amount of opportunity out there. I'd like to see women take advantage of the marketplace -- not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of the economy. We just have to take down a few barriers and open the doors.

Kay Koplovitz (kkoplovitz@earthlink.net) founded USA Networks as an all-sports channel in 1977 and served as its chairman and CEO for 21 years. She stepped down when Barry Diller bought the company in 1998 and later started her own firm, Koplovitz & Co. The firm invests in high-growth new-media companies, and one of its two current startup ventures is run by a woman.

Claude Rosenberg

Founder and chairman
Newtithing Group
San Francisco, California

There is a lack of generous giving in this country. The top echelon of our society is giving away less than 0.5% of its capital each year. I estimate that in 1999 alone, U.S. tax filers can afford to donate $242 billion more to charity than they have. And the wealthier the group, the greater the gap between what they do give and what they are able to give. Most people can give a little more than they're giving now, and very wealthy people can give a lot more.

After we sold RCM Capital Management in 1996, I started a nonprofit organization called Newtithing Group. Our mission is to inspire people to rethink their charitable giving, and to budget for it.

We are at the height of prosperity in this country, but society has deteriorated. We all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to make things better. People want to take responsibility. They're just waiting for someone to help them make that decision.

Claude Rosenberg (info@newtithing.org) founded RCM Capital Management in 1970, and over time he managed $26 billion in assets for that company -- including the pension funds of such companies as Monsanto and AT&T. He is the author of "Stock Market Primer" (Warner Books, 1962) and of "Wealthy and Wise: How You and America Can Get the Most Out of Your Giving" (Little, Brown, 1994), in which he explains his affordability model for giving.

Salvador Perrotti

Founder and president
Perrotti Informatica
Sao Paulo, Brazil

If you're looking to make a truly significant contribution to your community, provide a vision. Then serve as a catalyst to realize that vision. We just opened a school in Sao Paulo to supplement the basic public-school education for 2,000 impoverished children. Brazil is growing fast. But in our zeal for progress, we're leaving behind half of the country -- people who are poorer than you can imagine. They can barely feed themselves, never mind surf the Web. The school aims to bring these people into the new economy by teaching children about technology.

The school came about as a result of a group that I founded, the Institute for the Future. I've been involved in social causes for many years, but I was frustrated by the lack of headway that was being made in reducing poverty. As the owner of an information-technology company, I thought that my industry had a lot to offer. So I started speaking with key business leaders about pooling our strengths to do something on a national level. We created an institute that serves as a network for companies, associations, and people. The school is the first of many projects that we're planning to organize through the institute. The magic word is "network."

Salvador Perrotti (spe@perrotti.com.br) is founder and president of Perrotti Informatica, an interconnectivity and e-commerce consulting firm that provides software for government agencies, as well as for banks and other companies in Brazil.

Neil and Pegi Young

Cofounders
The Bridge School
Hillsborough, California

Our son uses a wheelchair, as well as a portable computer that enables him to communicate. But we don't consider him "special" because of that. Ben is who he is: a spastic, quadriplegic, cerebral-palsied young man who is a unique individual just like anyone else. All children give their parents an opportunity to become more aware. Our kid is just different, so our opportunities have been different as well.

The Bridge School was Pegi's idea, as was the yearly fund-raising concert. The school's goal is to enable kids to achieve a level of competence with communication devices so that they can make a transition back into their home school districts. We also do a lot of outreach to those who don't live nearby. Every individual has a great deal to contribute to society. Those with severe impairments just need a few extra tools in order to do so meaningfully.

Our son spent 6 years at the Bridge School and completed 4 years of high school. He is 20 now, and he operates several small businesses, including an organic-egg company that he recently started. We want people to think of the school as a resource where they can go for guidance and support. We're now raising $20 million to create an endowment fund. Everyone likes to help kids. We're just contributing a little differently.

Neil and Pegi Young held their first fund-raising concert for the Bridge School in 1986. Since then, the event has become a major milestone in the San Francisco Bay area's fall music schedule. The Bridge School (www.bridgeschool.org) is dedicated to using educational strategies and assistive technologies to ensure that children with severe speech and physical impairments can achieve full participation in their communities.

Muriel Siebert

Founder, president, and chairwoman
Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc.
New York, New York

I came to New York City from Cleveland with $500 and a used Studebaker. I was raised to believe that when good things happen, you owe. If you've made more money than you can spend, shouldn't you give a little bit back?

I recently accepted the position of head of the New York Women's Agenda. My goal for my term is to implement a basic personal-accounting course in urban schools. When I was superintendent of banking, I regulated the check cashers. I found out that the working poor, many of whom are immigrants, don't understand checking accounts. I met with the chancellor of schools for New York City, and he introduced a personal-finance unit in two schools in each of New York's boroughs last spring. Based on that program, the board of education has trained teachers in 40 other schools. If I have my way, every public school in the nation will teach a personal-finance course that includes IRAs and mortgages. I'm going to have fun with this!

Muriel Siebert (msiebert@siebertnet.com) is the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, and the first to head one of its member firms. In 1977, she left her firm in a blind trust so that she could serve as superintendent of banking for New York state. In 1990, she established the Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropic plan -- an initiative to share with charities half of her firm's net profits from new securities underwritings, purchases, and sales. To date, donations total nearly $5 million.

Roger Brown

Cofounder, president, and CEO
Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Know what you believe in. Don't stumble into giving just because other people are doing it, or because someone asks you to give. Figure out what makes sense to you. And don't follow the herd. If you have philanthropic instincts, then put them to work in places where you can do the most good, and where other people are not likely to direct their generosity.

I believe in linking your business to what you do philanthropically. It's a great way to leverage your resources, your connections, and your strengths. Let philanthropic projects be driven by the interests and the abilities of your employees -- as well as by the interests of both your shareholders and your clients.

Roger Brown (rbrown@brighthorizons.com) cofounded Bright Horizons in 1986, along with his wife, Linda Mason. Previously, he was codirector of the Save the Children relief and development effort in Sudan. He also worked on the Thailand border with Cambodian refugees through CARE and UNICEF. He and his wife coauthored a book called "Rice, Rivalry, and Politics: Managing Cambodian Relief" (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983). Last year, Bright Horizons merged with CorporateFamily Solutions. It now serves more than 200 companies, including Chase Manhattan Bank, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, and Time Warner.

Daisy Exposito

President and chief creative officer
The Bravo Group
New York, New York

I was born in Cuba, grew up middle-class in Queens, became great friends with Puerto Ricans there, and come from a family that hails, in part, from Mexico and from Spain. For me, giving back means finding a variety of ways to help the Hispanic community help itself.

Girls are getting pregnant at a very young age and dropping out of high school. So I volunteered to work with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. I've also worked with the Partnership For A Drug-Free America, and now I'm working to create a campaign for El Valor, an organization in Chicago that educates parents on how to be better caretakers.

Daisy Exposito (daisy_exposito@yr.com) is president and chief creative officer of The Bravo Group, an Hispanic advertising agency that is part of Young & Rubicam. Billings have grown from $5 million in 1981 (when Exposito joined the group) to a projected $183 million in 1999. The Bravo Group client roster includes the Census 2000, AT&T, Kraft, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Noel Cunningham

Cofounder, chef, and owner
Strings
Denver, Colorado

I'm on the board of directors of Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit organization that raises money to support antihunger and antipoverty efforts worldwide. About 13 years ago, I helped to organize the first Taste of the Nation benefit, along with Denver-based radio personality Pat Miller. Chefs from all over Denver prepared their specialty dishes, and we sold tickets to people who wanted to sample some of the city's best cooking. All proceeds went to fight hunger. The next year, we recruited chefs from all over the nation, and 25 cities held Taste of the Nation benefits. Now nearly 100 cities participate, and we've raised $37 million.

Life is a journey, and one thing's for sure: You don't see many hearses with luggage racks on them. We're privileged to be here, so instead of just using God's resources, we should leave the place a little better than we found it -- or at least leave it the same.

Noel Cunningham grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He cofounded Strings, a popular restaurant in Denver, in 1986. Share Our Strength (www.strength.org) has distributed $55 million to antihunger and antipoverty organizations. The national Taste of the Nation benefit has generated more than half of those funds.

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