The last thing I expected to see at a business conference was a hippie throwing Frisbees into the audience. As much as I like the discus (heck, I was born in the 70s), I was skeptical. Our speaker’s unkempt beard and wrinkled t-shirt made him look like an aged college student that had just rolled out of bed, which I imagined was located inside a 1960s VW Bus in the parking lot of the JW Marriott.
That “throwback,” it turned out, was Bert Jacobs, the CEO of Life is Good. Over the last 20 years, Jacobs’s Boston-based t-shirt company has grown from a two-man operation into $100M/year retail giant. You probably know Jake, Life is Good’s iconic hero with the contagious smile. Jake often pops up on Life is Good apparel and gear to teach that optimism is fun, healthy, and empowering.
Bert Jacobs was not at the conference that day to sell Frisbees. He was there to share his story of building a successful business with a social mission. What started as an effort to help homeless children in greater Boston has grown into the Life is Good Playmakers, a non-profit organization that helps kids overcome poverty, violence, and illness. Life is Good Playmakers has become a bona fied movement that has raised some $10M for kids by leveraging the power of its brand, its employees, and its customers.
Prior to hearing Bert Jacobs, I had been on a mission to better understand the true purpose of Zumasys, our 12-year-old technology business. Zumasys had great growth, we had a vibrant culture, and we were all enjoying ourselves. But I thought we could do more to connect people with a greater mission. Was there a way to find meaning in servers, software, and storage? Could we do more than just solve technology infrastructure problems?
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why can endure any how.” In other words, it comes down to the idea that people can accomplish anything—they can move mountains—when they know what their purpose is. Many small businesses fall short here, and I feared that Zumasys might be on the same path.
So, late last year, when we announced that we would donate 1% of our 2012 sales to non-profit organizations nominated and voted on by our employees, some people were confused by our intentions. Our CPA thought we had lost it. But then we started a dialogue with our employees—we asked everyone to share the causes that they were passionate about in their lives and explain why they were meaningful.
Then the stories started rolling in, and they were incredibly moving. One young mother from our Operations Team shared this message about the Second Harvest Food Bank:
“When my dad decided to go out on his own and start his own business, it was a rough. There were times when we didn’t have any food to eat and my mom would go to local churches and get free food. She’d also find assistance before school started so that we could have shoes, clothes, dental, and medical exams. I remember going to Goodwill and buying clothes by the pound. So any place that helps people in these situations, especially with the economy that we have now, gets my vote. Thank God that we all have roofs over our heads, food on our plates, and healthy families.”
We received dozens of stories like this, and I still get emotional when I read them. They inspire us to do more with the platform that is Zumasys. We each have a calling, and I have been working on mine through The Masters Program, but I know now that this is just the first step on a longer journey. It’s our goal for Zumasys to donate $1M to non-profit organizations by 2015. After seeing the passion and enthusiasm of our employees, I have full faith in our ability to achieve that goal.
This year, Zumasys donated $195,000 to over 50 non-profit organizations. Every organization that was nominated by an employee received a minimum donation of $250. With the most votes from our employees, the Second Harvest Food Bank in Irvine was the recipient of a $25,000 donation. We all felt a tremendous sense of pride knowing that our hard work will help provide 75,000 meals for people in need here in Orange County.
Bert and his Frisbees are proof that inspiration can come from the most unlikely places and it’s our job to remain open to new ideas. Life IS good, but we can make it better. Through our 1% Program we have learned about each other and we have reconnected people with their passions.
And I can tell you with absolute certainty that we have gained much more than we have given.
Thanks for tuning in, and Happy New Year!
To see a list of the charities that Zumasys supported in 2012, please visit www.zumasys.com/about/charities
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