Issue: September/October 2012
Best Places to Work: The Cleveland Foundation
Life Lessons From ... Ronald B. Richard, president and CEO
Ronn Richard understands that sometimes a great organization is not something you create from the inside, but rather a product of the work itself. That’s especially true at the Cleveland Foundation, where the nation’s oldest community foundation’s 75 employees get to see the impact of their work on the community, from providing scholarships to help adults return to college to funding the development of entrepreneurs throughout Northeast Ohio.
If we didn’t have
such an important mission, we wouldn’t be a great place to work.
It’s really simple.
What works in a family works at work, which is real honesty and transparency and wanting to help people succeed instead of fail.
If someone says,
“So-and-so is really terrible at this.” My answer is, “What are you doing to help them?”
It’s amazing how
when you tell an employee, “Do you realize that you are falling down badly in this area,” how many times someone will say, “I didn’t know that. Help me, what do I need to do?”
Then they really get back
on track and they do not just OK, but become superstars.
I was a U.S. diplomat.
They “parachute” you into different countries, and you are supposed to learn to adapt right away. That was a good background for this.
I’ve learned so many things
from my mistakes. I learned early in my career that if you have a problem, don’t let it fester. Move fast — even if it’s painful.
Sometimes people say,
“I want to try this,” and I say, “Good, do it,” knowing that it’s really not a good idea and they’ll probably fail. But you learn something from it.
I went from never having
managed anybody to managing 120 people at one time when I became president of [research and development] at Panasonic’s North American R&D operations.
I loved every minute
of the 13 years I was at Panasonic. But one day I was looking out of an airplane window and [realized] that at the end of the day, I was selling TV sets. I wanted to do something more meaningful for the community.
A lot of people
who worked for me [at Panasonic] would come in like they had just had a new baby, saying, “We got our sales up 33 percent!” Their whole life was numbers. For some people, it’s how much money they make. For me, it’s always been about people.
get a lot of offers from other foundations, because they are doing cutting-edge work that’s getting national attention and even national funding. … They stay here because they like the environment.
We don’t keep people
here who don’t play nice in the sandbox. It doesn’t mean we are all clones. … We value diverse opinions. But if someone’s just cranky, we move quickly on that.
My wife got cancer four years ago.
She caught it early. It took me two years of convincing for her to get a colonoscopy. I came in [to work] and said, “I want to talk to you all about health. You all have to get your colonoscopies, your Pap smears, your breast exams.”
If you don’t have your health,
you don’t have anything.
One thing we refuse
to cut is our medical benefits. We have wellness coaches come in. We pay for them to join gyms.
I have lost 35 pounds
in the last 50 days by taking advantage of our wellness program.
You have to be
there when people need you.
The loyalty you get
from an employee that you stood by when they needed you, it’s very important. People don’t forget those things.
We’re not competitive
against our peers. We’re competitive with ourselves. I want to do a better job in 2013 than I did in 2012. I’m not in competition against other people here. It’s competition against myself.
Bad news flies
like an arrow and good news takes a slow boat. My board is never going to get surprised by me or the staff if there’s a problem. That builds trust.
is only a means to the end.
What I want to see in 20 years
is all about the community, not about us internally. It’s only going to happen because we have such a wonderful staff.
I want my tombstone
to say that I was a great husband, a great father and a great friend. Where I work is not in the grand scheme of things.
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