The fall CEO@Smith speaker series came to an end last night with a presentation from Goodwill Industries International CEO Jim Gibbons about what it is like to run a social enterprise.
Gibbons brought an interesting perspective to the Robert H. Smith School of Business on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, and to the students, faculty and staff filling the seats in Frank Auditorium. He spoke about the challenges of running a 110-year-old corporation that was founded on the idea of doing good in the community and the challenges of entering the business world as a blind man.
“The world of social enterprise gives me the opportunity and the challenge to think differently every day,” he told students. “Goodwill is all about the community. We don’t exist for ourselves; we exist for the community around us. During this tough economic time, Goodwill has been a job creator. What you think of as the end of the cycle – for your tennis shoes, an old suit, a dress – it’s the start of something new for your neighbors or someone in your community. That translates into billions of dollars to go back into these communities.”
Goodwill has more than 105,000 team members. The organization places more than 200,000 people a year with employers, even in the current economy. Goodwill also serves more than 4 million people a year in its retail stores and will land about $5 billion in revenue this year. “That model, that social enterprise model, really does find that sweet spot with intersecting caring and enterprise to power people to build communities that work,” Gibbons said. “It is each individual that we place or serve that builds up to those big numbers.”
Gibbons joined Goodwill Industries International (GII) in the beginning of April 2008, coming from National Industries for the Blind (NIB) where he served as president and CEO for 10 years. Prior to NIB, Gibbons served as president and CEO of Campus Wide Access Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T.
Gibbons was the first blind person to graduate from Harvard with a MBA. He earned his bachelor degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University. In December 2010, President Obama appointed Gibbons to serve for two years on the White House Council for Community Solutions.
But before all of these accomplishments, Gibbons struggled in the business world due to his lack of sight, which he started losing at a young age. He couldn’t get a job his freshman year of college, and was given a job as a janitor at his father’s company later during college: “When I got a job as a janitor, I learned that every job matters. No matter what your job is, someone is counting on you to get it done so they can do their job.”
The struggle to find a job didn’t stop there. As a senior at Purdue, Gibbons interviewed more than 50 times before getting an offer from IBM and AT&T. He learned that “quitters never win, winners never quit,” something his father told him when he was much younger. He took that lesson with him to Goodwill and urged the words to students.
“You need to have advocacy for yourself. You need to have it for your family, for the team or organization you are a part of. Being able to advocate what you believe in is important,” Gibbons said.