Leaders never stop learning, and if they do, they forfeit the future when no examination of the present has taught them to do better and be better.
During my first four years as CEO for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas (UWMD), I have been fortunate to have the support and guidance of five extraordinary leaders. In their roles as local United Way campaign chairs, the impact and influence of Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc.; Rich Templeton, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Texas Instruments; Thomas J. Falk, chairman and chief executive officer of Kimberly-Clark Corporation; and Tom Greco, chief executive officer of Frito-Lay North America, has been without precedent. Each chair has left his distinctive touch on a combined legacy of leadership, from which I continue to benefit.
The Dallas Metroplex is a leader in global commerce with North Texas ranking sixth among metro areas in the number headquarters of Fortune 500 companies. Measured by revenue, we rank second only to New York City. I’ve witnessed how these global business leaders of North Texas focus on philanthropy and corporate social responsibility in developing strategies from the for-profit world that revolutionize nonprofit thinking.
Rethinking Possible With Randall Stephenson
Randall Stephenson was the first global CEO to chair our local campaign and he brought focused leadership and discipline during a time of transformational change. At UWMD, we changed our grant-making strategy and the result was outspoken public opposition. Randall was the primary reason that the transformational change succeeded.
I was new in my role as CEO and Randall’s guidance helped me understand that strong leaders have to take a few arrows to achieve organizational change. Though it doesn’t feel good when not everyone is with you, if your ideas are on track, perseverance pays off. Everybody deals with opposition and conflict. Strong leaders have to move forward productively. Lesson learned? In the end great ideas and action that produces measurable results will prevail.
From our first meeting, Randall encouraged me to embrace my personal leadership style and individuality to win hearts and minds for our cause. He taught me the value of taking the time to learn what motivates others and that relationships always trump transactions.
I also learned that corporate partnerships can provide powerful co-branding opportunities for nonprofits, as AT&T has done with its $350 million AT&T Aspire educational initiative. Co-branding with AT&T? I’m in. Lesson learned? Be a substantive partner and both brands can accomplish great things for the entire community.
Re-Engineering the Community-Building Business with Rich Templeton
Rich Templeton has the analytical, disciplined, and intellectual mind of an engineer and heartfelt passion for our community, as did TI’s founders. In fact, founder J. Erik Jonsson went on to become mayor of Dallas. Rich is cut from the same cloth – he also wants the company ethos to infuse the community, so TI now provides volunteers throughout the city every month of the year. Rich also focuses TI efforts in support of science, technology, engineering, and math programs while engaging Millennials. These Gen Z students are today’s investments in the quality of technical reasoning and the generation who will one day take the reins in business and community leadership. Rich has enlisted good friends and NFL Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach with our cause, earning his “community quarterback” nickname and demonstrating the extraordinary power of association.
Rich taught me that while everyone knows that “strong companies build strong communities,” few understand that “strong communities build even stronger companies.” His example has shown me actions do, in fact, speak louder than words. Rich and his wife, Mary, tour and volunteer at our service provider programs regularly to see and experience first-hand the work they champion.
Essential Partnering with Tom Falk
Tom Falk was my next teacher. Kimberly Clark, the maker of popular brands like Huggies and Kleenex, advocates for “leading the world in essentials for a better life.”
Kimberly-Clark has supported UWMD by investing in improving the health and wellbeing of families, specifically healthy moms and healthy babies. Tom leads by asking questions that probe layers of information in every decision. He keeps up with people and detail at an almost uncanny pace. Often his email responses to me would be in the middle of the night – likely when he was talking with KC employees on the other side of the world.
From Tom I learned two fundamental lessons. First, prepare thoroughly for your audience, internal or external. When a corporate or civic partner takes the time and effort to be a part of an endeavor, respect the commitment with a “no surprises” policy. The partner should always know what’s going to happen before it happens.
Second, I learned to deploy relationships and human capital only for highest and best use. Time and influence are precious, so ask only for what’s most needed and use effectively what is shared. Ask for an individual’s help only when no one else can accomplish the mission.
Tom’s two lessons ensure that mission permeates every action. He plans with clear purpose, process and outcomes in every interaction. Trained as a CPA, Tom kept us laser-focused on developing an externally evaluated “scorecard” to objectively measure results.
Performance with a Purpose with Tom Greco
Current campaign leader Tom Greco pushes me to think BIG – performance with purpose is his credo. Tom has inspired me to take risks and has given us leeway to test a concept and scale it nationally – an unusual opportunity in philanthropy. Pepsico established Healthy Zone Schools, a program that teaches good nutrition, exercise, and healthy habits in schools, and makes ‘em cool. And then he said, “Take it across the nation, and beyond!” Unlikely partners in fighting childhood obesity at face value, Tom and his team have taught me the best champions are the ones changing the conversation.
Tom is a brilliant salesman and marketer. I’ve watched him refuse to take “no” for an answer. In fact, he’s taught me that “no” is when the selling begins. Though confident in his vision, he is unassuming, exhibiting great humility. I’m reminded it’s almost impossible to build relationships and coalitions without both. Radically changing the snack food industry requires courage, coalitions, and the conviction that there’s a way to make it happen. Now I approach our mission in the same way. Tom and his team bring energy, vitality, and sense of fun – with a purpose – to our entire community.
Looking to the Future with David Seaton
Next year, David Seaton, chairman and chief executive officer of Fluor Corporation, will lead our annual effort. And no doubt he’ll, too, teach me many more tricks of the for-profit trade that will make us an even stronger and more effective nonprofit. Even before he takes the reins, he’s teaching me the lesson of powerful vision: Define what you will be because it will dictate what you do.
If, in its next 90 years, Dallas has leaders like Randall Stephenson, Rich Templeton, Tom Falk, Tom Greco and David Seaton, the seemingly impossible is possible. We will be the city that others look to because leadership at every level is woven into the fabric of our community by those who make their lives and careers here. Their teaching will pay vast dividends, and I promise to pay it forward.
Jennifer Hilton Sampson, CPA, serves as the CEO and president of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the largest non-governmental funder of programs to improve education, financial stability and health in Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and southern Denton counties.
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