Thursday, December 06, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 33: Tom Bird

Coach Tom Bird
From age ten, I was the oldest male in our household of six.  Maybe for that reason, I have never liked submitting to authority; since I had to figure out how to do so many things myself, I resisted others telling me what to do. Though I have had many great bosses, mentors, and friends along the way (many of them described in this Gratitude series), I never had a coach until I met Tom Bird.

Tom walked into our offices at GlobalGiving five or six years ago, seemingly a random introduction from a friend.  At first, I tried to figure out what he wanted. He had worked at a big medical company, then become a successful entrepreneur who built and sold a thriving records management business.  After that, he went to Harvard Divinity School.

"How can I help you?" I asked.

"Well, I'm just trying to figure out a way to do some good," Tom replied simply.  "So I'm here just to get your advice on how to do that."

Over the next hour, it became clear that the ratio of Tom's (intelligence + wisdom)/ego was off the  charts.  Plus, I had rarely ever met someone that I just personally liked so much.  To be honest, I am a little bit of a loner, and though I know a lot of people I don't have a lot of close friends.  Almost immediately, I wanted to have Tom as a friend.

After he left, I told Mari she needed to meet him, and after she did, we both knew we had to get him on our board.  He was gracious enough to accept.  Since our founding board chair Dave Goldwyn was about to finish his term, we soon found ourselves at lunch with Tom, asking him - despite the short 'dating' period, to consider taking on the chairmanship.  He asked to think about it for a few days, did some due diligence, and said yes.

It is difficult to exaggerate the contributions Tom made to GlobalGiving while he was chair (he just stepped down this year, though he remains on the board).  He brought an extraordinary combination of enthusiasm and ideas, together with realism and practicality.  He coached us on how to prudently run a  growing business, but also at every turn he urged us not to be constrained by conventional wisdom and to, above all, focus on social impact.  "You are trying to change the world here," he would say.  "And that means that despite all obstacles and setbacks you have to keep the faith and press ahead."

Tom's insights, advice, and encouragement were all key drivers of the milestones we've celebrated over the past eighteen months: financial self-sustainability; $100+ million in funding facilitated; and nearly 7,000 projects funded in over 110 countries by 300,000 individual donors and a long list of some of the world's most innovative and socially-oriented companies.

Almost all athletes know they need a coach - someone whom they trust to push them, sometimes hard, to achieve greater performances than they could achieve on their own.  Many business and non-profit leaders feel that they can (or should) do it all on their own, and I used to be that way, too.  Fortunately, a few years back I found a coach -  a great one - in Tom Bird.  That made a huge difference in my life, and for that I am most grateful.

Share on Facebook