Tuesday, March 20, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 22: Tom Rautenberg

Tom Rautenberg, 1954-2012
Tom Rautenberg was a Johnny Appleseed for good.  

Sometime around late 2001 or early 2002 (even before we had launched the site, as I recall), Tom walked in the door at GlobalGiving to offer his help.  He spent a couple of hours talking with us about what we hoped to achieve, and then he left.  

A couple of weeks later, he showed up again.  He was full of ideas and encouragement and connections, but he did not seem to want anything in return.  

In fact, every time he came, he would take us to a good lunch (usually a steak or gourmet hamburger), saying that start-up entrepreneurs needed a square meal.  He never asked for money (we had none, in any case), and the more he learned about us the more people he put us in touch with.  Several of those introductions led to key initiatives and partnerships for us over the years.

Tom had an amazing and varied career before we met him.  He had a degree in intellectual history, and then he worked on complex adaptive systems and nuclear negotiation theory at Berkeley and Brown.  Subsequently he shifted gears and founded a boutique investment firm specializing in the movie, communications, and education industries.  Then in the late 1990s, he took a sabbatical to work with the State of the World Forum.  Later he went on to work with Booz Allen, Generon, and Synergos, among others, and he was an informal advisor to many others.

One day I said "Tom, so tell me, what's this all about? "

"What do you mean?" he replied.

"Well, you show up here every month or two and buck up our spirits and help us think through things, even though you don't work here.  Why do you do it?"

"Dennis, listen: I have been lucky in life, and I want to give back.  You guys are helping me give back by letting me help you.  Thank you for letting me do it."

Over the following years, we met less frequently, but each time we would have lunch.  (I was glad that in more recent years I was in a position to pay!)  Tom seemed to show up whenever we were facing a crisis or major strategic challenge, and each time he gave us ideas, encouragement, and moral support that helped us make it through. 

A month ago, Tom died suddenly while in Aspen helping another group think about what they could do to improve the world.  He was 57.  I had not seen him for a year, and I had a note on my calendar to be in touch with him to set up one of our lunches.  

Last week, I decided to go ahead with the lunch anyway.  I went out to a new hamburger joint and got a burger with all the fixings.  After the waiter brought the food and left, I raised my glass and said, simply:

"Thanks, Tom."