Wednesday, June 13, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 27: Donna Callejon

Donna Callejon
"Dennis, let me introduce you to your next Chief Business Officer."

The speaker was Bob Dunn, then head of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).  The place was the World Economic Forum offices in Geneva. The date was sometime in 2003. And the person Bob was introducing me to was Donna Callejon.

"Um, well, hello, Donna," I replied, as Bob melted off into the crowd.  I had no idea what to say or do, so I asked her about her past career.  Donna had worked for fifteen years in the financial services industry, rising high in the management team of Fannie Mae (in the good Fannie Mae days!).  In that capacity, she had been on the board of BSR. After a while, she decided she needed to take a breather from her work and reassess the next stage of her career and life.  She wanted to spend more time pursuing meaning rather than just money.

"Well, we have plenty of meaning at GlobalGiving," I replied (which was a good thing, since we had almost no money).  Let's get together when we are both back in DC.

A couple of weeks later Donna came by the office for more discussions, met Mari, and very shortly thereafter joined the team. Mari and I were so happy, since Donna was the first "adult" we had been able to attract to to the team on a full-time basis.  (We had a lot of outstanding younger folks, but they had much less operational experience and no managerial experience).

At the beginning, Donna said she did not want to work full time, since she was still burned out from her previous job.  We had no choice but to say fine, and then we found out that Donna's version of part-time work was more intense than most people's definition of full time.  Over time, she took on all sorts of roles, from chief business officer to chief operating officer to chief bottle washer and cheerleader - basically whatever needed to get done, Donna would do.

At one stage, a successful entrepreneur tried to lure her away for his new business-process start up.  Donna was flattered but turned him down - a decision that cost Donna a lot of money when the company was later sold for millions of dollars.

GlobalGiving is now thriving and is the world's biggest aid and philanthropy platform, but we were not an overnight success story.  We faced many tough challenges in the early years.  Things frequently looked grim; we often did not take a paycheck, and it all sometimes seemed overwhelming.  Those were the periods when Donna showed her true mettle.  The more intractable the situation appeared, the more determined Donna became.  "We just have to succeed," was our joint mantra.  And we always ended up pulling through, thanks in no small part to Donna's drive and dedication.

For that introduction in 2003, I am thankful to Bob Dunn.  And for everything that Donna has done over the past many years, I could not be more grateful.

Donna recently celebrated a big birthday.  I won't tell you which one it is, although I can reveal that it has the number "5" in it.  Happy birthday, Donna.