Three successful meetings industry entrepreneurs have found inspiration from
giving back to their communities. Here are their stories.
These three successful meetings-industry entrepreneurs have found inspiration from an entirely different track — giving back to their communities. And by making room in their hectic lives for causes that they believe in, they have created lasting change in others' lives. For Chris White, that meant giving underprivileged children a shot at college; for Mary Tribble, it was bringing CEOs together to examine the issue of corporate conscience; and for Claudette Weston, the goal was to get involved with as many charities as she could squeeze into a 24-hour day. ¶ We hope that you will be as inspired by their stories as we were, and reflect upon them at the start of 2008 as examples of the power of a single human being to change the world.
Chris White, chairman and CEO, Global Event Partners and Krisam Group, Washington, D.C.
Although he is a Massachusetts native, Chris White, 65, has spent most of his life in the Washington, D.C., area, close by the two companies he founded: Global Event Partners and Krisam Group.
By the early 1990s, with his business prospering, he realized that he had the chance to start looking in a new direction. “My wife and I knew that Washington was our home, and that it was time to start giving back to the community. Education has been a passion for both of us. In most big cities, you can find school systems in deplorable conditions — and D.C. was no different.”
In 1992, the Whites read an article about the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. The program is designed to help children from low-income areas to reach their education and career goals by providing a long-term program of mentoring, tutoring, and enrichment — ultimately paving the way to a college education. They decided to become sponsors, taking on the personal and financial commitment necessary to try to get 75 young adults through high school and college.
Although he was a successful businessman, White was “not in the same league” as typical “I Have a Dream” sponsors, such as the late Abe Pollan, who owned Washington, D.C.'s professional basketball and hockey franchises. So the couple decided to raise the money they needed. Then the hard work — getting their 75 “dreamers” through school — began.
Sponsors of the program become involved with a class of students when it hits the third grade. White soon realized that he needed to surrender the idea that he had to get all of his students through college. “Things are so awful with many of these kids that you have to make sure they can just make it through high school,” he says. “I went in thinking ‘I will save every single kid,’ but it finally hit me that that was not going to happen.”
But the Whites were determined to get as many through as they could. “We were very hands-on. We had countless conversations with the kids, lots of visits to their homes — every parent knew us personally.” And when their first students reached middle school and the couple saw the deplorable condition of the schools they would be entering, they recommended — and paid for — private school.
While they couldn't get all of the 75 through high school and college, this past May 20, the Whites' first group of students graduated from four-year institutions such as Penn State University, Clemson University, the University of Maryland, and Emory University. “When it's all said and done, we will graduate close to half [of the original 75],” he says.
Since becoming involved, White has developed a passion for a new education alternative: charter schools. “You don't know until you get in the trenches and see firsthand how disgusting the schools really are,” he says.
When a charter school law passed for Washington, D.C., White helped to form one of the district's charter schools. He is on the board of trustees of the Friendship Public Charter School, a system of charter schools within the D.C. school district. “It's been one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” he says. “I only wish my business functioned as well as Friendship does.”
The last 15 years have forever touched his life, and he is proud of what he has accomplished. “Right now, I'd be happy to see my tombstone read: ‘He did a lot to see that inner city kids got an education,’” he says. “That's a lot better than what it would have said before 1992, which was: ‘He booked a lot of rooms in a lot of hotels.’”
Mary Tribble, president, Tribble Creative Group, Charlotte, N.C.
Around the beginning of the millennium, Mary Tribble, 47, experienced a midlife crisis of sorts. Her business — Tribble Creative Group — was incredibly successful, but she spent many a sleepless night staring at her ceiling, asking herself the age-old question: “Is this all there is?”
“Am I put on this Earth just to plan cocktail parties for beer salesman?” she wondered, “Or am I meant to do something more meaningful?”
About the same time, a flier landed on her desk advertising a two-week walk across the Sahara Desert. “It was totally out of character for me. [Until then, my] idea of a vacation had been lying on the beach,” she says. “But I went, and it was really the first time I experienced any kind of prolonged self-reflection.”
The result was a profound professional and personal change. Upon her return, she masterminded the Forum for Corporate Consciousness, a 2003 event that brought together top CEOs, academics, and speakers to examine issues such as the environment and workplace diversity. She — and, by extension, her business — have been involved ever since in issues involving corporate social responsibility.
The trip also sparked a personal effort to become more deeply involved in her community of Charlotte, N.C. She has sat on the board of Charlotte's Children & Family Services Center, and on the board of the Relatives, a shelter for runaway and homeless youth, and is passionately involved in local environmental issues.
Tribble is also a founding member of the Charlotte Green Team, a group formed with the goal of reducing the environmental footprint of Charlotte's meetings and conventions. Just this past October, the Green Team, with the involvement of Tribble Creative Group, planned the North Carolina Conference for Women, a 2,500-attendee “electronic town meeting” at the Charlotte Convention Center that has become the center's prototype green event.
She also sits on the board of directors of the Catawba Land Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust that permanently protects land, water, and wildlife habitats to enhance the quality of life in North Carolina's Southern Piedmont and Lower Catawba River Basin.
While her community involvement and concern about issues of corporate social responsibility are personal goals, she realizes that there are benefits to her efforts.
“I was listening to a story on National Public Radio in which a president of a small regional bank in New Orleans was talking about the time he met with a representative from an environmental group,” she recalls. “He was rolling his eyes, waiting for the meeting to finish, when the guy from the environmental group pulls out a map of Louisiana, says the wetlands are drying up and that he [the banker] needs to do something about it. And the banker looks at the map, sees Louisiana's coastal towns, and notices that his bank has a branch in just about each town. He realizes that if the wetlands dry up, these towns are going to dry up — and with them, his bank.
“The point is that he ‘got it.’ And for me, when it comes to issues like these, it starts with making a connection with a CEO and getting him to think of these things in ways he hadn't thought of them before.”
A Charity a Minute
Claudette Weston, president, Weston & Associates, Winston-Salem, N.C.
When Claudette Weston's husband, Joel, died in 1984, she had some choices to make. With a couple of kids in college, her thoughts turned to entrepreneurship as a way to make a living. She thought of opening a bookstore or sports bar, but quickly rejected those ideas. Then, after a discussion with her sister, Nancy Holder (who had worked as a corporate meeting planner for R.J. Reynolds), they decided to open their own business: Weston & Associates.
While the decision to get into meeting-planning represented a relatively late change in career, one aspect of her life hasn't changed, even as her business has prospered: her determination to give back.
“I grew up out in the country,” says Weston, 70, whose business is in Winston-Salem, N.C. “My dad died when I was just 9, but I was lucky enough to get some help so I could go to college. And my mom and other folks would always tell me: ‘You need to give back to the community.’
“So, over the years, not only I, but my children as well, have been very involved,” Weston says. “It's something inside me.”
She focused her philanthropic endeavors to honor her late husband. Each year, the Joel A. Weston Jr. Memorial Award honors a Forsyth County (N.C.) nonprofit, health, or human-service organization that has demonstrated organizational excellence. The recipient receives a $10,000 endowment. She also established a scholarship at the Babcock School at Wake Forest University.
When she's not giving money or scholarships away, Weston is spending an extraordinary amount of time with local organizations and charities. These include the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the United Way, the Forsyth County Board of Social Services, and WinstonNet, a nonprofit Winston-Salem community technology initiative.
Ask her to list the issues she's involved with and she admits, “It's way too many. My kids keep yelling at me: ‘You're running a business; you're running a business!’”
She estimates that during an average week, she spends a full day working on nonprofit activities. And while her children admonish her for taking too much time, she does know when to step back.
“The other day, within a 10- to 20-minute period, I had about four things land on my desk that I needed to take care of. One client wants to hold a shareholders meeting in New York, another wants to look at five hotels for a meeting he's scheduled for next June. When that happens, I really have to get on the phone and say, ‘I wish I could come to the library board meeting tonight, but I can't.’”