A third-generation president of a
multinational corporation in the travel industry once told me that
he almost didn't go into the family business. "I wanted to change
the world, make it a better place," he said. He wasn't sure that
business, with its relentless pursuit of profit, was the right
place to try to achieve lofty goals.
convinced him business was a good platform for helping
their essence, are entities that are neither good nor bad. But when
they're headed by greedy, dishonest or uncaring executives, they
can tarnish the image of business leadership in the eyes of
business leadership metronome has slowly ticked between greed and
enlightened self-interest, but two well-known leaders in the travel
industry have used their wealth, creativity and celebrity to
inspire entire sectors of the industry to reconsider a "do-gooder"
Richard Branson and Starwood Capital Group's Barry Sternlicht have
each recently committed to projects that take an unapologetic,
environmentalist stance and, with muffled hubris, suggest their
actions might change the world for the better. I believe they're
right, and that their past successes and influence are such that,
whatever they do, others in aviation and hospitality will likely
occurred at one end of the scale, the global conglomerate end. But
corporate missions that may change the world are not beyond the ken
of smaller businesses, too. We have written before about the
programs run by AmericaShare, a nonprofit arm of Micato Safaris:
Guests on safari can add days, at Micato's expense, to visit
Nairobi's Mukuru Slum and volunteer to help AIDS orphans by
Mohamedin Ali was a
child in Mukuru, a 15-year-old Somali refugee struggling not to let
his D grades slip to Fs. In describing the circumstances of his
life, there wasn't much to distinguish the desperateness of his
situation from that of his peers, but upon meeting him, he was hard
to forget. At 6-foot-6, he towered above his classmates, and his
smile shone like a beacon from that height.
His dream was to
come to the U.S., and it touched AmericaShare's executive director,
Lorna MacLeod. She contacted a man who operated a basketball
clinic, thinking he might be interested in sponsoring Mohamedin.
She found a high school in New Jersey that would accept him as a
student, sight unseen. She committed to housing him with her own
Getting a visa to
the U.S. for a poverty-stricken Somali named Mohamedin is not easy.
But with only three days before school was to begin, a chain of
amazing events, starting with the issuance of his visa,
Economy class on
the only flight that could get him to New Jersey in time for school
was sold out, so Micato booked him in business class. Because
business was oversold, he was bumped up to first class.
with the passenger sitting next to him. The man, fascinated by his
story, asked what he could do to help. Mohamedin said he didn't
need anything, but that his community did.
The man was
managing director of Kenya Airways. As a result of that
conversation, Kenya Airways built a community center in the Mukuru
Today, four years
later, Mohamedin is enrolled as a sophomore at Drew University. (As
it turned out, there was an A student lurking within.) As for
basketball -- well, here the miracles end. It turns out Mohamedin
is the world's worst player.
The potential for
business to change the world comes in many forms. I find Sternlicht
and Branson's multibillion-dollar dreams encouraging. I find
Mohamedin's story touching and inspiring.
What has your
business done to make the world a better place? Write and let me
know, and I may share it with other readers. I believe more
business leaders can be trusted to do right more often than the
public believes. And we could all do with a few more dreams and a
little more inspiration.