The roots of my commitment to philanthropy start with my parents.
My mother was the chief executive of one of the largest community foundations in the country, the Minneapolis Foundation. My dad founded the International Diabetes Center and worked globally.
We were constantly challenged in my family to think hard about social issues. My parents modeled how to build big visions, rally teams and drive results in the organizations they led. They loved their work. It was something that, as I watched, I wanted a part of.
That’s the starting point for understanding my path forward.
In high school, I was involved with student government. But I knew if I wanted to get into philanthropy, I should go through the charitable giving side.
So I studied law to become a tax attorney. As I practiced, I realized that it was not fun for me. As an estate planning attorney, I spent a lot of time in my office and in the library doing research. I wanted to be closer to the action, and my legal work was very transactional. That might have worked for some, but it wasn’t hitting my sweet spot.
One gentleman at the General Mills Foundation told me that if I wanted to be on his side of the desk, I should get experience.
He set me up at a large nonprofit group in Minneapolis with a chief executive who was one of the best out there. I spent a year pursuing grant opportunities and leading outcome-based management for programs. I was thrown into the deep end as a leader in a place where I was not even close to being a content expert. That forced me to ask a lot of questions and rely on the team around me.
I was there for a year until I was sent to lead the Day One project, which served women who were victims of domestic violence.
That was a great opportunity to figure out how to find the highest return on investment for society. As we sat down with the leaders of domestic violence shelters, they told us that often when a woman would pick up the phone and ask for shelter, the shelters were full or didn’t have cribs. Shelters were telling the women to hang up and try another shelter.
We figured out a solution.
We designed a call center so we could exchange real-time data on bed availability, bus lines and other information around the city so that any woman calling would never be asked to hang up until she found space available.
Ultimately it became an Internet-based system that continues to this day.
I also knew that the higher vision that unites us is far more powerful than any individual vision one might have.
When the shelters took ownership of that system, I moved to Medtronic Foundation. The foundation was providing $6.5 million each year in grants, but it wanted a change. We found that less than 11 percent of our grants were going to health care, even though we were the largest pure-play medical device maker in the world.
I helped align the company’s charitable efforts with its business assets so we could serve more people better. We worked with patient associations and focused on building capacity on health disparities. We put on capacity seminars with the Congressional Black Caucus and others on how to do meaningful outreach to communities of color, Native Americans and similar groups of people. The foundation had grown to $31.5 million in assets by the time I left.
When I looked at Siemens, I saw a great opportunity to have 60,000 U.S. employees understand what science, technology, engineering and mathematics education can do to serve society. I am excited to be at the front edge of making great philanthropy even better and to marry the passions of the employees and the great business assets to the biggest issues of today.
— Compiled by Vanessa Small
Position: Chief executive of Siemens Foundation, a District company that provides charitable grants supporting educational initiatives in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the United States. The foundation is the charitable arm of Siemens, a global firm focusing on electronics and electrical engineering.
Career highlights: Vice president of community affairs and foundation, Medtronic; board of directors, Council on Foundations; lawyer, CORO Foundation; fellow, research assistant to member of Parliament.
Education: BA, history and political science, Northwestern University; MPP, Public Policy, Claremont Graduate School; JD, University of Minnesota Law School.
Personal: Commutes between Minneapolis and the District. He and his wife, Sarah Truesdell, have three children, Michael, Ryan and Dylan.