From My Desk
If you ever are in Palm Springs—Rancho Mirage to be exact—you must visit Sunnylands. The name might not grab you, but you will marvel at everything else about it. Especially if you have an interest in history, care about our country, admire a courageous idea and/or respect a great philanthropist. Throw in a heavy dose of political leaders and Hollywood celebrities for fun.
You may have heard of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. They amassed a fortune from his business leadership in journalism and pioneering role in television. The couple went on to be extraordinary philanthropists, designating more than $3 billion in grants and gifts to major research universities, hospitals, medical centers, public schools, and cultural and civic organizations.
To get away from the east coast winters, Walter built Sunnylands. What started as a vacation residence in the California desert became so much more. Friendships with political leaders and Hollywood celebrities made the home a center for gatherings, meetings and social events. Sunnylands was Ronald Reagan’s “Western White House.” Frank Sinatra married Barbara in front of the fireplace.
In 2001, Walter and Lenore Annenberg established The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands to “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community.” They envisioned Sunnylands as a place where intimate and solution-driven meetings could take place as they had while the couple was alive. Today, Sunnylands is a 200-acre estate and historic residence that provides a place of tranquility and hospitality where national and international leaders from a range of fields–beginning with the President of the United States–may convene to “promote world peace and facilitate international agreement.”
Few ideas have inspired me more than the vision of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. I sure wish I could have shaken their hands and expressed my gratitude to them. Sunnylands is open to the public.
A colleague of mine, Jim, said to me that he and a few others wanted to start their own nonprofit. Could we meet over a weekend in the fall for them to gain my insight on how to pursue this idea? So we dove in together. They had a dream and I offered them my expertise. Consider the issues…. legal requirements; a Strategic Plan; the necessary capital; raising a continuing source of funds; an effective Board of Directors; finding an Executive Director up to the task.
Today, HEAR Foundation (Health, Education, And Relief) is flourishing! It took some time to balance funding priorities. Now, they have thriving programs in Chicago to provide college scholarships for students with financial need who have demonstrated a commitment to their communities. They have an effective hunger relief program for the underserved. HEAR also has a valuable presence in Guatemala. They support an orphanage, and volunteers teach area residents about business skills, agricultural programs and nutrition.
I could have spent that Sunday a few Octobers ago watching the Bears. I am glad I didn’t.
Can you imagine spending the day with a large group of young men and women from Italy who are on their “…first trip to America?” I was thrilled to be asked by DePaul University to consult on this unique project and address these young people who are in their late twenties and early thirties.
They were all school administrators and teachers who sought professional development from a leading university. More importantly, they were bright, enthusiastic, passionate young professionals who have dedicated their lives to making a difference as educators. They beamed when I told them that, despite just meeting them, I knew that each and every one of them was amazing.
It was an easy and honest exclamation to make. Why? As I pointed out to them,
“You are changing lives! You embrace every day the challenge of making another human being a better person. That is what amazing people do for a living”
We spent an entire morning being engaged in conversation. How do you be an effective educator when you are preparing young students for future jobs which, in many cases, have not been invented yet? How do you reach that student who doesn’t care? Why honesty and confidence are so integral to successful communication. But most of all, these educators needed to learn to believe in themselves.
I must have helped a little because I received a bunch of invitations to visit Italy!
I was honored to be invited to Portland, Oregon a few months ago to be a keynote speaker at Fusion Forum, a national conference held for leaders in the financial planning and pension industry. My role was to inspire these business leaders to challenge the status quo of their industry and facilitate their creative discussions to affect change.
My personal financial planner seldom picks up the phone to call me, so it didn’t take a lot to make me believe that these executives, as a group, were not on the cutting edge of customer communication. A few people told me this was an impossible challenge. I did not think of it in that way. Rather, I saw it as a tremendous opportunity to impact experienced and capable people who very much needed a vision.
Many professionals sink into comfortable habits of conducting business the same as always. They are too busy to realize that customers often feel their ways are old and out of touch. At one point in my remarks, I referenced a quote from superstar New England Patriot quarterback, Tom Brady, who talked about his passion for getting better to avoid losing his edge:
“If you watch yourself every day, you won’t see it. It is like watching a kid grow. But, at some point you are going to say, ‘How did that happen?”