December 8, 2023

The Boss: More Than a Famous Name

I remember riding my tricycle through the halls of Congress at an early age. My mother was busy on a project at what is now Atlanta Metropolitan College, so my father decided to take me to work with him. He took my bike with us on the train to Washington, where I’d ride in and out of representatives’ offices.

Later, when he was ambassador to the United Nations, we lived on the 42nd floor of the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Every day after school I’d ride my Big Wheel in the lobby and park it outside Sir Harry’s Bar on the ground floor. I’d go in, sit down and talk to the bartender. A waitress would bring me a Shirley Temple. There was a crystal shop in the lobby with a sign that said No Children. One day I asked the proprietor what she had against kids, and she relented. I visited her shop often from then on and never broke anything.

Our house in Atlanta, which we had all along, was in a modest, middle-class neighborhood. I knew what a nice life we had in New York because of my father’s career, but I looked at our experiences as just a part of life. They were great opportunities that wouldn’t last, and our friends and family were back in Atlanta. I tried different colleges, but school wasn’t for me. Colleges have changed dramatically, but at the time I didn’t find the opportunities I wanted — an entrepreneurial program or courses on creativity in business.

At 21, I started a network marketing company, selling health products on consignment. I did well, but I regret that I didn’t start earlier. More kids are starting businesses in high school now. It gives them a leg up, like high school athletes.

At 25, I became a partner in an information technology staffing company. My colleagues and I had different visions for the future, and I left a few years later to start Young Solutions, an envelope company.

I joined last year as C.E.O. The idea behind GiveLocally is that people want to help each other but they don’t always know how. We bring together donors who want to help people with recipients who have a difficult time making ends meet. We believe we help the donors as much as the recipients because donors know exactly where their money is going. We also prescreen the recipients to make sure their situation is what they say it is.

Some of our donors helped an Atlanta high school student take part in her graduation. She had been accepted to college, and gotten a scholarship. However, her single mother couldn’t afford the $400 it would cost for a cap and gown, graduation photo, and invitations. In another case, a family from the Midwest was staying at a hospital while their daughter had surgery. The hospital arranged for their housing at no cost, but they needed money for food. Our donors gave $200 a person for a meal plan.

My parents and grandparents taught me that to whom much is given, much is expected. The men in my family have strong ties to business. My great-grandfather Frank was an accountant. He instilled strong religious values in my grandfather and father, but also the idea of applying business strategies to help solve problems. My dad chose a path related to human rights and politics, but business opportunities were always on his mind, especially when he helped bring the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta. His work convinced me that the business model is the way to solve the problems of the world.  

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

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