Companies can also do good

Tom Vozzo, once an executive in a big company, decided to work for the good of society. So he became head of Homeboy Industries, the nonprofit that employs former gang members. Now he’s written a book explaining how for-profit companies “can do it too.”

In his new book, “The Homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life”, Thomas Vozzo recalls his involvement in the hierarchy of a large company for which he worked. He called himself “$6MDM” – just like Six Million Dollar Man, the cyborg character from the popular 1970s TV series.

Vozzo said that as the executive vice president of a $1.8 billion company, knowing that it had invested $500,000 in its rise, he felt like “a real machine formed from American companies. I had to be among the best at what he produced…”
But something changed in 2010. He said he was disappointed to see how “people treated employees like chess pieces and felt dirty for their indifference to the human cost.

I have participated in unnecessary and gluttonous overspending and seen with my own eyes how ego leads to selfish decisions at the expense of doing what is right for the good of society.
Vozzo admitted that he “lacks a killer instinct, to stomp on other people. I needed to do something that matters.

Homeboy Industries, the Los Angeles-based gang response nonprofit that has created jobs for hard-to-employ people for more than 30 years, gave Vozzo that certain something. More than just the unpaid title of CEO, Vozzo has been given a fresh perspective on how corporate America is structuring meritocracy and embracing the diversity, equity and inclusion movement.

When the Business Journal published its special report on philanthropy in October, it noted that Homeboy Industries, founded by Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle, had grown into a business with annual revenue of $30 million. Over $6 million was generated from his network of businesses which included a bakery, cafe, screen printing, electronic recycling and retail. The balance comes from donations and grants. He had also just won the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Award (with a $2.5 million prize) and received a $15 million grant from the State of California that he would use to develop transitional housing. for its trainees.

It was a noticeable turnaround from where it was in 2010 just before Vozzo arrived. It then had an annual deficit of $2 million and just over $2 million in business income, even after investing in an $11.3 million facility in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

Convinced by how Homeboy had a strong recent history of positive annual operating income and helped over 40,000 people in the community, Vozzo decided to write his book, which was recently published. He shared more with the Business Journal in this interview:

Q: What was the reaction to the book from those in your corporate circle?
A: People really appreciate what Homeboy Industries stands for and how they help people. I try to make them understand – you can do it too. Even in some small aspects, companies can do it. I also get a kick when the homies stop and say something nice about the book. It is the public that I want to represent.

Do your business friends think your plan can work or do they politely dismiss it?
Look, I’m still an engaged capitalist. I believe that businesses are good for our society. But if you want to change poverty in America, provide good jobs. How do you provide good jobs? You create more businesses that offer jobs to people who don’t have jobs, and you teach them and give them a different support structure around them.

Companies can do all of this. All it takes is a desire to do something different and take it from the top level down. I hope we are at a tipping point in our business society where they recognize this concept of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), which Homeboy has been at the forefront for over 30 years. How do we ensure that poor people of color have upward mobility in their work? You put a support group around them in their front line work and make sure your leadership team looks like your front line employees.

I think companies want to understand that. There are very few examples of how to figure this out, and that’s what I’m trying to say in this book – here’s a prescription for how to do it.

Your statement in a chapter titled “Meritocracy Doesn’t Always Work,” calls for the pursuit of the American Dream problematic, because meritocracy provides “false incentives and non-existent bootstraps. The way forward pursues Homeboy’s vision: to provide love, encouragement and support that will make a lasting difference in our society.” What convinces you that this can gain momentum in corporate America?
I want to answer this in two different ways. To put it simply, our Homegirl Café is a Zagat rated café – only seven other restaurants in downtown Los Angeles have such a high rating. And it’s run by ex-criminal gang members. So it proves that you can run a successful business with this population.

But in our capitalist society, we get into this aspect of measuring people and their performance. You can’t measure someone’s self-esteem. To help unemployable people become employable, you need to figure out what else is in their life that allows them to have the resilience to do that job. Basically, everyone wants to do a good job. And when they’re not, there’s something else in their life that’s causing it. It’s this awareness of these front-line employees of what’s going on in their lives. If we can bring more services around that, they will climb the corporate ladder.

In any business, there will always be output metrics, but that shouldn’t be what defines whether someone is a good person or not either. Companies need to evaluate more on merit values ​​and not so much on job performance along the way.

Are there companies today that could adapt more easily to anti-meritocracy? Could the big company you worked for have done this when you were there?
This answer is definitely yes. It would probably be easier for a startup to do that now. In small businesses and family businesses, they understand and pull themselves together. The question is how to do this on a larger scale? There are certain market forces: will the private equity world change the way it values ​​deals? Will Wall Street change the way it evaluates shareholders? Reform must also take place there. But in my opinion, you need a CEO of the new era to balance all these things, as opposed to the CEOs of the last 25 years.

You list 55 different statements and concepts that you think can be changed in today’s business world. The first: good logic always leads to good business. How can this be faulty?
Logically, I wouldn’t have come to Homeboy. I mention in the book that Father Greg (Boyle, founder of Homeboy) asked me to become CEO. I thought about it and asked myself: would I be spoiled to return to the for-profit world? Am I not ‘tough enough’ anymore? When I called my network and asked if it was true, most said “Yes”. The logical decision was for me not to do it. Everything in my professional life was getting the most important job and promotion, more money, blah, blah, blah. Sometimes you follow faith or your instincts.

Is it easier to hire for management skills than to develop them?
If your goal is to uplift more people, you need a diverse leadership team and invest in it. You can’t just hire for that. In the for-profit world, the answer may be: just pay someone more money and get them to come. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s your philosophy, you’ll never build a long-term sustainable business where you help people.

You called your plan Economic Equality Capitalism, and Homeboy proved it works. Where can he go from here?
In the for-profit world, there are all kinds of equity to start a business, invest in an idea, and let it grow. Often, this equity is not repaid. Only one in 10 private or venture capital investments work. I say, let’s invest in an idea and let it grow with our people leading it. We will take the same kind of risks, but these people have jobs that provide a living, who earn a decent living with social benefits and who do not receive government assistance. We should fund these companies and there is a return on this investment for society. But you have to jeopardize the equity of these companies by employing disadvantaged people.

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