It is one thing to experience multiple pivots in your life; it is another thing to help others through THEIR pivots. A self-confessed “serial pivotor”, Jeremy Park is all about helping other people and trying to make a difference. He is the CEO of and visionary behind cityCURRENT – an organization with a mission to “power the good” in local communities. In addition to his role as a corporate executive, Jeremy is a philanthropist, the author of two books and a weekly newspaper column, as well as a producer and host of television, radio shows and a podcast. In this episode, Jeremy joins host Adam Markel and shares how he’s been able to open himself up and succeed at giving back, volunteering and contributing at the level he does, while still managing everything else that keeps us busy. They also discuss the power of companies with social impact and the trend of employees choosing their work and livelihood based on purpose.
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Jeremy Park: Powering The Good Through Companies With Social Impact
I am here with a seed of gratitude. It’s funny to even just say that, a seed of gratitude, because meditation is something that I’ve been crummy at for a long time. I’m pretty good with just getting still for a few minutes or even getting into prayer, which I absolutely adore. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been able to meditate and I started with a book called Mindfulnesswhich was written by two people. I’m more and more able to sit in a seat of stillness and not thoughtlessness. It’s so interesting about meditation. The thoughts keep coming. What I found works for me and the essence of the meditation is the ability to simply bring myself back to the present moment even as I’m recognizing that my thoughts are like caged animals, just rattling the cage, getting my attention and keeping my attention. Even though they grabbed my attention for a second or two, I’ve been finding it pretty easy to recognize them, see them for what they are like, “You’re planning. You’re worrying. You’re thinking about something.”
By just recognizing what is that thought, it’s almost like seeing a cloud or seeing the weather and not trying to make the weather change or go away, but rather to get back to where I am in the moment despite what my thoughts are doing on their own. I’m feeling grateful. Wherever you are in this moment, I find it helpful to even take a breath at the moment and acknowledge something that’s right. What’s one thing that you can acknowledge that’s right in your life, in the moment? What’s one thing you can acknowledge and in the business that you’re in that’s right in the moment? We get so wound up and worked up and frustrated sometimes with things not working.
Those things can certainly get us all worked up. It certainly could have but it didn’t. Part of that is that there’s so much going on that’s right. What’s one thing that’s going right in your life, one thing that you can be grateful for at this moment? Hopefully, this is something you can find, even if it’s just the fact that you’re reading this that you’re breathing at this moment. They were all pretty safe at this moment. I know there are people reading at different places around the world and we don’t always feel safe in our homes or in our bodies and things like that, but there’s something we can feel grateful for. I want to start there and then I’m also super grateful that I’ve got a friend, somebody that I’ve met that I come to appreciate and think a lot. I’m glad that I got to get him for an interview and chat and talk about his life pivots. I would call him a serial pivoter.
His name is Jeremy Park and he is a corporate executive and philanthropist, author of two books and weekly newspaper column and a contributor to Forbes. He’s a producer and host of television and radio shows and a podcast. He’s a sought-after speaker for transforming organizations and individuals into catalysts for their community. Jeremy is also the CEO behind cityCURRENT, an organization with a mission to power the good. cityCURRENT is a partnership of more than 120 businesses, including some of the world’s largest employers like FedEx, AutoZone, Verizon, Kroger. They’ve joined forces and funds to make a difference in the mid-South and middle Tennessee. The organization has teams working in Memphis and Nashville. They host more than 150 free community events each year in both cities, producing an array of positive-oriented media. Financially and physically, they give back to a host of nonprofits in those communities. I got to see this firsthand in a visit there. Welcome, Jeremy. It’s so great to have you here.
Thank you. I’m honored. We were honored to have you speak here in Memphis and an honor to be on your show. I guess you’re right, I’m a serial pivoter. The ethos has always been making a difference, helping others, powering the good. When you look at it, all the different things that I’ve done in my life and career have been about helping other people and trying to make a difference. That’s what we’re trying to do each and every day with cityCURRENT here in Memphis, also in Nashville. We’re honestly pushing out love and positive energy. It’s the idea that you can add purpose to everything you do and that it can be very easy because I think sometimes we get caught in the trap that we try to think it’s a separate piece, yet when you start layering on purpose to everything you do, you realize that every day you have a chance to make a difference. It can be easy and fun.
You’ve done a lot. We’re going to track some of the history and the trajectory of your career, personal and professional, but what’s something that’s not written in your bio that you’d love for people to know about you?
Starting off with the idea of appreciation, of thankfulness, of mindfulness. The family is first and foremost. I’m very appreciative to have an amazing loving wife who allows me to do all this and stands by my side doing it, which is a huge piece of this because this is a 24/7 responsibility. To have her by my side is huge. To have two boys who are healthy, who are great kids, students, but also two great human beings with compassion, empathy and care for others. I’ve got some amazing storylines on that, especially with the little one who’s taken it upon his heart to try to tackle things like bullying. That to me, as a parent, is huge because it shows that they care for others. I look at my parents and my brother and his family. I look at the people around me who serve as my mentors and friends. I think I’m monumentally blessed with amazing relationships. That’s the part in the bio that isn’t necessarily there.
Everything that I’ve done is a byproduct of people believing in me, pouring into me and helping me. The relationships that come about as a result of that are huge and you can’t put that on paper necessarily. I’ve had cool experiences from music and standing on stage in front of thousands playing songs that I’ve written. I played tennis and had been the head tennis pro at Beverly Hills Country Club. Tennis has taken me around the world. I’ve got the physical side of the experiences, but I look at the relationships to me is the most important, especially with family and friends.
I don’t typically do this, but I feel called to ask you about your childhood. Were there any signs when you were a kid that you’d end up so driven by these causes because you are a purpose guy. To me, everything that you do oozes of somebody that cares deeply about other people that wants to give back, wants to build a meaningful life. Is that something you were just always dialed in to that station when you were a younger man?When you start layering purpose to everything you do, you realize that every day you have a chance to make a difference. Click To Tweet
I talk about it when I speak as well in the sense that my brother and I grew up in a household with a 24/7 open-door policy. 2:00 AM 2:00 PM, it didn’t matter. If a family was down on their luck going through a divorce, job loss or just needed help, they would come to our house. My dad was in the insurance business and mom was a school teacher, but 99.999% of the stuff that people had problems with wasn’t related to insurance and it wasn’t related to school.
You’re from Texas?
Yes. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We lived there for eight years. I grew up in the Dallas, Fort Worth area in Texas and lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade. We’ve been here in Memphis. That’s my cross the country a story. Growing up in Texas, we just got to see the power of helping people. The more that my parents opened their hearts and opened the doors, the more amazing things happened. We saw that it wasn’t rocket science in terms of helping others, but the more you are genuine and authentic, it opened up so many more opportunities for life and for seeing the good and being a part of it. Being heavily involved in the Boy Scouts, that was a big part of it. My dad still serves on the national board.
We keep telling him at some point he’s going to retire. It’s always the running joke, but he did a jamboree for 6,000 kids at Merit Badge Colleges. He loves it even though we’re long gone from scouting. My brother got his Eagle Scout. He is a huge believer in helping others and that legacy of helping it achieve. My brother and I saw that growing up and I think it stuck with us. My brother is serving in the Marines for twenty years. Community service was near and dear to him. When you look at everything that we’ve tried to do as a family and tried to do individually, it’s all built around a purpose. I think too, we lost my aunt who was a school teacher and very close at an early age to an aneurysm. We’ve lost my uncle. In other words, I’ve lost some very dear loved ones who all of them were involved in the community. When you start to realize that life is short, life is precious and that we need to be out there taking advantage of every single day to do something to help others, that puts that fire and that urgency even at a greater level.
I know that the people that are reading this are the choir in essence. I know this community. This is not a radical message for them and it is a receptive audience to this. Yet at the same time, I want to take up the position even for a moment of being not so much the skeptic, but the person that knows in their heart. They’ve known a long time that giving back or being more involved or opening their hearts at a deeper level would invite something. Whether it’s because they’ve heard it, it’s been a part of their spiritual past or the teaching that they’d been around where they’ve read great books. Maybe they’ve read one of your books. Maybe they’ve read a book that I read a long time ago by Bob Burg called The Go-Giver. It’s a tremendous book that brings home that point.
What can we say to people that go, “This all makes sense. You’re preaching to the choir. I’m also somebody that’s so up to my eyeballs in things, in responsibilities, to-dos and lists in the world of the entrepreneur or the business owner?” Even in a job, it’s almost like there’s no end to the week. When I had the pleasure to be with your organization, cityCURRENT, we talked about how there’s almost no weekend. There were chuckles in the room about that because we all get there’s almost no boundary between work, employee’s job and life outside of work.
For somebody like that that might say, “All this makes sense, but how do I make time for that? How do I fit that into my life?” You’ve led a very active life. You were a professional tennis player at a certain point in your life. You were in a rock band. You had got married pretty young and got two kids and all those things. Speak to the fact that people are still dealing with a bandwidth that has limits and that giving back, opening themselves up and making time for things to volunteer or contribute is just not as easy as it might sound.
I’m a realist. I’m the first to say that when you look at giving back and purpose, we’re in a society that’s about me. It’s ROI driven, but also we want immediate gratification. It’s important to understand the trends. When you understand the trends, you understand why this purpose-driven mentality is so important with your business, with you as a person, but also for your family. Let me rattle off a few, and this is the stuff that I cover primarily with the stuff that I do with Forbes. The first one is that social impact is mandatory. When you look at it, the line in Forbes is, “Companies without social impact culture will soon be obsolete.” When you look at the USA, consumers in America are looking at corporations as a part of the solution. The bottom line is that consumers are making their purchasing decisions based on social impact.
Millennials, 85% of their decision process is built around the social good efforts. The bottom line is that the shampoo I buy benefits St. Jude. We make purchasing decisions based on the giving back nature of the businesses. Also, employees are choosing where to go and work based on purpose. They don’t want to just basically punch a clock. They want to serve with a company that allows them to go out and serve in the community. When you look at attracting, retaining, developing the right talent, when you look at the consumer and driving the purchasing decision, the social impact culture is a huge piece of it. You start getting into all of these things with turnkey volunteerism and how nonprofits are struggling not only financially but to find the volunteers. We cover around 25% in terms of volunteerism across America.
When you look at it, people physically solve problems. That’s a big part of how we live on three truths and the first one is that people physically solve problems. A dollar bill, while it’s a great resource to fund the mission of a nonprofit and to do what we need to do to activate, build and to pour into our companies too, it doesn’t physically solve a single problem. It doesn’t parent a child, mentor a child, scrub graffiti and plant trees and flowers. It doesn’t physically do anything people do. We need them actively engaged. Turnkey volunteerism, social impact, it’s the idea of this one for one model that isn’t a fit for every company. It’s the idea of not waiting until the end of the year to see if you’ve had a good year or a bad year to give versus baking in the hard cost of giving back into every single transaction.
A percentage of the sale is something that companies can do. There are so many things when you look at the trends and where things are headed versus what you can apply. One, knowing that purpose is driving everything, it gives you a story. It gives you an impact, it gives you the ability to attract or retain the right talent. It also allows you to win the heart of the consumers. You start looking at how easy you can make it. We talked a lot about this when you were in town, but things like modified work schedules, bringing in executive directors, doing non-profit tours. You can literally over lunch share the good, like being a part of packing meals. There are many things you can do that are turnkey and easy that I think you are missing a huge opportunity if you’re not.
Even if you go in with the impetus of maybe we’re doing it for that reason and not the heart reason. In the end, your heart will be warmed up and you’ll open it up because you realize, just like Gandhi said, “You find yourself in the service of others.” When you start pouring in, you receive so much. Also, we talk about it all the time with cityCURRENT is there are a million networking organizations, but when you look at what makes us different, it’s the service aspect and the philanthropy. You look at things like Samaritan’s Feet where we go and we have hundreds of volunteers wash kids’ feet, give them new socks and shoes. Those who are coming out to serve our CEOs. It’s people like Bill Rhodes. He’s the CEO of AutoZone. He doesn’t go to networking organizations and networking events. He comes out to service the community-driven events. When you talk about you as a CEO, as a business owner, plugging into having a purpose, it gives you the heart, but it also too allows you to build these relationships that you wouldn’t build otherwise.
The statistics are telling that consumers are more likely to purchase something from a company that has a purpose that’s well-defined and that they can align themselves with. They recognize that purpose and they’ll choose that company over some other company to buy their product from. Millennials are 5.3 times more likely to stay with a company because that company’s purpose is something that aligns with what they feel is important in the world. Let’s talk about something you mentioned about it not being a part of the budget, let’s say. Because in many ways, this relates back to personal finance where there’s an old rule and adage that you pay yourself first. Everybody’s heard that but not everybody lives by that mantra. The reason it goes to pay yourself first is because if you don’t, if your method is to wait until all the bills are paid to first pay yourself, we all know what happens when all the bills are paid. There’s not much left in.
This idea of bake in the giving component to your company. That doesn’t have to just be money. It doesn’t have to be money at all because it’s not money that gets those things done. It’s people that get them done. My question for everybody that’s considering this is how do you bake that into your model? It doesn’t matter whether your model is that you’re a solopreneur or whether you’re running a mid-size organization or something bigger than that? Because these are things that have to get baked in at the start of the year, at the beginning, not waiting to see whether or not we’ve been profitable that year and then determine what’s fair and what makes sense to give back. Is that how you’re defining turnkey volunteerism? Because some people might be saying, “Tell me more about that.” How do you define and what is turnkey volunteerism?
Let’s go back to the baking because I think it’s important for every company, but also for you as an individual and a family to have a purpose statement. Outside of the goods and products that you sell, what do you stand for? What are you trying to accomplish? What difference are you trying to make? I would encourage people to write down their purpose statement. The first time I met Fred Smith, he asked me coming in the door, “What’s your purpose?” He wasn’t talking about the purpose of my meeting. He was talking about the purpose as an individual. More than ever, companies are asking that in the hiring process. What’s your purpose? They want to know you as a person, what are you trying to accomplish with your life? I think having that as a company is huge. Having that as an individual and having that discussion as a family for you and your kids to have that is a very powerful way to galvanize and bring you together.
You had a pretty significant meeting or call it a seminal experience in meeting Fred Smith, who’s the CEO, the founder of Federal Express. You go in and meet with him and he asks you one question, which you weren’t necessarily expecting.
Right out of the gate, I wasn’t even seated yet and he’s like, “I want to know what’s your purpose.”
Not your purpose, like the purpose of your business, but your personal purpose.Consumers in America are now looking at corporations as a part of the solution. Click To Tweet
To me what makes it a fun and vibrant conversation is when you dig down three layers at least, and then you can start digging further. He wanted to know how many layers I had and could he pass the surface because everybody comes in selling something. That part’s easy. He wants to know what I stand for. What do I stand for? What do I believe in? For me, it was education right off the bat. It still is. Education to us as a whole family, if you ask my wife, my kids, everything, they’re going to say, “What’s your purpose? What do you stand for?” They’re going to say education. That opened the floodgates for us to have a great conversation. 30 minutes in, then we dive into what I was there to talk about.
He wanted to know that there was more to me than just him being sold something by me. FedEx is a great example. You can go on their website and look at their social impact statement and this will lead to answering your question. Companies are putting it right there at the forefront. For them, they talk about three things. They pick three things that they focus on disaster response, pedestrian safety. The beautiful thing too is that they also list out how they’re able to do that in terms of making a difference. One, to your point, is dollars. Two is their volunteerism. Three, in-kind, because shipping for FedEx is a huge piece of what they do. When you talk about things like turnkey volunteerism and not waiting until the end of the year and baking in the hard costs, that’s exactly what we’re talking about is how do you audit what you have?
You mentioned the solopreneur or the entrepreneur. I guarantee on just looking, we’ve got laptops, we’ve got Yeti mic’s, we’ve got podcasting equipment, we’ve got cameras. I can loan those out to nonprofits. If I do an audit of what I have, even as an individual, I’ve got resources that I can loan out and help a nonprofit with. You have conference spaces and you have delivery trucks doing toy drives and food drives and using those trucks for that. To your point, it doesn’t always have to be the money. It can be the assets; it can be the team. You get into for your team, how do you make it easy? That’s where things like empowering your team to take ownership. In other words, it doesn’t have to be you as the CEO.
A lot of times, the Millennials love leading the charge. They love going out and setting up the non-profit tours, the volunteer days and doing things like a modified work schedule where you allow them to leave the office around 3:30 and go mentor and tutor kids from 4:00 to 5:00 and then they leave like they would have a normal workday. Allowing your team to take ownership, one, it gives them a leadership opportunity. Two, to your point, it galvanizes the team and it gets the trust and the buy-in at such a high level.
It bakes it in. There’s no concept that sounds good or sits on a plaque or is used to attract talent in a manipulative way.
People see through it. As social media especially, we want to and we expect to see companies out serving, but also too, because of social media, everything is transparent. You’re not going to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. If you’re not doing it for authentic reasons and your team isn’t out there doing it, believing in it, people are going to see through it. Whether you believe in it or not, the first step, eventually it’s going to win you over because what you gain out of it is so much more powerful. Even for us, we talked about it too, this idea of the transactional quid pro quo, “I help you, you help me, we stair-step way to success.” Everything we’re talking about in terms of the CSR, this cause marketing, it’s a planting philosophy. I’m going to go out there and plant these seeds and pour them into the community. What happens is over time, this curve, it goes from this stair-step, these small stairs, then all of a sudden it just skyrockets. That’s what I saw growing up.
We’re able to go on the field with the Dallas Cowboys as a blue-collar family. My brother has always wanted to serve in the Marines but had LASIK surgery. They didn’t realize that it wasn’t federally-approved, so they’re going to kick him out. In less than 48 hours, my parents were able to get to Congress and get a four-star general out of Quantico who was on vacation to approve my brother to stay in the Marines, to be the guinea pig. We get to the base for graduation, the commandant wants to meet this family. He’s expecting someone celebrity like Tom Hanks. My parents walk in and we’re just an average-looking family and he’s like, “Who are you?” My dad was like, “I’m John Park.” “You’re not what I was expecting at all.” My dad’s like, “We help people and when we need help, they help us.” I think that’s the part where once you buy in, your life changes, but your business changes as well.
This just dawned on me that one of my favorite movies is an old Frank Capra film that probably everybody has seen at least once, It’s a Wonderful Life. This is the Bailey Building and Loan, the idea that when you give in the community, you give back to people. We all come to a point in our lives where we were also in need, whether it’s some form of support, whether it’s emotional support or it’s some other form of support. I don’t love that term quid pro quo even though I’m a lawyer and I lived in with that term in contracts and things for a long time. I feel like when you’re giving for the right reasons, everybody’s got their own right reason, but it’s something that you just feel good about doing.
There’s a flow of things that would otherwise not be there but for the fact that that’s the spirit in which you showed up to begin with. You want to bake that in. That’s the point. I think there’s a lot of people who won’t have any objection to this idea of creating something for the benefit that they’d love for their enterprise to somehow have a benefit in the world. People have even gone to the trouble of creating entities that are designed through their bylaws with a board of directors holding them accountable that these companies are there for the benefit of others. They’re still for-profit companies. Even a nonprofit, I think we all get that a nonprofit has to make a profit or it doesn’t exist.
I think we’re all in the trust business. That’s what it boils down to now is are you trustworthy? Are you authentic? Are you sincere? These are things that we label as a person, as an individual. It’s true. That’s what we’re looking at businesses and non-profits. We want to know that what we’re putting our time and effort into is making an impact. That’s the key. We all more than ever realize that life is short and precious. We have way more opportunities than ever before in terms of where we go to work, where we go to church, what we do with our time, where we shop. We want to know that what we’re doing with our time has an impact. It is making a difference. That’s the part where I feel like we’re all in the trust business. The best way to build trust is to do the right thing out in the community. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It can be a little, but just a little is better than nothing.
There’s a power in redundancy, in cascading a similar message. It’s the Patrick Lencioni concept of just being able to be all right and saying the same thing again and again. Understand it’s not the flavor of du jour. This is not just the thing you’re doing in the day and the moment to keep up with other people or read it somewhere. It’s good conceptually, but it’s not something we want to bake into the batter. Anything that goes in the batter ends up in the cake. To me, what do you want to end up in the cake? If what you want to end up in the cake is that you are a company that is legitimately giving back, you’re contributing something back to the community, then those are the ingredients that have to go in to begin with.
To me, it’s hard to look at the cake when it’s baked and go, “Now I want to sprinkle on giving, on mission, on purpose.” It’s a difficult thing to do at that point. I get it from a practicality standpoint. There are some people would find that that tough. We’ve done some work with these successful companies, like some of the ones you mentioned, WD-40. The CEO, Gary Ridge and I, we had a meeting at his office and he handed me something. I just want to read this because this is a company that makes a spray lubricant and other products as well, but that’s their big thing. What do you think their purpose is? This is their purpose. “We exist to create positive, lasting memories in everything we do.” That’s their purpose. You’d say, “What’s the connection between those products and that purposing?” That’s just the beginning of the story.
To me, wherever you are, this is not the format of the show to say, “Do something. Take action or give them homework.” What you said that you can think about and write down what do you stand for. What is your personal purpose? Because maybe someday you’re going to find yourself in a meeting with a guy like Fred Smith or somebody is maybe coming to meet with you and you’re the person that gets the opportunity to have an impact on that individual the way Fred impacted you with such a powerful question. If Fred said to you, “What is your personal purpose?” He’s digging into the deep strata, into the depth of who you are for something meaningful to connect with. The question is not only can you ask that of another person, but what’s the answer for you? I was considering it when you said it. We’re committed to transformation.
That’s what we do. All of our businesses, whether it’s in the keynote speaking arena where we get out and go and speak to groups or we’re consulting with organizations or we train public speakers, it’s all about transformation in contrast to how we typically think of business, which is all about transaction. The way to look at where there’s an opportunity for transformation in everything we do, I know it’s what drives us and it’s endlessly opportunistic. There’s an opportunity for transformation every moment. I want to circle back with you as well on the work you’re specifically doing in Memphis. There’s an organization that you took me to see which was to experience Stax, their academy, the school, the museum, and we went across the street.
Share a little bit if you could about some of the organizations. They’re too many to count because there are more than 100 successful businesses just in the Memphis community that are part of cityCURRENT. I would like you to feature one or two talks about them and how it is that cityCURRENT is assisting and contributing to that organization and its mission. If there’s time, I’d love to talk about Memphis as a city. I said this on stage, I meant it and I’ll say it again, I fell in love with this place. I thought, “It is such a deeply soulful place. They named it properly, Soulsville. There are a tremendous heart and soul in that community.” There’s also a palpable pain body that that exists that goes back many years to the day that MLK was assassinated. If we can, I’d love to touch on some of the organizations and then trail back to talk about Memphis as a beautiful community itself.
We’ve been there for many years and we absolutely love Memphis. I think just starting out, you are in a top 50 market that’s huge, that’s got global connectivity because of International Paper, FedEx, AutoZone, Service Master, all of these companies that have their global headquarters here. Yet you’re in a small-town field where people take care of each other, people have your back. I think the sense of community here and the deep roots and care for each other is genuine. It’s unlike something that I’ve seen in places that I’ve lived across the US and worked. That’s to me why I love this city so much. To your point, we’ve got over a hundred different companies. They range from small, medium and very large. We have Napa Cafe, which is a or a restaurant to German town day spa, to technology with master IT and eBiz solutions and Expedient on that side. You get into commercial real estate, banking and insurance. You’ve got a very wide spectrum of different businesses. When you look at it, they all care about the community. They all care about pouring in and they all understand too that they’re in the trust business.
By working together as a brain trust for each other, they can share knowledge behind the scenes and they can develop amazing programs, platforms and community projects. We have the benefit of behind the scenes connecting all these resources and powerful minds. On the front end, we’re using all these resources to truly give back and make a difference with free community events, philanthropy and then all these positive media that we produce like the TV shows, the radio shows, the podcast, the columns. All of that is intentionally around sharing and developing community and best practices and things that are working well so that others can become a greater spark.
FedEx got a global platform. FedEx Cares, their Purple Promise. They love the fact that their teams are out there making a difference. We do so much with them. They allow us to host private events to work with them on things like their Orbis Flying Eye hospital where they donate a jet that flies with Orbis into countries and do eyecare. We’ve got amazing stories with companies like that. You have companies that are pouring into schools and they’re doing things like steam, steam, robotics. Smith & Nephew, we go in with them and they’re doing a mentorship and guidance around robotics, manufacturing and they adopt schools. You get into the banking where they’re doing literacy programs with Junior Achievement. Even Morgan Bohannon with Cumulus where we had a chance to put you on the radio, someone like him, he’s the board chair for Junior Achievement in Memphis in the mid-South, they have JA BizTown.The best way to build trust is to do the right thing out in the community. Click To Tweet
All of these people deeply care about the community. They’re all involved in such a wide spectrum of things. To me, it’s cool to see because back to everybody playing their note. They’re all passionate about something as a business and as an individual. Together collectively we get to play this cool role where you don’t have to do everything. You can do a small bit in your passion area. If you do a small bit with a shared vision that everybody realizes they can separate the competition and work together, then together we can move the needle in a big way.
When you were creating the business plan for what has become cityCURRENT, was that a thing that you were anticipating will happen? Because it seems that’s one of the great benefits of what’s going on with that organization.
You even mentioned it yourself. You’re like, “Jeremy, you’re a connector.” That’s exactly what this is. Connecting people, connecting funds, connecting the power of shared vision. To your point, I spend the vast majority of my day breaking down big initiatives that need a lot of people and a lot of money into small bite-sized pieces so that everybody can play a role. In many cases, these are million-dollar projects, $10,000 projects. It runs a huge gamut, but people come to me all the time saying, “Here’s something that’s important for our community. We can only do this much. How can we collectively get there and get across the finish line?”
To do that you have to have, one, a lot of people who you are and trust you. Luckily, we’re blessed with cityCURRENT where we have a very wide network of people that we’ve been helping for a long number of years. When we need help, we can mobilize. Things like a telethon. When one of the disasters hit and the Red Cross needed to raise $25,000 in each market, they came to us and said, “We have less than 24 hours. What can we do?” We said, “Let’s host a telethon.” We hosted a telethon. We raised over $25,000. In that amount of time, we had the volunteers. We set up the phone banks, we had billboards across the city, we had TV stations pushing it out. All of these little things we’ve done throughout to build these relationships in good times, when disaster strikes or when the need is great, they step in because we’ve galvanized our relationship and we know we’re all working toward this same vision.
We can put aside any competitive nature and we can all come together and do something special for the right reasons. I feel like every city needs these third-party catalysts that go out and do the right thing with no bureaucracy. In the end, you win the heart of a lot of different people so that you can do something special. We had 15,000 volunteers picking up litter, stuff like that which is crazy when you look back at some of the things we’ve been able to do. We had mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans. It’s simply a product of us getting a lot of people to buy in and then saying, “We only need a small amount for each individual person.” Honestly where it a lot of this came to me personally is I was playing tennis over in a small city over in Europe and this is back in the ‘90s. There was a replica of what the city was going to look like in 2020. Anybody you asked in that little community could tell you exactly, “That’s where the museum is going to be built. That’s where the new school’s going to be over there. That’s where this is going to be.” It galvanized the whole community.
The thing is, it also did is it got people to realize the power of I might sacrifice short-term because someone over there is going to win, but in the end, it’s going to come to me. I think that sense of shared vision allows you to realize there’s going to be short-term sacrifices for long-term gain. In the end, that’s how you win consensus and build that shared vision that ultimately allows you to do something creative and special. That’s what we try to do, is have a shared vision and win the hearts of everyone by doing all this good in the community so that when people need us, we’re here for them and we can do some big things.
That seems like a shared vision of the city of Memphis, to begin with. In terms of volunteerism and giving back, you’re one of the most giving cities in the United States. You’re maybe sixth on the list.
Depending on the list. Sometimes we’re number one, sometimes we’re number two. We’re always in the top ten but we’re usually hovering around one or two. It’s about 6% per capita. You have a very large faith-based community here, which is a big part of that is the belief of tithing and pouring the money in. In general, to your point, Memphis is a city that has gone through a lot. It got wiped out with the yellow fever epidemic in the late 1800s. You had the assassination of MLK. There’s been a lot of things that have happened to this city. In the end, you have a resilience that’s certainly born out of everything. We accept the pain.
The Grizzlies coined the term, “Grit and Grind,” and you do. Even the entrepreneurs here, there’s definitely something special about the water in Memphis. The point is that we have a soul here of the resiliency of coming together and where the fluent and afflicted live together. That’s one of the other terms that Michael Drake uses a lot. We just want to work together and help each other and not hide from it. I think in many cities you can push away the pain and you can hide from it and pretend that everything is hunky-dory and amazing. We say we’re all in this together. We’ve got scars, but we’re actively trying to make it better. I feel like that’s an authentic, very cool spirit. We’ve got something special here. We’re proud of it. At the same time, we still got work to do and we’re going to do it. We’re not hiding from it. We’re ready to do this. There’s a can-do attitude that’s special about Memphis as well.
There’s a sticktoitiveness. Resilience is the word that comes to mind and resilience is something that you can build. All the research is clear on this. You build it before you need it. You develop it before you need it. Part of coming together as a community in good times enables everybody to be there at other times when we all know that the winds of so many things change. The environment changes and we need each other in those moments even more than at some other times. Somebody like Tom Shadyac, talk about that project because I know just because you are committed to doing something good in the community, it doesn’t mean it always works out right away. It doesn’t mean that there’s always this immediate gratification. It’s a time thing. It requires that level of resilience and tenacity to keep going toward or following that. That’s why your purpose is so important because it will always remind you of the direction that you want to be headed even when things are tough.
That’s the part I love about Memphis the most. It’s a very purpose-driven community. I genuinely feel if you want to make a difference, there’s no greater place in the world to live in than Memphis because you have the global resources via the small tech connectivity where you can see tangibly the difference that you’re able to make. It becomes so encouraging, inspiring and you find yourself, even more, pouring in. Tom Shadyac, he’s an amazing man. He’s the producer and director of Bruce Almighty, Liar, Liar, Ace Ventura, many Hollywood mega movies. He had a bicycling accident. He is an avid mountain biker climber and bicyclist and all nine yards. He had a concussion and thought that was going to be the end. He was living in a closet for a while and is his last hurrah decided to do this documentary, I Am, which is an amazing documentary.
He asks the question, “What’s wrong with the world and what can we do about it?” It’s an amazing documentary that he goes on this journey and in the process becomes healed and realizes what’s important. He had been chasing the fame, the fortune and keeping up with the Joneses and had the huge mansion in Malibu and everything else. He decided to sell all that off and become a philanthropist. He started teaching classes, life and storytelling at Pepperdine. He started doing that here in Memphis.
We had a chance to meet him and work with him. His father, Danny Thomas, helped start St. Jude. Tom’s brother, Rick Shadyac, is the CEO of ALSAC, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Through and through, their family is focused on making a difference as well. Mental health is a big part of what he wanted to do to tackle. St. Jude is trying to cure childhood cancer, he wanted to do something special to focus on the cancer of the mind, mental illness and mental health. He spent about $13 million of his own money creating Memphis Rox and One Family Memphis. It’s a place where it’s a state of the art climbing gym. You have to see it to believe it. You saw it. The ethos of that gym is that all of the kids in the community, and he specifically chose Soulsville, which is in an area of the city that in many cases hasn’t been given the love and appreciation that it needs. It’s fallen on some tough times. He specifically chose that place, not in an affluent neighborhood. He chose that neighborhood so that all of the kids nearby could come in for free. His thing is that if you can pay, you pay. If you can’t, you volunteer.
All these kids volunteer out in the community and they get gym access to climb. It’s becoming I’m an amazing place of healing, hope, and inspiration. It’s all because of his vision to see this thing realized. The next step, he did the movie Brian Banks but is to turn across the street into a movie production studio that will hire all of these local kids to go out and work on these movies and teach them the skills, the craft, and the trade of moviemaking. He did it with Brian Banks and he’s already starting to work on new projects and new movies. That’s going to be the next iteration.
We didn’t even get to speak about your career in tennis and The Inner Game. I went and dug this book up, The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey. You’ll have to go out and check out this book. It’s spectacular. It was written in ’72 or ’73. It sold millions of copies. It is about the mindset of not just tennis, but of life and how it is that we all have this capacity. In fact, this is where I’ll do my best to connect a few dots here. We have the capacity to learn. We’re natural learners. It doesn’t matter what age we are. The magic of that book, it’s a book about teaching tennis, about the pedagogy of how you are training someone to play tennis well. You keep the instruction limited. You don’t speak a lot or show them, make a lot of changes to what they’re doing. You allow them to watch and witness. They learn by witnessing someone else in holding a tennis racket and swinging the tennis racket. There’s so much that we learn naturally by watching and then trying ourselves to do it. This’ll be my attempt at connecting those dots.
You want to look out in the community, whatever community. In Memphis, it’s great because there’s such a commitment culturally to giving and leading with the heart. You can look at lots of places for good examples. Whether it’s people like the founders of Independent Bank or any of these organizations that I was so fortunate to come in contact with. You even look to those organizations for a model of what that looks like and then learn from that simply by watching. Wherever you are, in whatever community you’re in, look and see who is it that you truly respect. What organization, including business organizations, do you think are modeling something that is worthy or that you believe has baked doing the right thing into the model and then follow on some level what you see? Because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can look at some of the great examples. For example, Microsoft experimented with a four-day workweek and found that their productivity went up by 40% and they dropped their costs.
Meanwhile, people have a three-day weekend and have time. They’ve baked it into their model to give people time to recover, to do things they want to do. Somebody that says, “I’d love to go volunteer, but with work five days a week and having the kids and everything else on the weekend, I just don’t have the time.” There’s no “excuse” for it anymore, but more to the point, the companies stepped up almost like pseudo or a surrogate parent would take to provide that opportunity to give back or to do something that your heart calls you to do. I think those are great examples. I would ask you the last question here. Jeremy, rituals are powerful. We talk about that in terms of how do you build resilience and how do you build change or transformation into your life. It’s by creating new rituals. Conscious habits. What’s one ritual that you’ve consistently or maybe something new that you’ve adopted that supports you with everything you’ve got going on?
Before I answer that, I want to go back and mention, because you talk about steps that people can take and one is writing down their purpose. Because this is helpful for people. Write down your purpose. That can be working with seniors, with kids, with sports, and with arts. Knowing where you stand too is looking at where you have availability. The average person looks at their cell phone 120 plus times a day. You’ve got time, even if it’s 30 minutes, where you can carve out and being intentional. This will get to my ritual, but being intentional about where you can carve out time and make that your impact time. Make that your time that you can either serve or go look at something positive in the community, that you can share something positive in the community.It is a blessing to be able to wake up, and you don't want to take that for granted. Click To Tweet
That’s the time that you block out on your calendar to be intentional about the difference that you want to make within that purpose statement. You start looking at the non-profits that serving that space and volunteering. That’s where the magic comes about. Start to raise your hand to be a part of the solution. When you raise your hand, amazing things happen because you see the beauty, you meet amazing people and you get to see the impact that you can make. I’ll give you one little thing I’m thinking about how easy this is. If you’re watching football or you’re watching basketball or any of the things, you’re going to invite your friends and family over. Make it a give-back event by saying, “We’re going to have food and drinks and whatever you would spend on lunch or dinner, we’re going to put that in a to this pot and we’re going to give it to this nonprofit.”
I had a friend that did that over the course of the NFL season. He raised $15,000 by having friends and family over watching football games. He was blown away at how easy it was, how fun it was, and also too how he inspired people that were coming over to his house to be philanthropists themselves because they started hosting their own beneficial watch parties. We do it on our end. We have Christmas parties that benefit the American Cancer Society. We have parties at our house to benefit United Way. When you come over to our house or when you do things, we have a higher purpose. My point is to look at the things you’re already doing and add that purpose to them and you’ll realize you don’t have to separate them out.
Jeremy, thank you so much for giving us such a practical example of what it looks like to be able to bake that into your personal life.
For me, this is the stuff that I love. We’re talking about the questions that you get asked a lot. I get asked a lot by people that say, “I want to serve. I want to make a difference. I just don’t know where to start.” This is where you start. Giving them this roadmap, unpacking it, but making it practical for them. I put it out on social media, you get the inspirational words of wisdom, but how do you make it practical? How do you take that next step? That’s where, to me, the real fun of it. I could give you 30 concrete examples, pick and choose which one you want to do and then take it in your own way. I feel like that’s where we, as a society missed the mark. If we don’t give you the actual tools and we don’t help you, if we just inspire you, but we don’t hand the playbook to you, we missed our chance to create the impact, the meaning, the purpose to win your heart. That’s why to me it’s so important.
I’ve got a lot of rituals in terms of waking up, what I do and how I look at my day. One of them is carving out 30 minutes every single day where I do nothing but focus on sharing positive messages. One, in particular, I do it every week. I carve out intentional time to mentor. I usually will leave a couple of hours every week to purely do nothing other than if people have questions and they want to sit down, I block out time for certain things that are important to me. This isn’t a ritual, but it ties into it. I don’t go to bed until I do three things every single day that’s a positive step forward. This is something I created in college to be able to do all the things that I wanted to do. Answering emails don’t count unless it’s something that’s a big positive step forward. Those are all the blocking and tackling.
I’m talking about something like you write a column or you meet someone new that can put you in a whole new trajectory. You extend that invitation to meet someone new. Whatever it is, putting yourself out there to finish a project, to do something special, but ultimately that’s going to take a step forward. For me, it’s what can I do personally, professionally for our city. That’s a big piece of it. It’s doing three things that help our city. It can be 2:00 AM but I’m not going to bed until I checked off those three things that I felt like, “That’s one, that’s two, that’s three. I can go to bed now.” I feel like it’s the safe place on my end of carving out the time to be intentional with the philanthropy and the giving back. I’m like you where I block out time whether it’s exercise or meditation. Sadly, I don’t do a lot of meditation on my end. I need to. My meditation is swimming or where I can calm the mind and my wife will get onto just like, “You’ve got 40 minutes. We’ve got to be at this thing.” I’m like, “Trust me, baby, I’m going to get in the pool. I’m going to power through these laps.” Because it’s important to me.
You and I are brothers from other mothers. I drive my wife nuts with stuff like that.
She’s like, “You knocked that out fast.” I’m like, “I know.” It’s the intentionality of I know that that’s what I need. We talk about it in the sense that you can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself. I’ve got to protect my energy and my time. If my energy isn’t good, I can’t give you the energy that’s going to inspire and help you and push you to do good. That’s where I think creating the intentionality of safeguarding those places schedule-wise, energy-wise, is important so that in the end, I can help others.
Among the myriad things that we’d call our responsibilities in life, I think key or first in that is managing our own energy. You could call it attitude. You and I had lots of conversations about this. Managing, even in a company, having done that myself for many years, it’s less about managing people and it’s more about managing energy and managing attitude in that organization. I so appreciate those rituals that you shared. As we wind down and I share them my waking ritual, I have a question for you, Jeremy. Did you wake up?
I could tell. Sometimes we wonder just how awake are we. A little groggy physically, but also what’s our state of consciousness? Because we can get sucked into that vortex of the TV or the news cycles that we see all over the place and certainly through social media and they suck us in. It’s part of their business model to suck us in. That’s exactly what they’re after. It’s important that we allow ourselves the opportunity to wake up. At the same time, it is a blessing because when you went to bed, Jeremy, was there any guarantee that you’d wake up?
Not for me either.
Sadly, I know that first-hand. To your point, it is a blessing to be able to wake up and you don’t want to take that for granted.
Three simple steps to me in the waking ritual. The first is the fun one. The funny one is to literally wake up. Waking up physically, but also, am I awake emotionally? Am I willing to feel and be fully expressed? Is that part of what I can accomplish and to use your word to create that positive step forward? Am I awake on a mental level? Was my mind ready for the interactions and the things that are possible in my experience? At that moment that we’re waking up and we have this recognition that that’s special because it wasn’t guaranteed. Also, the recognition that there are people at that moment that you’re waking up, that I’m waking up that didn’t wake up. That makes the moment also sacred. There’s a holiness to it. I believe that we are all spiritual beings at the core, much less about any dogma or a set of rules about what that looks like, but that we are all connected.
Three parts to this waking ritual. Wake up, feel that connection and the gratitude for the connection that we have to everything around us to the earth, the trees, the flowers, the birds and other human beings, to all this divineness that’s everywhere around us. That’s part two. Part three, if you care to say it, these words have you’ve changed my experience of living in ways that I can’t begin to say, so I had to write a book about it. That’s what’s coming soon. A book all about this concept of these four words. Those four words are, “I love my life.” Jeremy, do you love your life?
Absolutely. We talked about it before. To wake up knowing that I’ve got a healthy family who all are trying to make a difference in their own way, who’ve taken that truth to heart that it’s not about me, it’s about us. To know that what we’ve created as an organization with cityCURRENT, but even for me personally to where I do get to go out and help others every single day. No question, it’s tough and it’s frustrating, you have problems and there are all these things that life hits you with. In the end, to know that it’s got purpose and there’s a higher purpose. I look at what I do. It’s not about me. God has a plan and I’m out here to do my part and to help others get where they need to go. That to me allows me to live my life. Because in the end, the journey that we’re on together, that we get to have these shared experiences, that’s the part that’s so enriching. You hear all these things about you get trapped with the goods, but yet the experiences, the relationships, that’s the part where you look back and you realize I love my life because I love the people in my life.
It’s the opportunity to love your life no matter what. What a blessing. Feel free to hit us up on Facebook at the Start My Pivot Group. You can leave a comment because we love to respond to those things and get your feedback of course. Deliver all the positive blessings that we’re talking about and many more. Bye.
- The Go-Giver
- Samaritan’s Feet
- Smith & Nephew
- Memphis Rox
- One Family Memphis
- The Inner Game of Tennis
- Start My Pivot Group – Facebook
About Jemery Park
Jeremy C. Park is a corporate executive and philanthropist, an author of two books and a weekly newspaper column, a contributor to Forbes, producer and host of television and radio shows and a podcast, and a sought-after speaker for transforming organizations and individuals into catalysts for their community.
Park is the CEO and catalyst behind cityCURRENT, an organization with a mission to power the GOOD. cityCURRENT is a partnership of more than 120 businesses, including some of the world’s largest employers, like FedEx, AutoZone, Verizon and Kroger, that have joined forces and funds to make a difference in the Mid-South and Middle Tennessee. The organization has teams working in Memphis and Nashville, hosts more than 150 free community events each year in both cities, produces an array of positive-oriented media, and financially and physically give back to support nonprofits.
Under Park’s leadership, the organization quickly transformed from a small internal-focused networking group, originally called the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club, into a powerful, charitable, external-focused partnership now recognized internationally for its innovative approach to social entrepreneurialism and collective impact.