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“I believe people in every organization want purpose … and that people want to connect with something more than a paycheck,” Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford told Kellogg students April 28.

“I believe people in every organization want purpose … and that people want to connect with something more than a paycheck,” Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford told Kellogg students April 28.

An unlikely journey

Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford encourages students to reflect upon the place where drive and mission intersect

By Daniel P. Smith

5/10/2011 - When Jonathan Reckford left the corporate life behind in 2002, departing his executive job with Best Buy for mere hopes of joining the nonprofit world, some colleagues called the decision career suicide.

Only Reckford knew it wasn’t so.

Today, as the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Reckford is “joyfully ensconced” in the nonprofit arena.

“I believe people in every organization want purpose … and that people want to connect with something more than a paycheck,” Reckford told about 100 students April 28 in the Owen L. Coon Forum.
 
Reckford’s talk, “Building a Business, Constructing a Community and Following Your Passion,” was a part of the Kellogg School’s Net Impact Speaker Series. He encouraged students to reflect upon the place where drive and mission intersect in their own lives.

“And it starts with your definition of a good life,” said Reckford, the seventh Beacon Capital Partners Executive-in-Residence to address Kellogg students in the program’s six years.

Few American-based nonprofits have the social capital and reach of Habitat, the Georgia-based organization that has provided shelter to more than 1.75 million people in 80 countries around the globe. Last year, the organization built homes for 75,000 families; Reckford hopes to elevate that number to 100,000 by 2013.

“Those big numbers translate into a lot of individual lives being changed,” said Reckford, who took the Habitat leadership post in 2005 amid fallout from the tsunami in southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. housing crisis.

Reckford described his own career path as “messy,” a series of positions with corporate behemoths such as Goldman Sachs, Circuit City, Disney and Marriott, where Reckford was an employee casualty of the savings and loan crisis. Through it all, Reckford wrestled with the dilemma of his professional purpose, a reality he believes many students will encounter as they enter the business world and learn to navigate complex corporate culture.

“We trip up around manifestations of pride, but humility’s a good thing,” Reckford said. “To lead well and have an impact, you need confidence, ambition and a moral compass.”