Believe it or not, Bernie Marcus and I have a lot in common. You would think more so in a few years once I make it big too! But so far, here is why I believe we have a similar path.
We both were instilled with a spirit of philanthropy from a young age. I started volunteering with my social worker grandmother in India as a kid, accompanying her to blind schools, orphanages, etc. My entire life, I have been involved with some non profit or the other, showing my continuous support to the community. Marcus’ personal connecting with giving and hard work started early in his life as well.
Like Marcus, I was also unable to afford college when I started. He worked as a waiter at a restaurant and supported himself through college. Determined to make it through college, my jobs included an Italian restaurant, Dunkin Donuts and a private tutor, while taking a full load of classes. We both were hard working straight A students. After being a successful employee and getting laid off, he decided to start his own company. Again, sounds a lot like my story!
I had the opportunity to hear the legendary Bernie Marcus speak at the Atlanta Press Club today. His business and philanthropic ventures have been an inspiration to me since I moved to Atlanta in 1997. He founded the Marcus Institute after noticing that one of his employee’s at The Home Depot was having difficulty dealing with her autistic child. Marcus and his wife spend hours and money at the Shepherd Center, helping war veterans who have suffered from traumatic brain damage. He also made a $250 million donations that helped open the Georgia Aquarium and changed the face of that section of downtown Atlanta.
Marcus’ parents were Russian immigrants and he grew up poor. His mother instilled in him that “you can be anything you want to be” living in the USA, a land of opportunities. They believed that the American dream was to be successful, provide for your family, live well and help others. He was told never to be envious of people who have more than him. Instead, to listen and learn from how they did it.
Even during hardships, he never took unemployment. Instead, he indiscriminately did whatever work was available. When Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus founded The Home Depot as a small business, they experienced a lot of difficulties. He said they bought empty boxes to show their customers that they had inventory and sometimes bribed them with $1 bills. Since he has experienced being an entrepreneur himself, he sympathizes with the small business owners across the US and is rallying against the politicians on laws and regulations that adversely affect them.
When Marcus was asked why he gives away his money, he answered that there is only so much he can eat or consume! Also, he gets a better feeling about his own life when he does something for someone else. That is perhaps what is most common amongst us philanthropists. We recognize the importance of giving back no matter if we are rich or poor. Clearly, there is only so much you need to take from the world in order to have a good life. Everything else that is bestowed upon you should be given back with gratefulness.
So what’s next for someone who has done it all? The Marcus center is moving towards education, they are opening schools for autistic children that would be able to provide care and education that public schools are not able to. The goal is to make these kids independent so they can provide for themselves.
I did get to exchange a few words with Marcus after the session. I told him about my background and the Go Eat Give movement. He said “Good for you!” and we got a picture taken together. I don’t know if he will go back and look up the website, but I am already honored to have stood next to this inspiring hero. We may have had a few things in common until this point in time, but I hope we have a lot more in the future.