One CEO Rescues 58 Syrian Families

December 21, 2016, 8:24 PM UTC

I’ve been casting around for some good business news to share this week and stumbled upon this gem: The incredible true story of how a CEO of a medium-sized appliance firm managed to relocate 58 Syrian refugee families to Canada and helped them find homes, jobs, and a place in the community.

Jim Estill, 59, is the CEO of Danby, an appliance company in Guelph, Ontario with annual sales of $400 million. As he read reports of Syrian people drowning in the Mediterranean and related cuts in humanitarian assistance, he became obsessed. “I didn’t want to be 80 years old and know that I did nothing during the greatest humanitarian crisis of my time,” he says.

From the story:

“So he did some math. He checked [Canadian classified site] Kijiji to find out how much apartments in Guelph were renting for, googled child tax benefits and GST/HST rebates in Ontario, and formulated a monthly food budget. He estimated that $30,000 could support a family of five for one year. He multiplied that number by 50 and realized the total cost—$1.5 million—was one he could easily afford.”

Estill put up the money and turned to his network to help him create a system that could help Syrian families become a benefit to the community. “If you can run a company with 800 employees, then you can run an organization with 800 volunteers,” he says. The organization started with a clear plan: 50 families who work, pay taxes, buy their own groceries and speak English. The Guelph community stepped up and did their part, creating a largely self-directed network for job training and support that sounds like it should one day be a case study in the Harvard Business Review.

One of the more charming elements of the story is Estill’s business discipline. He doesn’t own a television, he reads and reviews marketing books on his blog, runs on a treadmill daily, tracks his steps with a Fitbit and works 12 hour days. He gardens in his spare time. He believes in “success habits” which involve spending time outdoors every day, and doing the right thing. He sounds like the kind of CEO that incoming innovators often want to dismiss or disrupt (if the company weren’t so successful).

Instead, he turned out to be exactly the kind of business person you want designing the systems that help people thrive.

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Endless data show that diverse teams make better decisions. We are building products that people with very diverse backgrounds use, and I think we all want our company makeup to reflect the makeup of the people who use our products. That's not true of any industry really, and we have a long way to go.
—Sheryl Sandberg

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